By Samantha Webb
*TW- mention of sexual assault and ED*
At the age of eleven I suffered an attack that changed my life forever.
Close to a decade later, I still struggle to say, write or hear the word that describes my experience.
Like many other girls and women dealing with the painful memories of sexual assault, I developed an eating disorder that consumed my teenage years. The mirror became my nemesis and I was terrified, ashamed and embarrassed of the reflection looking back. As I fought to bury my trauma, the continuous shame increased my feelings of self hate and worsened my relationship with food.
With the pressure to stay afloat in school, desperately trying to comply with society’s ever changing beauty standards and feeling alone in my emotions, I found myself in hospital at the age of thirteen.
Seven years on, as a young woman of 18, I have reached a turning point in my recovery and the way in which I view not just my body, but the world that surrounds it.
A huge revelation for me was learning to be thankful for all that my body does. Since I was born, it has selflessly served me, continuously pumped blood through my veins and supplied oxygen to my cells so I can breathe. My body, like yours too, has fought endless battles against any virus, abuse, sickness or illness I may have come across so that I can live my life to the fullest every day.
No matter the weather, time or place, it has been relentlessly caring for me for 18 years, and instead of reciprocating those efforts with love, I had despised it. Instead of showing gratitude, I had reproached it day after day for things which it was not even responsible for. Instead of recognising, and appreciating my body for the beautiful home and temple it gave me, I had continuously denounced it as an insignificant, “damaged” object.
I want to make it clear: your body has absolutely nothing to do with your value as a human being and you are not responsible for what may have happened to you. Your body does not, and never will, exist to please other people, it exists to help create the life you want to live.
Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing an imperfect figure reflecting back, it’s time for us all to see the capable, courageous and captivating creatures standing proud before the glass. For we are all an individual work of art.
We are all covered in unique marks and memories that do not strip us of our beauty, but enhance our capability.
Recently I realised that I do not have to be a victim. I do not have to let my attackers win. I can be a fighter, a warrior, a young woman with a history that will not suffocate her into silence, but propel her into becoming a powerful force to be reckoned with.
For too long I have blamed myself for something that wasn’t my fault and then penalised my body for it.
As my journey towards healing reaches its 8th year, i’ve learned to sit with my feelings rather than numb them with food. I've learned to view my body as a gift, and my feelings towards it have changed drastically.
As I’ve made a conscious effort to praise my body for its strengths, I have felt the weight of self criticism lift and my self love increase. Each day I remind myself that my appearance and self worth are independent of one another.
Although I still struggle with my reflection on occasion, I know that healing my relationship with my body will take time, as will healing from abuse. Repairing my relationship with my body is a long and ongoing process, but each day I will choose to love myself and in doing so, conquer my past in the process.
Our lives do not have to end after tragedy.
You are stronger than your trauma.