“You’re too fat to be a stripper…”
After skimming through the 3,000 comments people have left on the Buzzfeed video of my story so far, this comment and the 5 others like it are the ones that got stuck in my head. (I know, I know, don’t read the comments!)
Not the ones from young girls who were planning to start stripping and have decided not to after watching.
Not the ones from men who say that they will never look at a woman in the sex industry the same way again.
Not the ones from women who said they needed to hear a story of hope or the 2,900 other positive comments.
It’s this comment and the handful of others that mistakenly assume that I left the sex industry because I had simply gained too much weight to work in it any longer that are playing on loop in my mind. Never mind the fact that I quit in my prime while I was still top earner in my club. A tidbit of info that is only significant because it shows that I left because I grew to value myself more than the money I was making. I digress.
These negative comments about my weight are the ones that pop into my head throughout the day. I don’t love this about myself. I hesitate to even write about it. I don’t love that a 30-year-long battle with body image issues has been followed by another 10+ years of a process of undoing. I am not where I was—stuck in a pattern of starving, loathing, binging, shame and incessant exercise used as a form of punishment. I have learned to love myself and the skin I am in. To put healthy foods in my body out of love. To exercise out of love. But I am still vulnerable in this place.
The truth is, two decades of actually eating food (rather than starving myself like I did when I stripped), several miscarriages and a couple of children have added some pounds to my frame. Lot of them. And yet, I love myself more than I ever have. I am more comfortable in my skin today than I was when I was 19 and swinging from poles. Somehow, these ignorant comments find their home in deep-seated parts of my brain where my very own thought life used to wholeheartedly agree with their venomous nature. I wish they didn’t. But they do.
My value is not in my appearance.
I tell this to myself each time the negative tape about my weight plays. This is truth. And it is also counter to everything our culture tells women about their value.
There were dozens of other comments from people saying I was and still am beautiful. While I am sure well-intentioned, they serve the same beast. After hearing my story, all of the pain, the overcoming, when the response is an assessment of my looks, the message is the same: the most noteworthy thing about this human person is the way she looks.
Strangers often come up to me and comment on how beautiful my daughter is. Each time, I cringe because I know the double-edged sword this can be. “Tell them where your beauty comes from”, I would prompt her when she was tiny. “I am beautiful in my heart”, she would say proudly in her cheerful, toddler voice.
I want her to know that this is where true beauty comes from. I want this message to be so deeply ingrained in her that it will somehow inoculate her against the constant assault of messages about beauty that contradict this.
Throughout my own life, the commentary on my cycles of weight loss have been just as damaging as the ones on my weight gain. “You look great, have you lost weight?” “Wow, you are looking fit, what have you been doing?”
It is as though, as a woman, I am entered into an imaginary beauty contest where I am constantly being judged and measured against an ever-shifting, made-up standard of beauty. (See my previous blog on Beauty and Brainwashing). Their seemingly positive comments are a reminder of this.
You know what, in the 15 years I have spent working with women in various stages of transitioning out of the sex industry, I have noticed something. When a woman quits, it is very often followed by weight gain. And while the weight gain often comes with feelings of angst and frustration about not looking like we did before, it is accompanied by a secondary benefit: a sense of safety.
If the way to get attention is to look like our culture’s standard of beauty, then the way to avoid it is to quite literally, break the mold. Layers of fat become layers of protection from the leering eyes of those who have sexualized, objectified, and exploited us.
One woman I know, who has an insane metabolism, found a different way to do this. She grew her leg and armpit hair out. She would lift up her skirt and proudly flaunt her furry little legs, showing them off like a coat of armor. And that is what it was to her. A coat of armor. Keeping men away. Keeping her safe.
How do you change an entire culture and way of thinking that normalizes the objectification and sexualization of women? I come to you with more questions than answers.
Lao Tzu says, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character.”
I suppose it starts with one thought at a time. That is all we can control. The way we think about ourselves. The way we think about others. This is where it all begins.
I might not be a size 2… or even an 8 at the moment, but I can still marvel at the wonder of my body. Having just had a C-section, I am thankful to be able to walk and bend without pain at this point! But let me tell you, when I am fully recovered and back on the dance floor, salsa dancing my heart out, I am quite pleased with all that my body can do.
Beyond that, my body just created a human being. From scratch! And he is completely sustained by nutrient-rich, buttery milk that my body makes every day, all day long. And for the record, my 9-year-old daughter loves me in my current, squishy state. It’s much better for cuddling.
My body is pretty dang marvelous! And while I still don’t know how we are going to shift culture in this area, I am starting with me.
Ps. My dear friend Lindsey is a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders. She recommends an incredible book, called Intuitive Eating, for help navigating this area.
How about you? How have you learned to love yourself and the skin that you are in? What do you think it will take to shift culture in this area?
If you’d like to hear more about my story you can get a copy of my memoir Scars & Stilettos
LET’S CONNECT! XOXO, Harmony