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My mind keeps coming back recently to a few incidents that really shaped my body shame as a child. I know that I already had so much shame from the abuses I went through and being sexually abused by my own mother, a person of my own gender.
The first incident was when I was about eight or nine. I can’t remember exactly how old I was. I had a few brothers that were around my age group. I hung out with them a lot and for a large portion of my young childhood they were my only playmates.
During the summer our father often took us to the local swimming area, an area on a river where the water level was quite low. During the summer I often wore only a pair of shorts when swimming. My chest was as flat as my brothers. It seemed foolish to wear more clothes in the water.
One summer afternoon we were on our way from the car to the river. I had remained in the car to take off my top, so I was late getting out of the car. My father was ahead of me. My brothers were running ahead of me.
As I traversed the hot sand to the beach area two boys saw me and started making fun of me. They made comments about my bare chest, my bare flat chest. I was so humiliated. I told them that I could do whatever I wanted. But I went back to the car to get my top. I never swam like before. It took away some of the fun.
It made me feel disgusting and it made me feel as though my body had to be hidden away. I still don’t understand what is inherently in need of hiding about nipples. Boys and men never hide them. I was only a little girl. Why did I have to hide mine?
A few years later when I was starting a new school, in fifth grade, someone else pointed out my body in a shaming way. I was getting my winter clothes off at the lockers in the hallway. I started walking quickly to get to class. Someone came up behind me and called me wiggles. They were making fun of the way my hips moved. Apparently I wiggled. I didn’t think so. I was still a little kid really. I don’t remember ever moving my body in a way to get boys’ or men’s attention, not once in my life.
I told the kid that I was a girl and girls walk the way they walk, it has nothing to do with wiggling. From then on I tried to keep my hips rigid when I walked so no one else would make fun of me like that. This kid continued to call me that over time.
I guess that it was a kind of bullying. I never thought of it like that before. It made me feel so unsafe, so attacked, to be made fun of for being female and having a female body. I felt so ashamed having to live in a female body where anyone, even a stupid boy, felt entitled to make comments about me and my body.
I still hate being stared at while I am walking, I always have since that day in fifth grade. My health issues dictate how I walk much more than anything else.
Now I am trying to find my own way of walking, one that comes naturally, one that is a part of me, and if I wiggle, it is quite by accident, but so be it.
9. Need to be invisible, perfect, or perfectly bad.
When I was very little and older siblings and father were away it was always a good idea to be invisible. I was not very effective at that, but I learned.
At home with her while I was a pre-schooler was the most dangerous, the most abusive time of my life. To be seen by her meant something horrid, something painful, something abusive would happen. I was always trying to not be seen by her.
If I was playing and I was happy, laughing, or smiling it was like a magnet to her. She would rush at me, grab me up, take me out of the living room, and sexually abuse me.
I learned how to wear a mask. I learned how to look serene, to avoid her notice. I learned how to protect myself from her.
I still have trouble showing happiness on my face. When I am really happy and I am with someone else I have to say out loud I’m really happy right now, because I know that no one can tell from looking at me.
I learned how to become the wall in the living room. I don’t mean how to dissociate into the wall or how to float up to the ceiling. I mean to become the wall, to step into the wall. To not breathe at all. To not think at all. To not do anything or be anything. At times she would walk right by me, standing up against the wall, while she was hunting and preying for me. And I was invisible. And I was safe.
I didn’t just need to be invisible. At times I thought that I was. After being bullied in sixth grade in a small town I didn’t think students remembered my name, knew me, or knew I existed.
When I moved away at age sixteen and came back to the area the next summer, I believed that no one would know me. Almost daily I would bike to the river for a swim by myself. There would often be other kids there. I remember being shocked when one of the kids insisted it was me, called out my name, and got me to acknowledge him. I swam alone and thought of myself as being alone those afternoons, but I was seen, I was remembered, and it did not make me feel good.
I like being invisible. I hate it when a man decides to stare at me and think about sex. It makes me feel so violated. I know that look. I’ve known that look since I was little. I’ve seen that look on my mother’s face so many times. It is stomach churning. I hate that look. I hate when men do it to me. It is not a compliment. It is disgusting. I wish I was invisible to men like that.
Perfect… I always wished that I could do that. But it was not achievable for me. Not based on the load I was under as a child. Not then, not now, not ever.
I read once that a procrastinator is only just a failed perfectionist who has given up. Yeah, I can relate.
