During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Not for Ourselves Alone” is running a special series called 30 Days of Bodyshaming, designed to give a voice to the many different experiences of girls and women. This series will feature guest posts by professors, writers, a cartoonist, young girls, and mothers. Gut wrenching and honest, these stories are presented in an attempt to bring about a deeper understanding of the plight of girls and women as we make our way in world that, for us, is hostile at its best and violent at its worst.
I always feel a sense of freedom when I express myself artistically, especially through words. I have a passion for equality, fashion, travel, and sharing my stories. I believe that with a little compassion and creativity, you can change the world.
I’m a deep believer in accepting and celebrating all body types. Short, tall, thin, curvy, muscular, athletic, dark, light, big, small; every body walking on this earth is a body that deserves love and respect. Don’t compare and contrast, love your skin and spread the love of positive body image. I can say this over and over again to the people in my life but the only one who can’t seem to acknowledge it is me. I hate my body. I hate myself. I hate myself for hating my body. It’s a vicious cycle of hatred that’s fostered by my insecurities.
Since I’ve been in college I’ve been more open about my beliefs. I am a feminist. I want equality. I am passionate about fighting for equality, equality for all. This is something I always believed in, but I haven’t had to courage to be outspoken about it until the past 2 years. Openly identifying as a feminist makes me even more ashamed for hating myself so much. How am I supposed to encourage others to celebrate their body when I can’t even look in the mirror without seeing something I want to change? I feel like an imposter.
I’ve had body image issues for as long as I can remember. By all standard definitions, I appear to have a healthy body. I have an average weight and height. I exercise and eat as healthy as I can. But it’s what happens behind closed doors that really depicts the truth. I was a dancer for most of my childhood. I spent 5 days a week examining my body in a room of mirrors. I compared how I looked in tights and leotards to the other dancers and I never liked what I saw. I entered high school in a deep depression and eventually had to leave the company I danced with for personal reasons. I then decided to join my high school’s cheer team. I had the precision and strength from my years in dance to contribute to a 1st place state champion team. We cheered for our school, but our school did not cheer for us. We were called whores and sluts. We were accused of paying our way to the top. We were disregarded as athletes because we wore bows and short skirts. To the rest of the school, we were yappy, stupid slutty girls who were just in the way. Although I was in a community of extremely supportive young women and coaches, I continued to slash at my worth.
Every day in the morning announcements the young women in my school were reminded of the dress code. This was usually accomplished by changing the words to a children’s song to fit the message; “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” was sung as “The Itsy Bitsy Short Shorts”, etc. Apparently this was a playful way to shame us for wanting to wear shorts in the spring. “Just because the sun is showing, doesn’t mean your legs can show.” It seems like I couldn’t go anywhere without feeling ashamed about my body.
Up to this point, it never occurred to me to try to eat less and exercise more. I would not become the girl who disappears to the bathroom after each meal. I didn’t have much self worth, but I couldn’t stoop to that level. It wasn’t until college that I started manipulating my appetite to consume less. I started by just having coffee for breakfast. I knew a lot of people who didn’t eat breakfast, so I didn’t feel like I was doing anything too drastic. It got to the point where I started having coffee for lunch as well. I would run to Starbucks in between classes and purchase a medium drink. I was consuming enough sugar to trick myself into thinking I was full. For an entire semester, I was only eating one meal a day, but it still wasn’t enough for me.
I am about to admit something out loud that I have done a very good job at keeping quiet.
Purging wasn’t enough damage to my body, so maybe throwing up my food would do the trick. I would lock my bathroom door and turn on the ceiling fan and sink to drown out the noise. Every time I walked out of the bathroom I hated myself even more. I was killing myself. I knew I was killing myself, but I continued to do it for a month. After those 4 weeks, I was so ashamed and full of hatred about what I was doing that I somehow was able to stop.
I didn’t speak a word about this to anyone until 5 months later. The secret ate at me and once again, I was stuck in a deep depression. I couldn’t handle to weight of it anymore so I confessed to my best friend. Her reaction was filled with nothing but compassion, kindness and support. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Instead of being met with judgment and shaming, I was met with support and love. I still have the urge to slip into the bathroom every once and awhile, but I’ve gained strength to drown those voices out. I am healing.
Julia Beebe is a college student currently studying abroad in France.