CW: Mention of rape, suicide
Yesterday I went to the gym. I do this sometimes, with varying degrees of purpose. Mostly I do it these days to ward off a desire to murder myself. I’m also hoping to gain upper body strength for the day I need to punch a Nazi. I recently had a nightmare that I missed an opportunity to land a fist in Trump’s face as a result of a non-functioning arm. I’d like to avoid making that a reality.
Honestly, though, I probably wouldn’t step foot in a health club if shrinking wasn’t an occasional side effect of exercise.
So it was particularly cutting be on the elliptical, open OkCupid, and see this:
The first thing I did was try not to cry. Because fuck doing that in front of other humans.
The second thing I did was ship that screenshot off to my equally feminist besties. Initially I did this in pursuit of validation and comfort. Then I remembered that one of my comrades possesses a CIA-worthy penchant for gathering intelligence on people against their will and using very little information.
“Girl,” I wrote, “you’re good at detective work. Help me find his email address so I can ruin his life.”
“Where is he from?”
“His profile says South Korea.”
“Well,” she said, “That’s not helpful. I’m pretty sure I can only do people in America. I can catfish him for you.”
While catfishing might have been mildly amusing, it didn’t seem enough. I did something else, and I posted the following on Facebook, accompanied by the above image:
“I received this gem of a message while at the gym today. I don’t know this person, he is nothing to me, but still, when you have spent most of your life feeling unworthy and unlovable because of your body, this shit stings.
Ordinarily I would delete, block, and move on with my life. But this wasn’t simply someone lashing out for my refusal to acknowledge them. This perfect stranger in another country went OUT OF HIS WAY today to send me a reminder that I’m taking up too much space. That twinge of sadness and self-loathing gave way to white hot feminist rage.
So, I did the only logical thing. I played along. And I got his number.
He has Whatsapp. Do with that information what you will, Facebook.”
Ohhhhhhhh man, did my friends (and some strangers) come through. This dude threatened to have all of my electronic devices shut down if I refused to call a ceasefire. Which I guess is a thing he can do because he’s banging the ghost of Steve Jobs or some shit. (Just in case you’re worried, I didn’t tell anyone to stop and all of my vibrators remain in working order.)
I received a number of comments on that thread in the vein of “you’re perfect and amazing,” which is always lovely to hear, even if that wasn’t the point, and even as difficult as it may be for me to internalize and believe such whacky ideas. (Also, neither of those things and fat are mutually exclusive.) There was, however, another common theme in these responses that, while understandable, is misguided. And fucking exhausting to hear.
It’s the, “Don’t think about him, he’s not worth your time or mental energy.”
Look, I get it. This sentiment is not false. But it puts the onus on me not to be affected by hurtful messages. I already feel bad enough for feeling insulted by something that shouldn’t be an insult in the first place. (Though it’s not my fault that the word “fat” is weaponized.)
It probably surprised quite a few people to see me use words like “unworthy” and “unlovable” to describe myself. I’ve worked very hard to cultivate an air of badassery and not-taking-shitness, so I can see why someone like me showing even a sliver of vulnerability might be confusing or unsettling to some (not the least of whom is me… just ask my therapist).
But here is a fact: not hating myself is an uphill battle.
And that’s not my fucking fault, either. When we talk about women and our hatred for the meat bags we inhabit, we call this “body image issues.” As if these problems are born and reside only within us. As if they are something for us, individually, to work through. To get over.
Let’s set aside for a moment the cultural messages hoisted in my direction every day. It’s easy to say that because an advertisement isn’t directly addressed to me, it’s up to me not to internalize the message that I am not thin/beautiful/whatever enough. Happiness, after all, comes from within. (A bullshit argument, but I’ll concede the point for now.)
But that’s not all that’s happening in my world.
My freshman year of high school, I got my first cell phone as a birthday gift. One day shortly after that, I sat in the car with my mother and noticed I had a voicemail from a blocked number. I wondered if it might be whichever boy I happened to be crushing on at the time.
Instead, it was a voice masked in gravel that said, “Hello, fat ass, go die.”
As I’m sure was the intention, I grew quiet. When mom asked what was wrong, I said, “Nothing. I’m just tired.”
I never told her, or anyone, about that voicemail.
I’m supposed to love my body even when someone tells me it doesn’t deserve to be alive.
Here’s another story I’ve never told anyone:
After I was raped my freshman year of college, (and well before I had the ability to call it anything other than a one night stand gone awry) I spent a fair amount of time on my assailant’s Facebook page, trying to make sense of it all, and to find evidence that he was a good person. A few days after that night, an obituary-style post appeared on his wall, poking fun at him for sleeping with “bulbous women.” It was clearly about me.
I didn’t have sex for three years after that. My first foray into sober sex happened even later.
I’m supposed to love my body even when someone tells me it’s not even good enough to be violated.
A few years later, I stood in the basement of a pirate bar in Madrid, G&T in hand, trying to avoid the advances of a dude I simply wasn’t feeling. When he finally gave up, his smiley friend approached me, and got his mouth close enough to my ear to say, “You know, you are really pretty. But if you lost a little weight, you’d be perfect.” I looked down at my drink and imagined what it would look like in this fucker’s face. And in one of my most regretted life choices, I decided he wasn’t worth wasting the Hendrick’s on. Instead I simply I wished I’d never learned Spanish.
I’m supposed to love my body even when someone tells me, in no uncertain terms, that it’s inadequate.
This is why someone like me, someone who carries herself like a fierce warrior goddess, someone you would call a “strong woman”, can use words like “unworthy” and “unlovable” to describe herself.
This is how it’s possible for the words “you’re beautiful” to feel false even coming from a man who’s been inspired to put his hands over every inch of me. This is why, in the absence of hearing the words, “you’re beautiful” from the last man I shared a bed with, I have spent the last two weeks wondering whether his recent aloofness is a result of the puckered flesh on my ass that my jeans had been camouflaging. This is why, no matter how many times I do it, undressing in front of a new person presents a unique and terrifying challenge. This is why I have never come during my first encounter with anyone. This is why it injures me each time a person I date who “doesn’t want a relationship” magically finds himself in one a month later with someone much thinner than me.
The “love yourself” rhetoric just adds another layer of shit for me to feel bad about. Because I fail at it, daily. Hourly. And just when I get to a point where I think, “hey, maybe this is the shape my body wants to be, and that’s OK,” some cum stain reminds me that it never will be.
So, if I tell you that I’m feeling insecure and like a hideous sea witch, the right answer isn’t “ugh, stop, you’re beautiful.” If I show you an abusive message from a rando on a dating site, the right response isn’t, “it’s not worth your time, forget about it.”
It’s not my responsibility not to think about this shit when it happens. It’s your responsibility make this world one where that shit can’t happen.