Now I try for being the best I can be, as a human being, as a woman, as a person, as me. Working on that and not feeling like a failure anymore.
I don’t think that I ever wanted to be perfectly bad. I was just too much of a little girl who wanted to be loved, in my heart, to be anything bad or to embrace that.
I had a few siblings who flirted with the disaster of embracing their perfectly bad selves. It did not go well for them. Their black sheep status was not something that I ever understood. I know that they did not choose their status, it was the product of living in a dysfunctional family system. But I could not understand embracing it either.
As a teenager I had often been accused by family members of purposely looking for negative attention. I guess that was about the time that this idea entered our society. My family used it to justify their mistreatments and verbal abuses of me instead of trying to see how much they were wounding me. At any family gathering being invisible would have been preferred by me over their abusive attentions. I never wanted it, I never tried to get it, and their accusations left them comfortable to do what they wanted to do, to wound me further.
When I was a teenager my father used to accuse me of purposely trying to be bad. It hurt me so much. When we would be disagreeing he would accuse me of being awake in bed thinking of ways to hurt and upset him. He wounded my sick and sad heart so very much.
He would make me feel ugly and miserable and unloved with his words, bereft, and then had the audacity to accuse me of doing what he was, purposely and with forethought wounding him with words. Yes being invisible… it would have been lovely.
5. Wearing a lot of clothing, even in summer; baggy clothes; failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so (while swimming, bathing, sleeping); extreme requirement for privacy when using bathroom.
Yes, but I didn’t really get to wear baggy clothes until I was an adult. Before that my clothes were mostly monitored and approved by my mother and sister. Once on my own I started gravitating to baggy and oversize clothes because they made me feel less watched and more safe. Especially if I was going to be in an environment where there were guys and they might be watching me.
I think that part of the reason I did this was the sexual abuse. The other part was the consequences of sexual abuse; I hated my body, thought I was ugly and fat and did not want to be seen or watched.
I really think that I had body dysmorphic disorder until about ten years ago. It affected me a great deal. I think that it was caused by my mother’s abuses of me. I would look in the mirror and see all kinds of ugliness and evil.
It impacted how much I thought of myself. It made me painfully shy and reserved. It stopped me from being involed socially. I couldn’t partipicate in school sports because being watched in the school’s short shorts while being athletic was too repugnant to me. Now I know that it was not seeing the truth. I tried to cover that all up with clothes, lots and lots of clothes.
I couldn’t cover up my face especially, and that was the source of the worst of my self-hatred. I still struggle with this, but it has gotten better.
Privacy in the bathroom is something that I didn’t have much as a child. My family seemed to enjoy shaming one another constantly about bodily functions. Due to my particular abuses, I found it that much worse to deal with.
When I was a teenager I was finally able to insist that when I was in the shower no one could come into the room. My family were invasive in the extreme. It took a long time to get this enforced. There was a lock on the door, but I was constantly coerced into not locking it. Finally I did. I had a right to my privacy. One thing that I have no desire to ever be involved in is another person who thinks that pee breaks should be shared.
3. Alienation from body, not at home in own body; failure to heed signals of body or take care of it; poor body image; manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention; compulsive cleanliness, incl. bathing in scalding water; or, total inattention to personal appearance or hygiene.
Yes. Alienation. I remember when I first heard that word and learned it’s definition. I was in a Social Studies class in junior high. I thought, that’s me, yeah, that’s me. I remember being surprised there was a name for it and that there were so many people who felt it.
So yes on alienation from my body. I think that every survivor goes through this one. We numb out physically, making it more difficult to know what our body is needing and feeling, so we are not as attentive to it. We dissociate away from our bodies so much that it is a challenge to actually live our life, let alone be there to take care of our body needs.
We feel as though our bodies betrayed us. We blame ourselves. We carry around self-loathing and self-hatred to the point of not being able to see the truth when we look in the mirror. Survivors carry a heavy burden; we have been violated and betrayed. We feel that. Our bodies carry that as well as everything else we go through. I think these issues are worsened if we had one abuser who is the same sex as us.
It’s still rather disgusting to me to have someone staring at me and looking like they are interested in me. Perhaps part of that disgust is the kind of men who do that kind of thing. None of them are ever anyone I would ever choose to speak with, let alone go out with on a date. Another part is I object to being treated like that by anyone. The final part is about being a survivor and not wanting to be surveyed like that because, it makes me feel unsafe and uncomfortable as a survivor.
