CW: rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, self-injury
My body doesn’t belong to me.
As a Women’s Studies major in college, I absolutely hated and dreaded studying body politics but I never stopped to ask myself why. I got tired of reading about women who hated their bodies because of societal expectations to be skinny. To be sexy. I couldn’t relate to that. I thought it was because I’ve never had weight problems and have never really worked hard to have a fit body. I felt for women who didn’t feel beautiful in their bodies, and I recognize where those feelings originate. But it was my least favorite theory to dig into.
I didn’t want to think about how I hate my body. I once wrote after escaping a deep depression where I cut myself deeper than I ever had before that I fucking hate my body. And I do.
I don’t hate my body because society tells me to. I don’t hate my body because I don’t have the perfect breasts or a thigh gap, and I don’t hate my reflection. I hate my body because of what has been done to it. My sister molested me when I was eight years old, and, since then, my body doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to others for sexual pleasure.
My fourth-grade teacher taught me this when he blamed me for boys having crushes on me. My parents taught me this when they didn’t allow me to talk to certain boys or when they themselves chose who was worthy of dating me. They approved who had access to my body. My mom even made comments about how precious my virginity was.
Since my breasts began to form, I knew my body attracted attention. I learned that by the boys who followed me like puppies. They liked that I didn’t mind talking about sexual things and loved that I actually enjoyed sex. They came when I admitted to watching porn. “What would you do to me?” they asked. I knew what they wanted to hear.
I was disgusted by the media around me. Commercials, billboards, magazine advertisements, television shows, and films showed off women’s bodies as if women didn’t possess their own bodies. I was always a little feminist, always had some understanding that the world was unfair to women, so I realized that this was wrong. But I saw myself in those women. I identified with them. They were separated from their bodies. They didn’t feel shame being under the male gaze, and they knew it was inevitable. A part of life. A cost of being famous.
But I also saw that these women got attention – attention I desperately wanted. They were desired, and to me, that meant that they would never be alone. They didn’t care that it cost them their bodies because they had already learned, like me, that their bodies were not theirs. Their bodies were for others’ sexual pleasure.
I was young so I didn’t know that those women I saw in the media were not necessarily happy or that happiness and companionship doesn’t come from being desired just for your body. While some women find empowerment in uncovering their bodies, and many women do not feel objectified when they model or act, that is not true for all women. Many of those women were abused and hate their bodies just like I do, and only feel comfortable under the male gaze because they are disconnected from their bodies. They are accustomed to being used and abused. It’s just a normal day. At least this time they got money to survive.
I hate body politics because I hate admitting that there were times where my body didn’t belong to me. And it’s even harder to admit that there were times where I allowed that to happen.
When I was fifteen, I showed my breasts for money. I didn’t care if they saw my boobs. My body didn’t belong to me. It was easy money. Just had to flash them for a few seconds. At least they didn’t touch me.
I lost my virginity to the first available person. No love. Barely any feelings. Just the desire to feel sexual pleasure.
I gave blowjobs in my teens but didn’t have an orgasm myself for years.
I shared my first orgasm with my first love. But that didn’t last. I quickly let him do what he wanted with my body, faking my orgasms. It was no longer about pleasure but about making him happy and giving him pleasure. He was assigned female at birth and was just coming to terms with his trans male identity which made him insecure in our relationship. I did everything I could to prove that I loved him no matter what. He owned me. He wasn’t abusive, and he really did love me, but he was jealous. I lost my friends, and my life became completely about him. In this way, and in our sex life, he did own me, even if he didn’t realize it. My body was his.
After him, it took me a long time to reclaim my body. I faked my orgasms immediately with my college girlfriend. I let her do what she wanted with me including using a strap-on. It was teal, big, jiggly, and she named it Poseidon. She liked to try different positions, and during these times my body was docile, almost limp. I turned off the connection to my body. She took that as consent. I moaned to try to get her to stop. I never moaned during sex before her. She had commented on how quiet I was during sex so I started to moan only because I knew it was what she wanted. So I moaned, screamed, when she asked me to get on my hands and knees and do doggy style. She thought it was my favorite. I just wanted it to end.
A year later, she ended up not wanting me, even though I had done everything she wanted. By the end, I didn’t have sex with her very often, but I thought, at that point, she loved me for me, not the sex that for me wasn’t even real.
When she dumped me, I realized how much I had faked in our relationship. I didn’t want to pretend anymore. I wanted to enjoy sex, moan because I actually liked it. I set out to reclaim my body, to reclaim my orgasm. I slept with my ex on and off for a year, but I was sleeping with other people too. And I enjoyed it. I found my moan. I felt like my body was mine.
But this all avoids why I felt so disconnected from my body, why I so easily let it be used. When I studied body politics in college, it was after years of working endlessly to repress these memories, after years of convincing myself that it wasn’t that bad. Reading about how others hated their bodies because of unrealistic body standards reminded me that I hated my body, but for other reasons. They were reasons that I didn’t want to face so I responded by not engaging in body politics whenever it was discussed in my classes.
I didn’t want to think about the times when my body didn’t belong to me. I see my body as separate from myself – from the real me. My soul. You can touch my body, do what you want, but you can’t touch my soul. I will never tell you how much you hurt my soul.
My body is the source of my emotional pain. My body is what my sister desired, what men desired. And my body is what they abused. And while they hurt my soul, my spirit, broke them really, that’s not what they wanted. All they wanted was my body. And they could have it. It’s just a vessel that I couldn’t even feel anymore. I was numb. I had stopped feeling pain, fearing pain, long ago.
