Find Your Self(Love)

I’m afraid to write now, for whatever bizarre reasons/excuses I’ve convinced myself to be true. However, I was recently inspired to give it another whack. A local clothing line I love was searching for “models” for an upcoming shoot and was asking for stories of “self love.” Since I love talking about myself, I wrote the following in an email to DazeyLA last week. Today, I stood alongside a group of beautiful women sharing their own journeys with self love and I can’t tell you the last time I felt so empowered and valued.

Fair warning, there’s a lot I put into this email that few people know. Sometimes it’s easier to tell perfect strangers all of your secrets than your closest friends.

*WARNING: The following content references eating disorders, self harm, and sexual assault .*

My self-love journey is a long one and I’d say it’s still pretty ongoing.
I have to admit that it wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized that my shitty, fucked-up childhood and teen years weren’t actually the “norm.” It took me a little over half my life to realize that not every girl grew up with a stressful relationship to food nor did they turn to self-harm to cope with the emotional rollercoaster of growing up. I can’t remember at what age I started hating my body and treating it poorly, but I’d guess it was around 10 or 11 when adults started telling me that I needed to cover my body and be more modest. I’d developed curves far earlier than anyone else in my grade and everyone noticed, especially the boys. It started off as a flattering thing. All the boys made 5th grade-level comments about my butt or my thighs. They’d ask me and my friends about our underwear and they’d always be the first ones to point out when one of us got our first training bra. We were all overly sexualized by the boys who didn’t know any better, but we were always the ones to get scolded by teachers if our pants were too tight or our shirts showed too much shoulder. I remember coming to school one day wearing a gift my parents brought me back from a trip to Europe: a pair of flared black spandex-y pants with various city names printed all over them. I’ll never forget how much I loved them and how cute I felt wearing them. At the end of that day, a friend told me that her teacher had stated, in front of her entire class, that my pants were far too tight. Why a grown woman felt entitled to make such a comment in front of 30+ 5th graders, I’ll never know, but I never wore those pants again.
The boys got more aggressive as I continued to fill out. They’d grab onto me and my friends on the playground and thrust their crotches against our backsides. We’d tell the teachers, but nothing ever happened to the boys. They just told us they were flirting. I once had an older boy hold me down on a bed and pull down my pants to show off my butt in front of his two younger brothers and my younger brothers while our parents had a dinner party downstairs. I started shopping for longer shirts that would cover my butt and hips. In the 7th grade, girls in the grade above started calling me “thunder thighs” and pointed out my love handles. They made fun of my clothes and my style that was too different for a small town in North Carolina. That was the year I started watching what I ate, bingeing and purging, and skipping meals to lose weight. That was the same year a guy shoved a yard stick down the back of my pants during class and left a cut down my lower back and crack. I spent more time in the counselor’s office than he did and he walked away with only a week’s worth of detention. It was probably around then that the cutting and burning started.
My family moved across the country to California when I was 15 and things got better, and then they didn’t. I had a stint with pills in high school, preferring to feel numb than to deal with being called the “new girl” and to listen to the other girls in my grade dub me as a slut before they’d even learned my name. I found my way and I found some friends, but mostly I found a boyfriend who helped carry me through the bullshit and snap me out of being so self-destructive. I still feel forever indebted to how he saved me. That story is too emotional for an email. 😉
College and post-grad were both messes and are far too long of stories. I cheated on my boyfriend back home and fell into a downward spiral of self-destruction when I lost him. I drank a lot and often. My parents separated. I joined a sorority that fed into my obsession with being thin and that in no way helped with my confidence. A guy friend tried to rape me but I convinced myself I deserved it, asked for it even. I hooked up with a lot of guys because I believed that’s what love was. My parents got a divorce. I realized my sexuality is more complicated than I initially thought and began to come to terms with my bisexuality all alone and in secret because I felt so ashamed and confused. I left my sorority after being bullied and tormented by my sisters. I ran off to France, ran out of money, and almost dropped out of school. But I didn’t. I finished and got as far away from there as I could. Back home, a different guy friend tried to rape me on the 4th of July and when I shoved him off of me, told me I should be “grateful,” called me “crazy,” and claimed “I’m the total package! Why wouldn’t you want to be with me?” Anyone I tried to tell afterwards told me I lead him on and I shouldn’t think too much about it.
I’m now 26 and every day is a little bit better. My eating disorder never completely went away. I don’t think they ever really do, but it’s less of a dark and stormy cloud over my head and more like a singular raindrop that chooses to land every once in a while. Most days, I don’t hate my body and I do think I’m beautiful. I used to have to hide my curves and even still am inclined to grab the longer shirt or to wrap a button-down around my waist. I wear less makeup and I don’t obsess over my hair every morning like I used to. Overcoming my sexual assault has been the hardest part and it has impacted more of my life than I’d like to admit. I think the biggest challenge I still face today is convincing myself that I am worthy of love after having lived so long with people taking what they want from me and leaving. Of feeling more like an object than an actual human being. I’ve been in my current relationship for two and a half years and although I know he loves me more than any other man ever could (and proves that daily), I fight a regular battle of telling myself that I am good enough, that I do deserve his love and affection. I’ve found a lot of comfort and solace in supporting other women and standing by them. I’ve found a lot of strength in fighting for human rights, advocating for those without a voice. Showing up for the women around you has helped me show up for myself. When I see other women stand up for what’s right, it empowers me to do the same and to stick up for myself too, even if it’s in small ways.
Every day within my skin is a new battle and I cannot say with 100% confidence that I completely love myself, but I’m getting there.

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