There were several stories in the news this week about sexual abuse and several other stories about weight and body size. In both places I read the articles, I feel they got it wrong. Sure, they got the facts right, but they missed the story. And the story is where the message lives. The reason I know they got it wrong is because I’m intimately familiar with both subjects.
I have been overweight my entire life, and I survived years of childhood sexual abuse. Perhaps there seems to be no connection, or that to make a connection is just an excuse for lazy, fat people. Because that’s what I am, right? A lazy, fat, undisciplined, woman. A woman who chooses to belittle herself by living in such a way that I can’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch.
The extra flesh served me well for many years. When I needed to build a fortress around my heart and didn’t know how else to do it, weight worked. At a very young age when those who should have protected me didn’t, I found a way to do it myself. Eat.
The food served two purposes: numb my heart, protect my body. The food was not the real problem. What was happening to me was the problem. What happened in the dark, in my room, in my bed was the problem.
I understand now that the extra weight is a health issue, and that the thing that saved me when I was a little girl could be the thing that kills me as an adult. But at 6 and 9 and 12 years of age, I needed my body to say for me what I wasn’t allowed to say with my voice,
“STOP! GET AWAY! NO! DON’T TOUCH ME!”
As I got older, I learned quickly that weight keeps men away. Weight says, “I won’t let you get close to me”. Weight is a shield and protector when the world feels too scary. Weight made me invisible.
For many years I would have told you I wanted to lose weight, and I think there were parts of me that did. But the parts that felt so scared of being noticed, needed the weight. For so many years, formative years, being noticed meant physical pain, abuse, and shame. I was prepared to do anything to keep from being noticed by a man.
Here’s an example of why a little girls makes an unconscious decision to stay safe in the only way her body knows how…
I don’t sleep. I don’t shut my eyes. Sleep is too scary. If I’m awake I hear him coming. He can’t surprise me. I hate surprises, but his room has a door to mine so I get surprised a lot.
He’s coming. Don’t move. Disappear. He’s still coming. I hear his hand on the door nob.
“No No No!”
I don’t know if I said that out loud or just in my head. The round light hanging from the pointy part in my ceiling starts to come on. It has a turny knob so it can have the light bright or not so bright. He never makes it bright, he told me before he needs just a little light.
He’s so big. His big makes my small seem very small. He’s standing beside my bed. I can smell him. This must be what hate feels like. know what’s coming. His smell makes my tummy hurt.
Mad Mad Mad. I feel so mad, but I have to be still or it will hurt more. I push all the mad into my tummy where it has to stay. If I get mad he hits, so it’s better to make the mad go into that little ball in my tummy.
With the tiny light, I see he has on a white shirt and no pants. I know what it looks like down there because he made me see it before, but it still scares me and I start to cry. He’s holding it and says something, but I don’t know what. Everything starts to sound fuzzy like when I’m in the deep end at the swimming pool.
His hand is so big it covers all of my head. I hear someone in my head yelling “NO!”
But, now I’m on the swing. I go to the swing when his hand is on my head. There is a big rope-swing on a tree and it swings out over were the ground falls down to the road in front of our house. I sway back and forth. I can feel the sunshine and my feet are out and under, out and then under again. I go to the swing when he doesn’t have pants on. I can’t remember why.
I can see that big round light hanging from the pointy part in my ceiling again. The light is staring at me. I am crying again. I hate when I can’t remember why I’m scared.
He’s so big. Maybe he is a giant. He doesn’t seem so big when we have breakfast downstairs before I go to school, but when he is pulling up my Strawberry Shortcake nightgown, with his big scratchy hands he is a giant. I think he is big enough to eat the peach in James and the Giant Peach that our teacher is reading to us.
“Don’t do that!!” Uh, oh, I think I said it out loud.
I lay perfectly still. I am like the little baby deer that sleeps under our trampoline. I like to watch him when he lays so still, so I try to be like him. I feel my panties sliding off under my bottom. Put the mad in the little ball. Push all the mad to the little ball in my tummy. It’s safer there.
I sure am glad for that round light that hangs from the pointy part in my ceiling. Because that’s where I go now. I can hear him making some noises, but I can’t see him because I’m so little now I fit inside the light. It’s warm in here and that’s good. It’s better when I float up in the light when my panties are coming off. It’s not scary in here. I can’t remember why. I just float away and nothing hurts anymore….
This story is easier to share now than it used to be, because the man in it has since died. I share it because the words sexual abuse mean less all the time in our western vernacular, and nothing about that is ok.
I share it because when you see a person who weighs more than you think they should, I want you to remember that it’s possible you don’t know why they have needed to build a fortress. It’s possible that they are more than just fat, lazy, undisciplined. It’s possible that they are doing the best they can with what they have been given.
Please know, I am not saying there is no personal responsibility when it comes to health, because there is. I am responsible now, as an adult, for taking care of my body. I am responsible for learning ways to feel and be safe other than just getting bigger and creating more space between myself and others. I’m the adult now.
When a little girl is being used by a grown man sexually, when he is finding sexual gratification and pleasure in a child, when he is changing the shape of her heart by violating her body, we need to remember what sexual abuse really means. We need to remember there is a real person and a real story attached. It is not a statistic, it is a heart.
If a woman has had a home invasion and has a top of the line security system installed afterwards, we’d call that person resourceful. I realize the analogy has flaws, but if a woman has had her body invaded, and puts on weight because she doesn’t know any other way to feel safe (and she probably doesn’t even realize it’s what she’s doing), we might want to rethink how we see her. Because I see her as resourceful, and I want to help her find new ways to feel safe.
We never fully know someone’s story or why they do what they do. When in doubt, choose compassion.