I punished my body because it was responsible for what happened to me, almost like it had a mind of its own, except that it was only programmed to please. I cut myself over and over to punish my body because I hated it for not belonging to me. In a way, cutting proved to my body who was in control- I can hurt you, too.
I punished my body with cigarettes, with alcohol, with hypersexuality, with sports, with bad decisions where I could’ve died. I puked in my sleep once from drinking. Part of me didn’t care that I could’ve died. Does my body hear me now?
I hate body politics because it forces me to think about my relationship with my body. I’m confident in my skin- I love my curves, my scars, my beauty mark on my cheek, my imperfections. I even love my body hair after years of not shaving, even though my college girlfriend joked about getting lost in my bush once. But that confidence comes from knowing that no matter what, my body is desired. Can confidence come from acknowledging I am a sexual object?
I wish I could say I own my body now. It’s been years since I’ve faked an orgasm, since I allowed my partner to do whatever they wanted with me. I’m enjoying sex, figuring out my body more each time I make love with my partner of almost five years.
But I was raped a year ago. A reminder that even if I feel connected to my body, even reclaimed my sexuality, that my body still doesn’t belong to me. That strange men at a hotel bar can do what they want with me when I’m unconscious from drinking. I blacked out, so this assault didn’t happen to me, it happened to my body because my body doesn’t belong to me.
I live in a society where rape is normal, where child sexual abuse is common- and perpetrators of these acts are not punished. My parents protected my sister instead of me when they found out she molested me. Their main concern for me was that I would have sex too soon because of my abuse. They did their best to shield my body from being used. Ten years later, the same feeling of helplessness emerged when I was sexually assaulted. I didn’t report my rape because I knew I wouldn’t be believed. I would be accused of regretting a drunken hook up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive arguing over what was okay to do with my body.
In this society, I know my body is not mine. It is a lesson I learned too early. I know that no matter how I feel about my body, confidence, hate, ambiguity, resentment, that my body can be taken from me. A rape seminar or a self-defense class can’t protect me, my parents can’t protect me, my partner can’t protect me. We live in a violent reality where your bodily autonomy can be taken from you in a matter of seconds.
Thankfully, most women are not survivors of rape and sexual assault, but that does not mean they are unaware of the attack on their bodies. They read it in the media that is full of headlines about how Taylor Swift was groped, how Ke$ha was silenced by her record company for reporting her sexual assault, how the public doubted the dozens of women who reported Cosby for drugging and raping them, how Casey Affleck won an Oscar even though he preyed on a woman, how Emma Sulkowicz carried the mattress she was raped on around campus searching for justice. Hell, even my alma mater made the front page of the New York Times for how horribly they handled a sexual assault (I still stand with you, Anna). They learn about it from their mothers who tell them to cover their drinks, from their peers at rape prevention seminars who tell them to vomit, urinate, or defecate on themselves to prevent attacks. They are given rape whistles with their college name engraved on them under the condition that they only use it if they are really in danger. They arm themselves with pepper spray, anti-rape underwear, drug-detecting nail polish, and their keys between their fingers just to walk the street alone. Most only experience rape through television and movie characters, cheering on Olivia Benson as she nails the abstract bad guys on Law and Order: SVU. But regardless of how women learn this lesson, they learn very early that their bodies do not belong to them, that they are in constant danger.
This constant reminder of violence has caused me to hate my body for so long. After my rape, I returned to old habits: I smoked cigarettes and became disinterested in sex. I hid, resented what happened to my body, resented that it still didn’t belong to me. I know that it is morally wrong that my body doesn’t belong to me, but that doesn’t mean that the world sees that what happened to me was deplorable. This isn’t about fixing the world, or theorizing about how to change it, but how to live with this reality.
Most walk around only with the fear of losing their bodily autonomy. No one really talks about what happens when you do lose control of your body. How do I navigate the world knowing I’m worthy of more than my body, empowered with the knowledge that my mind is beautiful, and powerful, and intelligent, but also knowing that at times, this empowerment is meaningless? That people still think they own my body, have the right to it. And that the justice system, the online trolls, the Hollywood industry, our president, agrees?
I don’t have a solution. I’m not healed. I still hate my body because I know it doesn’t belong to me. But I do what I want with my body, abuse it when I want to, experience sexual pleasure when I want to. I am more than my body, which I’ve always known. I didn’t realize that most of the time my body does belong to me. Sure, it’s desired, and I reminded of that every time I am cat called. But most of the time, it’s my vessel, and in my control. I’m vulnerable but also have agency. Those few times where I lost control, where my body wasn’t mine, are over. I must not let them dictate my tomorrow.
I wish I could say that from now on, I’ll love my body. But I know that’s not true. I don’t think it will ever be true. The most I could ask for is to feel comfortable in my body. And that, I can say, is true. I’m a survivor. My body has been through hell. It’s been used, violated, abused. And I abused it more by cutting, by smoking, by drinking. Through the cuts, the bruises, the broken bones, the black lungs, the sore liver, through the unwanted touches, through the non-consensual penetrations, through the fake orgasms, my body has survived all these things, stronger than ever before.
In a way, this is a love letter to my body. Thanks, body, for never letting me down. It’s not your fault that you live in a world where you are disposable. I’m sorry I blamed you and resented you for so long. I’m sorry I ignored your pleas for help and punished you for so long. But now I know that we are stronger together and can get through anything that comes our way.
I guess I do love my body in a way. Love is never easy and love is never pain free.