((Mum and Dad: maybe don’t read this one. Love you!))
I’ve been feeling a little melancholy lately. Ever since #MeToo. I’ve had so many feelings that I haven’t really been able to sort them out. I want to put on the Smashing Pumpkins and just sink into the emotional landscape of my teenage years, when I could so easily feel despair and joy through a song or a book.
This post will be very me-focused, because I can’t get to the structural, communal or societal side of things until I lay all my own crap on the table. I have another post in the works that I hope will address some communal identity issues and how we can approach this conversation from a more intersectional space. But for this post I’ll be saying #MeToo from an individual place.
I feel like a failure lately. #MeToo
I’ve been failing as a wife and a woman in so many ways, and I’ve been ignoring them all. And despite the fact that I’m a feminist and I don’t believe that gender roles are that rigid, these failures have migrated beyond the role of wife and woman and into the roles of partner and human.
I’m not taking care of myself. Not even to the minimum extent. My eating habits are up in the air, I have more than a few unhealthy habits that I can’t even begin to air out.
And all of these failures are crystallized into one symbolic act that I can’t change.
A few months ago I had to take off my wedding and engagement rings because they didn’t fit. I scraped skin off the sides of my ring finger to get them off, I had scabs for days. But the rings were originally made just a little too small and have always been hard to get off, and since the spring I put on maybe a couple extra pounds and that was the breaking point. Being unable to wear my rings has been a thoroughly heartbreaking experience and the denial of that pain has spread into everything around me. I’m usually awful at dishes and laundry anyway, but I’ve been even more awful since then. That daily, symbolic reminder of my partnership with my husband is gone from my hand, and I feel nothing but shame in that.
#MeToo hit me harder than I expected. As usual I jumped into educator mode. The Nice White Ladies had a lot of unpacking to do around personal stories of survival, finding their voices, and placing the white feminism of the conversation into context. I did a lot of hand-holding, and we collectively found our way to a more intersectional space, but I never stopped to process what happened to me in all that. I never gave myself space.
The truth is that my body has never been my own. #MeToo
From a young age I was reminded that I had very little control over my physical form. I could be grabbed, snatched or carried off with no warning. I had to dress up for photos and visits and smile patiently and sit on uncomfortable sofas while old people I didn’t know pinched my cheeks or asked me to do a twirl for them. All of this being available for people to touch without consent has left me extremely defensive of my personal bubble as an adult. Once I body-checked my mother in law when I saw her leaning in to start touching a friend’s daughter, while the child was physically pulling away and trying to escape. “She doesn’t know you!” I hissed, using my body to block her from the girl. The reaction was swift and visceral, I didn’t even think before I did it.
I woke up one morning with blood on my thighs and the realization that my body was again, not my own. Now I was a vessel, capable of carrying and creating life, but I was 13 and my parents’ daughter and the expectations were clear. Any teenage pregnancy would result in me being shipped off to an all-girls’ boarding school.
My body was not my own. #MeToo
I didn’t want to get pregnant, hell I hadn’t even kissed a boy yet. But there was the line, drawn before I could even get a map in hand. That same year was the first time a man asked me for the monetary value of my body. 13 years old, walking my dog down the street and he followed me in his car and asked me how much I cost. I was too stunned by the question to do anything more than shake my head.
I made it through the next few years by going deep into Christianity. My body was a vessel, a transportation device, it got me from point A to point B. I didn’t understand the dieting and working out that surrounded me because in my mind you had the body that God gave you. But highschool isn’t actually a place for spiritual development. A rumor soon circulated that I must be a lesbian in my small town highschool because I’d been there for a few months and shown no interest in any boys. I got a boyfriend to put those rumors to rest.
My first sexual experiences, clumsy and innocent, were at the direction and desire of my partner. #MeToo
Until my late twenties my sexual life would remain that way. My body was consumed, a product for others’ pleasure, and while I would sometimes have moments of selfish indulgence it was always covertly done with another person. I didn’t know my own body, I didn’t feel it or see it or touch it. I stumbled on moments of pleasure when something that a partner enjoyed would line up with something I enjoyed, but I didn’t know how to ask for it, I didn’t even know what it was.
That’s where the #MeToo conversations hit me hardest.
With the social change since my teen years around the conversation of consent, I realize how little of my own sexual past I consented to.
Christianity failed me and I turned to paganism. There was a bit more grounding in that, but the spirituality was what drew me in. I became a vessel for a larger spiritual self, and an ever expanding brain, but my body was still just what it was. In retrospect that time was probably the closest I came to getting into my body, at least there were female figures in that spiritual practice I could connect to and see myself in. It was much more mirroring than Christianity had allowed.
