The thing about my sexuality is that, ever since puberty, it has defined how I get looked at. Interest, envy, attraction, judgment, desire, jealousy. Wherever I go, I get taken in through how I look. And how I look has always been talking loudly. Louder than anything I can say with my voice. And none of it is because of my own doing, this is just how my genetic blueprint turned out.
At 11, I went from a training bra to a double D bra in the course of a few months. I was already acting like an adult, now I looked like one too. I remember a particular conversation with someone who was asking which college I was attending, and I had to respond that I hadn’t even started high school yet. All the attention I was getting always bordered on the overwhelming. And although she tried her best, my mother’s unresolved sexual trauma tainted her relationship with the sexuality my body exhibited. It’s hard to learn to be comfortable with how you look when your own mother isn’t.
The effect of my appearance were somewhat muted as I became overweight. I guess you could say that was one way I found to have some control over the whole thing. (Disclaimer: I am in no way making judgments about weight, health is a state that everyone needs to find for themselves, no matter what the scale says) I’ve always been aware that my borderline obesity was a part of my psychological unwellness. It manifested at its worse while I was also struggling heavily with agoraphobia and self-harming. Hiding at home and hiding inside my body. Loathing mirrors and cameras and reflections. Wanting to be overlooked.
When my healing transformation allowed me to stop carrying the past and to claim myself back, so much weight dropped off of me, and everything changed again. I wasn’t being overlooked anymore. So I had to make sense again of what everyone’s gaze meant, about me, about them, about our humanity, about our society. And, well, let’s just say it’s a lot to handle. It was for sure too much at 11, and at 31 it’s still barely ok. At least I have this project, to give me an outlet and to ground my consciousness about this into something concrete.
I have tremendous inherited hatred for my womenness. It has been a major blind spot of mine for the longest time. It’s hard to be aware of internalized misogyny. It takes taking responsibility for your own part in how you are treated by looking squarely in the face of how you treat yourself. And maybe I could have been onto it earlier if that had been the only message I received, but it wasn’t. The objectification of women is a consequence of misogyny but it’s also a corrupted form of adoration. That’s why women themselves are so ambivalent about it. I mean, I really shouldn’t talk in the name of all women. I guess from my experience, I can own the fact that I want to be desired just as much as I want to desire, and that if objectification is the only way to get that, I would have a hard time giving it up. It’s a good thing I don’t believe it is the only way. This is why I am out here, trying to shift things for myself.
The other thing that makes my appearance so difficult to accept is the fact that my sister looks so different. I guess I could describe it as I fit in the conventional norms of what’s considered beauty, and she doesn’t. And of course the norms are total bullshit, yet we all have to live in the world they rule. Me and my sister both. And she happens to have the blessing and the curse of being extremely self aware of her differences. When it comes to appearances, that veers heavily towards the curse. I have spent entire my life watching people stare at her. Most people are unconsciously showing their lack of familiarity with differences. Some people are straight up vicious as a way of being defensive against the unknown of what they perceive as a threat. But my empathy for and understanding of their behavior does not make it any easier to stomach watching my sister look at herself through how they look at her. Writing this out loud brings up a lifetime of utter sadness and useless rage at my powerlessness in these situations. It makes me cry because I have literally no other way to deal with this.
So, in case that’s not plain to see, guilt is the other thing plaguing me. I have read about the concept of survivor’s guilt, something veterans and survivors of disasters have to contend with. The thing is, the issues of survivor’s guilt are so close to what I experience, even though my sister is still alive, that I believe there is such a thing as the healthy one’s guilt. It’s probably easiest to notice in more extreme cases like mine, but it’s also arguably something everyone experiences for the privilege they have over others. And guilt is a nasty thing. It’s just as destructive as shame, I would say in just a more insidious way. Shame burns like I am being branded from the inside. Guilt is more like a poisonous vine slowly strangling all my organs.
All these things add up to what I see when I look at myself. But they are not what I want for myself. I want to reach for the power to own my appearance. I want to transcend my fears and shame and guilt. I want to not shy away from embodying my sexuality. It’s a huge responsibility, but at the end of the day, we all have our blessings and curses as the two sides of the same coin we’ve been given. The art is to rise to the occasion and let your own light shine bright.