I know I am not the only one who has had a lifelong struggle with feeling comfortable in their skin. I know some of us can remember the exact moment when the world shifted from blissful ignorance to crippling insecurities. At least I can.
Mine came in the form of trauma. It's interesting because, at the height of the #metoo movement where women are rising together, it was a woman who set the course of my life of physical self-hatred.
A woman who was also a family member who was trusted to keep me safe; a woman who stripped me of not only my clothing but of my dignity.
It was the year I was becoming a teenager in all senses of the word. I was a hormonal, emotional toddler with new body parts emerging. I was staying at my relative's house, and it was "time to shower." I feel like mentioning that this shower was its own epic brand of creepy. The shower was located in the basement of the house that was nothing more than a concrete floor with a drain and a hose hanging from the ceiling. The "normal" shower upstairs had not been in working order for years, so the creepy makeshift shower was created. I remember going down the long narrow stairs to this damp, dark basement, not thinking it was necessary to lock the door at the top of the stairs -- I needed a quick escape route in case my imagination got the best of me. Too bad it was not my imagination that scared me in the end.
Suddenly, I could hear my Aunt's laboured breathing and heavy footsteps coming down the stairs. I shouted, "I am taking a shower." She didn't care. She approached me in the shower: "Hey, what do you have going on there?" alluding to my sprouting breasts. I quickly grabbed a towel and ran upstairs to the other bathroom and locked the door to get dressed. I was so incredibly embarrassed; however, being young and in the company of adults, I thought maybe she did not hear me when I yelled and her comments were as a result of being in an awkward situation. I kept it all to myself. I tried not to let it bother me. It did.
The next few weekend stays I refused to take a shower, but on a longer stay, it was not possible to avoid. My Aunt told me to go take a shower because “everybody in this house takes showers on Saturday.” So I did; however, this time I locked the door to the basement. It was a delicate metal hook. I thought this would help protect me against any "awkward" moments. While I was in the middle of taking a shower, I could hear some commotion with the door. Something had been slipped through the door to unlock it. By the time I was able to get the soap out of my eyes to find my towel that was laying on the washing machine, my Aunt who moved slowly at the best of times had practically teleported with enough time enough to steal my towel and start snapping polaroids. I knew it was a Polaroid because it had a particular sound. That sounds still plays over in mind. I kept trying to cover up my body with my hands. She told me she would give me the towel if I would stand still for one photo. I wanted it to stop. So I stood still wet and naked in the damp, dark basement and let my Aunt take a photo of me NAKED. She threw the towel at me and went back upstairs as she fanned the photo across her face waiting for it to develop. I cried as I got dressed.
No one had ever seen me naked in my "new" body before, but now she had. It felt like she had taken something from me. Something sacred. She stole my self-love. She took my power.
That year I chopped off my very long hair and started stealing clothes from my father's closet. The baggier, the better. I figured if I looked like a "boy" I would never be looked at the way my aunt had. Leering. Unfortunately, I was met with another wave of cruelty. This came in the form of junior high "mean girls." I don't know what it is about mean girls, but they really know how to strip you of your self-worth. During that same time, I was asked to a dance by a boy. I reluctantly said yes because I was not allowed to date boys until I was 16, but I liked that someone was nice to me, only to find out the day before the dance it was a cruel joke. I found out when he threw a piece of trash at me from a moving bus and said, "Why would anyone want to date you? You're ugly." That played over in my head for years. Admittedly, they knew nothing about what happened to me, and I knew nothing about what met them in their own lives, but puberty and perspective don't mix well. To this day I still struggle with doubts about my self-worth.
I don't know what happened to those photos, or if they will ever resurface one day. Luckily for me, they are Polaroids -- hopefully, the physical images have long since disappeared, unlike the images that haunt me.
I created LES WOO to elevate women's stories. To help give insight and perspective to the silent struggles we all face.
The inspiration for each of the designs I release is sparked by the women who touch me in my life. The designs are named after the very women whose stories are shared.
I have taken back my POWER.
This is my body story.
photo credit: Daniel Kelly and Eden Bluestein - www.theheadshot.ca