It wasn’t long before I was in performing arts school and my body quickly became a product. Once I wore this fabulous blue dress for a mock audition. The teacher said as long as I wore a push up bra and some heels I would work in this industry. Once the girls in the class played a game with one of the guys, they asked him to build the perfect woman using our body parts. He chose my calves. After I graduated I started taking some on-camera classes. The head of the studio sat me down and told me in the gentlest way possible that I didn’t look like anything right now. He said that in the real world I was perfect, but on camera I was halfway between the chubby best friend and Lara Croft, and that I needed to pick one.
My body became a product, and I treated it that way. Beating it into submission with diet and exercise. My brain was still divorced from it, just for a little while, I thought. Just for now, I can make this holistic later, once I look the way I need to look it will all magically glue together.
My body was never my own. #MeToo
I went on auditions and got work as parts of a person. The legs, the boobs, the smile, the bangs. Once I was ‘the hot girl’, which I guess was more of a whole picture but, not really. I don’t mean these labels anecdotally. I mean on set once I was referred to as “the bangs” more than I was referred to by my own name. It wasn’t even a hair commercial. Theatre was more holistic but the pay was inhumane. I couldn’t sustain that life because I couldn’t sustain myself.
I was in a relationship with an emotional abuser in my mid-twenties. Our relationship hinged on appearances, in every definition of the word. If I didn’t meet him at the door all done up and ready to see him it was an argument waiting to happen. If I didn’t clean the apartment before he came over it was as if I was personally insulting him. That all makes sense in the first 3 months of a relationship when you’re trying to put your best face forward. But when you hit the 2 year mark and are terrified that you’ll be dumped for not shaving your legs, that’s abuse.
I went back to school and the divide between my brain and my body widened. Telling myself it was temporary, as I always did. I was running from an industry that had taken my disconnected body and turned it into pieces that could be bought and sold. I was running from a relationship that had taken my disconnected body and turned it into a possession. And I was running from myself, and my own disgust at having spent a life putting my intellectual needs on hold for a world that could not accept me no matter how I looked. I dove into academia and relished the disconnection from my physical form.
But here I am. #MeToo
It did nothing to heal the cracks in my self. All the thinking in the world can’t get me back to me. My body is not my own. It has never been mine. And that, is the problem with all of this. We have created a world where this is normal. Where every one of us can go through our entire lives without agency over our own bodies. Without even the ability to articulate what is missing.
As I research, I find the solutions being offered up to me are coated in otherness. Self-care is framed as something you do so that you can continue to be of service. You love yourself so that you can love others. You take care of yourself so that you don’t burn out taking care of others.
But what if you’re holding the broken pieces of your self and you’re not sure how they fit together? #MeToo
What if you’re not sure if you even have all the pieces in front of you? How do you examine each one and say “Is this really me, or is this something else? Is this a piece of an idea that was tacked on to me from the outside? If it’s been a part of me for so long do I need it? Do I keep it?”
I’m so ashamed when I visit my mother in law and I’m not wearing my rings. She looks at me, disappointed that my body is not producing the grandchildren she wants. Disappointed that I am not living up to my duty as a wife and a woman. To her those rings are symbols of subjugation. To me, they are something entirely different and I feel defenseless without them.
I miss wearing my rings. They are whimsical, magical and a daily reminder that even if I don’t know my whole self, my husband does. That he sees me, and loves me, and chooses me, all of me, every day. And even though they mean something else to the world, to me they are a testament. These rings are how my husband sees me, all of me. They are perfectly me, a mirror that shows everything from my brain to my body to my spirituality and his dedication to being with me forever. Sometimes in order to find your self, you need to look in a mirror.
Sometimes in order to find yourself you need to look into someone else.
I’m not ready for self-care yet. I’m not my self. I couldn’t tell you what I need to care for my self. Because my body has never been my own, the world never let me own it. From parents, to lovers, to media, to society, my body has never been mine.
This is the world we built. #MeToo
A world where bodies are commodities. A world where bodies are transportation devices for our brains, and vessels for our souls. We live in these broken, shattered jumbles of feelings and memories and polish the outside to appeal to others or hide from their violence. People penetrate our bodies and we hide our pain to spare ourselves the further ridicule of exposing it only for it to be ignored. We are seen and unseen and maybe in the end we’re a little too broken to put ourselves back together.
Maybe it’s not up to me to fix this.
Maybe it’s up to all of us.
I don’t know the answer. But I know I can’t go on like this. From now on, I am more than my mind or my soul, or pieces of my body. From now on, I am my body, all the broken, hidden, scarred and sensitive pieces of it. And from now on, my body is mine.
P.S. Fuck it. I’m getting my rings resized.
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Also published on Medium.