My body image was so inaccurate. When I was little, and I can say this without any shame for bragging, I was beautiful. I mean cute, pretty, all that. I had beautiful dark brown eyes and dark brown/black hair. I look at the pictures and I see the truth of that. I was very thin, but still very attractive.
I thought I was ugly. I thought I was disgusting. I thought that no one would ever love me. My mother had systematically brainwashed me.. So much so that the combination of sexual abuse by her and emotional abuse convinced me.
All my life I would look at those pictures and see the ugly girl. It’s only been about the last ten years that I have been able to look at the pictures, see the truth, and see a beautiful girl. In those pictures, I finally see the beautiful, inside and out.
I was coming home this evening from the nearest coffeeshop and got to thinking about shame. For some reason I was feeling a lot of shame. My mind was wandering and it wandered to the subject of body shame.
I don’t loathe my body any more. But I have a boat-load of body shame still. I hate and abhor certain subjects that are body related. Some I would never choose to discuss.
My body shame clings to me. I blame my body for existing. I blame my body for being sexually abused. I blame my body for being hurt and for being damaged. I blame my body for being wounded and for all the pain I experience.
After so much effort to heal my body, I am much worse than when it started to be pain filled twenty-five years ago. Nothing makes it better, not by much. Basically there aren’t any wonderful answers or miracles out there for me.
I know on one level that my body is not the cause of being sexually abused. I know it is not it’s fault. I know it is not my body’s fault that it was physically abused and suffered damage from that. I like to think that the body issues and pain are 50% of all the issues that I deal with, but I really don’t know. I have no idea who I would be without it all weighing me down.
On another level I know that if I hadn’t been born, if I hadn’t had a body, no one could have ever hurt me. And so I blame my body for existing. I would not have ever existed and I think how very lovely not to have ever been abused.
I don’t know exactly how my base elements could have perceived loveliness if they were unjoined, but when I think of my non-existence, that is what I think, how very lovely that would have been.
I look forward to the day when I can think of my existence and think the same thing; how very lovely.
A long time ago I read a book called Transforming Body Image. I liked the book. I wanted to try the different exercises in it, but really they didn’t feel right for me and they didn’t work good.
Eventually I decided that it was because I needed something more geared toward child abuse survivors. And I have found myself really wishing hard for a book like that. In the meantime I am trying to find ways of approaching healing that gives me good body esteem, ways that go around my roadblocks, and if they work for me, that is great.
There is an exercise in the book called The Square Inch Exercise. Every day for a week you are to focus on one square inch of your body, to be loving towards. You do nice things for that body part.
I tried that exercise many times. It didn’t go so good. Sometimes touching my skin, rubbing in lotion turned out to be more triggery than healing. So it turned out some ares were not good to focus on. I would put the exercise away and bring it out again years later.
Finally I did focus on my knees, well it seemed like a fairly innocuous spot to focus on. I would rub lotion on them every evening. I found a spot that seemed to be okay to focus on. I stayed there for a couple of months, well it was safe, and I wanted to do something that helped my body know that I loved it. After this time I noticed that when I was doing the exercise I was starting to feel a fondness for my knees. It was quite odd. I mean knees, really! I still have an inordinate fondness for my knees.
So that was the last time I tried that exercise. Instead I decided to try to do something that I felt more comfortable doing.
I started telling my body that I loved it out loud. The first time I did it I was flooded with joy, soon to be following by hysterical tears. The feeling of disconnection moved and I felt closer to my body. I have been working on doing that since. Not every day and sometimes I forget about it for weeks at a time. But I’m trying to remember now.
Recently another idea struck me. To go under the skin and tell my body that I love it. Not in one inch squares, but in body parts. It seems to me that part of the resistance to this other exercise was that I have big issues with my skin and the outer surface of my body. To go inside, I thought, might bring better body esteem results. I mean, really, what could I possibly have against my pancreas?
I decided not to focus on one part of my body or for any specific length of time. I think that is what I don’t like about exercises and what doesn’t work for me about them. I don’t like being bossed around on how to do something, when, and how much.
So I did and I will have to say that it is going great. On the first try I told my heart that I loved it. I put my hand there and touched myself lovingly. I got the same kind of reaction; great sorrow and great joy.
Now when I think of a body part I try to acknowledge it and tell it that I love it. Today I told my lungs, I got this incredible floaty high feeling from it. It was incredible! I love you my lungs.