By: Ava Emilione
Editor: Sarah DeSouza
“You look good as hell,” called a boy riding on a bike past me. He looked at me as he turned on his bike, then rode swiftly away before I could even think of an answer. I wondered, as I had hundreds of times before, how I could appreciate my body and respect my sexuality beyond constant objectification. Living in such a hypersexualized culture, I have had to consciously unlearn the idea that I exist for male pleasure, that I am merely a vessel to be penetrated.
“Living in such a hypersexualized culture, I have had to consciously unlearn the idea that I exist for male pleasure, that I am merely a vessel to be penetrated.”
Young women are trained to see themselves as if they’re on the outside looking in, critiquing and tailoring their bodies for a violent brand of male approval. I became addicted to erasing myself, and I thought that if I became small, delicate, or frail enough, I wouldn’t be as visible anymore. I talked less to strangers, raised my hand less in class, apologized for what wasn’t my fault, and became accustomed to being small. I convinced myself I was content with becoming a ghost so I could forget myself and everything I had been taught to hate: my large hair, my curved hips, and my soft stomach. No one ever tells women that the approval of others is not a fair price for forgetting yourself.
I was diagnosed with an eating disorder (ED) after years of seeing my body through the eyes of other people. Being objectified from a young age made me view my body as an object that could be shaped and shrunk to fit other people’s expectations. To be honest, I hadn’t grown out of this when I began treatment. I wasn’t consciously thinking about why I wanted to recover, or why I developed an ED in the first place. A small part of me was just tired of abusing my body and draining myself in the process. Subconsciously, I knew I deserved the chance to love myself. With the support of my mother and amazing therapists, I eventually recovered from my ED. My journey to and in recovery hasn’t been linear, and neither have its lessons.
“I was diagnosed with an eating disorder (ED) after years of seeing my body through the eyes of other people.”
From my experience in recovery, I have learned that beauty in and of itself is a colonial construct, built around brown and Black bodies to limit their growth. I have learned that my “flaws” are not flaws at all, but deviations from the violence of white standards. I have learned that self-love is a radical practice instead of a constant state of being. Most importantly, I have learned to accept that I am always learning and growing beyond the limits placed upon me.
I am still stunted in many ways — still learning how to exist even when no one is around to perceive me. How to perform without an audience, how to climax without a lover, how to write without readers? I am still learning how to take up space in solitude and with others. When I am alone, there is something about crying that relieves me, comforted by the fact that my sadness can exist without scrutiny. I am able to be not sad and beautiful, or sad and attention-seeking, or even sad and healing. When I am alone, I finally have the freedom to exist as I am.
Because I have always understood my body through other people’s eyes, I was never able to see it through my own. Out in the world, where there is a way of puncturing brown girls and poisoning our view of ourselves, I’ve had to learn there is no joy in being palatable. Somewhere along my journey, I didn’t want to be the person who wanted to disappear anymore. I tell myself I am made to fill my body, I am meant to take up space.
In my growth, I have begun to inhabit my body and understand its needs. I still have days, many days, when it’s hard to accept my body as it is, where I look at my still-growing form and am seized with a hunger to change it. However, I remind myself often that I am lovable, even when I am too lethargic or angry or hurt to love myself first. Since my recovery, I have come out as a queer woman, grown closer to an amazing and supportive group of friends, fallen in love, and written a hell of a lot of poems. On this journey, I am beginning to admit to myself that I deserve every form of authentic love that life has to offer.