*Editor’s note: These posts were written back when my brand name was Remodel Fitness. I’ve decided to include them here without editing them, in the interest of…well… transparency. 😉
Today I want to talk about something really important and really intense.
The official statistic is that 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted.
Anecdotally, from working with women for so long however, I believe that the actual statistic is much higher than that. Many women don’t report their assaults, because there isn’t (or seems not to be) anything to be gained from going through the ordeal of reporting it. Even more women don’t even recognize what happened to them is technically sexual assault, because we have some murky cultural ideas around consent, and they didn’t run away or try to stop it.
Many women who don’t consider themselves “sexualy assaulted” still have yucky stories of feeling unable to say no to things they didn’t want, or feeling uncomfortable with the way they were touched or treated.
I would guess that the number for how many women have been sexually assaulted is more like 1 in 2. But no matter what the actual statistic is, the link between sexual trauma and negative body image is an absolute, set-in-stone fact. (Particularly in the cases of eating disorders.)
For the purposes of this email, where I don’t have time to dive deeply into the science of trauma and the effect it has on a person’s relationship to her body, I would like you to simply understand the importance of the link between sexual trauma and negative body image.
Not addressing sexual trauma when you talk about improving body image is a big mistake. Not only does it make the conversation significantly less effective by leaving out some crucial information, but it also further isolates and alienates anyone who has experienced it.
When we talk about improving body image, sexual assault and trauma need to be an open, honest, welcome part of that conversation. Otherwise it’s like trying to explain how to bake a cake, but refusing to mention flour because flour is dirty and shameful and embarrassing.
So, in an effort to welcome sexual assault into the conversation, here’s mine:
As a child, on several different occasions and with different people, I was sexually assaulted.
But it still happened to my body, and it still affected me.
The way it affected me is different than how it might have affected someone else, because we are each unique. But looking back on the story of my life and my body, I can see that those experiences did inform who I would become, and how I would view my body.
And that’s the point.
People don’t want to talk about this stuff, because it’s heavy and dark; scary and depressing. They don’t want to include sex and trauma in the discussion of body image, because it feels inappropriate and impolite.
They would prefer to think that negative body image is just an issue of photoshop and discrimination against plus-size models. But it’s not.
For so, so many women, negative body image is an issue of having your physical autonomy taken away at a formative age, and then spending the rest of your life trying to justify, understand, or protect against that from happening again.
For so many women, negative body image is about re-claiming control over a body which got them in trouble, brought them shame, put them in danger, felt pleasure during something bad, and/or didn’t protect them.
If you’ve been lucky enough to not relate to this at all, I’m very glad.
But most likely, around half of the women you know do relate to this, and it’s extremely important that we bring those stories into the light and start talking about them.
Maybe it was one big story for you. Maybe you called the police and dealt with the accusatory skepticism of everyone you told your story to. Maybe it was a bunch of little stories. That uncle who wanted you to sit on his lap too much, that friend who convinced you to play a game, that guy who grabbed your butt on the subway, that boss who kept harassing you.
It doesn’t matter if it was “bad enough” to be worthy of discussing.
If it affected how you view your body, it’s automatically a part of the conversation.
There is no sexual assault that’s “more worthy” of talking about than another. There is no trauma that’s “more valid” than another.
There is just: that experience affected how I feel about my body.
You deserve to feel whole in your body.
You deserve to feel complete and total autonomy.
You deserve to feel absolute and unerring self-trust.
And for that, you need to know that your sexual traumas are cordially invited to the conversation about body image. Their presence is not only welcome in that conversation, but required.
Let’s welcome them with compassion and love, both from ourselves and from each other.
<3 Jessi Kneeland Get strong. Feel confident. Look amazing.
PS. If you want to share this email with someone you know, feel free!
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