When I was growing up, I was different from the rest of my family. I started to notice that our bodies did not look the same. I seemed to be a lot bigger than my brother and cousins and wondered why. My parents would tell me I was hitting puberty early, and I had a teacher tell me I was “big boned.” I began to understand that my weight was not an asset of mine, rather something I had to move forward with, accepting that it might be something I struggled with throughout my life.
When I was a teenager, I developed a disordered relationship with eating and exercise. I was so eager to try anything to lose weight, or at the very least, draw attention away from it. I became loud and confident and developed my sense of humor in an attempt to distract those around me from my weight issue and redirect their focus to my personality and words instead. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by caring, thoughtful and loving friends and family — but my focus was always on how different I looked and felt.
When I was 17, I was raped. At a house party, where drugs and alcohol played a welcome guest, I was assaulted. I experienced this violence and knew immediately I had to tell a close friend that I trusted. I was with her the next day and told her the series of events that occurred the night before. She wasn’t saying much, so I asked her what she thought I should do.
To my complete shock, she said, “You should be lucky someone finds you attractive.”
“Lucky?” I asked.
“Because of your size.”
That sentence didn’t just throw me for a loop, it launched me into the stratosphere of shame and embarrassment. I didn’t say another word about being raped for another year.
Moving forward with that shame was devastating and detrimental. It affected all of my relationships, not just romantic ones. I began to view sex as currency — as something my partner would have to sacrifice with me because of my weight. There couldn’t possibly be someone out there who was genuinely attracted to me — maybe they enjoyed my personality, so they were willing to stick around for the other stuff, too. It’s been 10 years since my friend said those words to me and I’m still working to understand my shame associated with hating my body.
It’s been 10 years since my friend said those words, and just a few weeks since I scrolled through Twitter to find that Donald Trump was a trending topic. When I sought further, I learned he had been accused of rape and assault yet again — but this time was different from the others. This time, no one seemed to be talking about it. This time, he offered this horrific response: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”
Suddenly, I was 17 again, sitting in the bathtub, scrubbing my skin raw in an attempt to erase the shame, the guilt, the fear — an attempt to erase my own body, who had seemingly betrayed me.
Maybe I wouldn’t have been raped if I wasn’t fat.
I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life to understand what happened and how it has affected the way I view the world. I’m confident in saying I’m on the right track.
But I worry about how others, who maybe aren’t as confident in their recovery, will react to comments like that made by our president. Comments that echo my friend’s response to my assault. Comments that allow people like the man who raped me to see an ally in the leader of our country. I’m privileged enough to have the resources to heal and cope, but what if I didn’t?
I encourage you, as advocates, to research ways to help survivors of sexual trauma. Sometimes during these news cycles, it can be easy for those of us with these experiences to avoid and isolate ourselves from others. Perhaps check in on your friends and see how they’re coping with this. Seeing statements like that — statements that reinforce our shame and guilt — plastered all over every form of media is exhausting.
So I invite you to pull up a chair and lend your ear. Our country is trying to talk. She needs to know she has your support.
Hannah Neece is a writer and creative from Green Bay.
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