Content warning: contains references to sexual assault and the emotional impact of sexual assault.
Throughout my life I have always been conscious of my body and its proportions, its changing shape and dimensions, but I have never been obsessively, acutely preoccupied with my flesh. That is, until I was raped.
My once (mostly) positive relationship with my body became barely an acquaintance; my entire physical being was now a stranger, it was foreign, unfamiliar, and hollow. I had always enjoyed my classic hourglass figure, my shapely strong legs, and my full breasts. I would look at my naked self in mirrors and cock a cheeky smile at what appeared: I was solid, voluptuous, and – perhaps most importantly – pleased.
This was never vanity but merely an acceptance of and appreciation for my physical form. After the sexual assault, however, this practise stopped and my body became just a vessel for the torrent of thoughts and emotions that plagued me relentlessly.
“I can’t look at myself”
“My body is tainted, it’s trash”
As trivial as it may seem to some, I couldn’t even face applying make-up. It felt as though I was banned from that now, that I was somehow marked with the shame of what had happened and therefore couldn’t participate in such a ritual. Fitted clothes, heels, anything traditionally ‘feminine’ (whatever that means, it’s open to your interpretation) was completely off limits to my used flesh and, what’s more, I didn’t want any of these things.
I remember the first time I went to meet a friend in a public place and had chosen to make an effort, or at least attempt, to present myself as I used to: full face, bright lips, flowing hair, heeled black boots, a bodycon dress. This was what I used to look like.
Not long into the outing I was defying the tears I could feel collecting in my eyes. I constantly looked around to check if anyone was looking at me, I pulled my coat closer to cover my chest, I kept my gaze down. My body was taking up too much space in the world, space that I felt I no longer deserved.
Of course, these feelings of shame and disgust were nothing to do with me – I had not done this to myself – and it took time for me to not only realise this, but to really come to terms with it. I came to realise that this ugly cloud of negativity and self-doubt that engulfed me was one of the ways in which this person, the man who raped me, continued to assert power over me.
His actions had overpowered me before and now I was living in a vice-grip, restricting myself from my self. Once this thought occurred to me I was furious. How dare he. How dare he not only use my body, but also take it away from me? This flesh was mine and I wanted to reclaim it in the most assertive, powerful ways possible.
I could go outside.
I could walk home alone.
I could drink.
I could be loud.
I could take selfies.
I could dance round my flat in my pants.
I could touch myself.
I could fuck boys.
I could face myself in the mirror.
I have never considered myself a ‘victim’ in relation to all of this and, truthfully, I’m not keen on the labels of ‘brave’ and ‘strong’ either (though I have no problems with others using this terminology).
What I did – with much healing and support – was take back what’s mine.
I will be kind to myself, give myself time, let my body rest and recover. I will not allow this unthinkable experience to stifle me.