Predators use language to battle the morale of their victims and society unknowingly reinforces these feelings of battered self worth. Predators intentionally use words that attack the self esteem of the victim and send the victim into a spiral of self doubt. Often the victim is left wondering what they did to deserve this or how they could have prevented it. What could the victim change? Why did they not prevent this from happening. This can be somewhat obvious but what is less obvious is the judgments and words we often use towards young blossoming women and even young girls in our society can compound the effects of these words should they find themselves in a sexually predatory situation.
I am going to write about my story and experiences. Fair warming: some of this might be difficult to read if you too have experienced sexual trauma.
I write this because I recently read an article about the “over sexualization of our young girls” and though I agree with much of what the writer was trying to express some of the judgmental terms used in the article got me thinking. Yes, I do agree with protecting young developing minds from overtly sexual material but can we begin to see female sexuality without labels and judgement? Even when you might see someone being what you would consider overly sexual can we back off from that knee jerk reaction? I would like to have the world begin to see young women exploring their sexuality and the “style” they wish to adorn their body with or not adorn their body with as their own choices in exploration.
Let me begin with my story, the big one first I guess. I was 10 years old and had unknowingly been groomed by a friend of the family. He spent much time carefully choosing his words to convince me that my family did not understand me, only he did, my family did not love me, my family found me difficult. He would watch for times I was in trouble with my family and convince me he was the understanding friend that truly saw me for who I was. That in his eyes I was not an annoying child but a lovely blossoming woman. I was not a disappointment in his eyes as I was for my family. The night that he decided to launch me from my childhood innocence into an adult world of sexuality he spent the night reinforcing his predatory sexual attack with the following statements “You’re a good girl” “You were asking for this all night showing off those womanly hips and tits” “You were flaunting your body in my face all night” “I can tell you want this”.
Obviously I was too young to understand ANY of what he was saying. But it shaped the rest of my reality. I asked for that to happen to me. It was what I was wearing that night that caused it. It was the fact that I willingly sat on his lap whenever he asked me to. It was my fault.
Fast forward to age 13. There were the 3 BFFs we were in this phase where we would call each other up to see what to wear that day and wear exactly the same outfit. One friend was long and lean, 1 friend was shorter and very slight build and then there was me, an hourglass shape from age 10. We wore the exact same clothes and at the time I had a boyfriend I was ridiculously loyal to, there was no other male on the planet, just him. The slim friend of the group was telling her brother some story about what we had all been up to and I overheard him ask “which one is that” after my friend said my name. My friend described me and he responded “oh the slutty one”. I was right back to that victim brain. How am I the slutty one? We wear the exact same clothes, I do nothing I would consider “slutty”… it must be that body again asking for trouble when I am not even aware.
Fast forward to 18, I had a heartbreak evening. The kind of heart crushing that you need to find a friend and get lost in some letting loose and forgetting what happened. I was dressed for the date with this special guy and after experiencing the heartbreak walked directly to a local bar I knew some friends would be at. I spent the night drinking (legal in New Zealand at 18 fyi) and dancing with anyone and everyone. That evening ended in rape. As this awful person was forcing himself on me he said “You’ve been asking for this all night”. Yet again I spiral into the world of “I asked for it”, “its my fault”.
After this experience my life went into a tailspin and I ended up leaving my hometown to start over. I packed up and crashed at the house of a male friend I had made before I left. He had a spare room and offered it up for me to stay in while I figured out my own apartment. 3 weeks into this arrangement and many nights of sitting on the rooftop bonding in what I thought was a safe friendship he offered to show me reiki – what he called a healing energy to help me get over what happened to me. Before I know it he is forcing himself on me and saying “You put out a sexual energy, you can’t be surprised when men react.”
After these experiences I totally lost my shit so to speak. I became angry at the world and decided to live the “fuck it” life. Looking back on that time it is a wonder I survived that time. People told me I was too sexual well fuck it, I will be overtly sexual. I will wear the skimpiest clothing, go to the raunchiest clubs and own my sexuality. I will have sex with anyone I choose. Most importantly, I would choose.
Eventually I got myself together, met a man, figured out a decent career and even had a family. I became the model citizen, devoted wife and mother. (My trauma was compensating and trying to push me into being perfect but that’s another story). Many times as I adjusted into this wife/mom life I came across conversations and judgments that would send me spiraling back into wondering if the only thing I was good for was this sexual body that everyone thought was constantly “asking for it” – no matter which way I dressed it.
“Friends” and other parents would say things that were very judgmental. Some of the things I heard were: “her clothes are too skimpy” “she doesn’t dress like a mom”, “she’s always hanging out with the Dads, she’s such a slut”, “she looks too young to be a mom”, “she tries too hard to impress men”, “I heard she goes out dancing, what a whore”, ”he only wants to be your friend to get into your pants” ….
I took a yoga teacher training and in the ethics part of the training clothing was brought up. We were told that as teachers we should be mindful of our clothing choices, that wearing tight skimpy clothing is distracting and we should focus on the message we want to convey. My clothing choices were discussed. I found myself looking around the room and noticing many different body types wearing yoga pants and a top. I was wearing yoga pants and a top. Yet again I was left to ponder that sexual body that was always defying my intentions and putting out the wrong message. The discussion went on to “Those LuLu lemon types” to me, yoga was a practice that was supposed to teach us how to be inclusive, how to let go of our judgements and let people be themselves, no matter what. Do the “Lulu lemon types” not need yoga in their lives? What makes their choice of a pretty matching outfit mean they are not deserving of the beautiful teachings of yoga?
Another yoga training I took we again came to the ethics part of the course. The discussion went on to social media and what is “ethical” to put on social media as yoga teachers. There was a lot of discussion on skimpy outfits and whether or not this was appropriate. Again, I found myself the only one asking “Who are we to judge the journey that the bikini clad young yogi is on?” This girl is on her own journey of exploration, who are we to judge what is right or wrong? Isn’t the point of yoga to get to know oneself, all parts of oneself and this would include the layer of the body, the ego and even our sexuality.
A while back a family member spent some time with my young teenage girl. This family member thought it was funny to tell my young girl the exploits of her mother’s youth. This family member told my daughter that “she will be a slut just like her mother was”. That being slutty “runs in the family”. The comments were consistently teasing my young innocent teenage daughter about having a boyfriend and how “I know what you get up to, you will be just like your mother”. My daughter was brave enough to speak up and say “Well I think that my mother is pretty awesome and I would be happy to turn out just like her”, however, these comments were hurtful and sit with her still.
I hear conversations of my young teens and their peers judging women in the entertainment industry. Despite my constant battle to remind them that “slut shaming is not acceptable in this house” I see them influenced by others. Most recently there was a discussion about how disgusting a song and video recently released by a female artist was because she was a mom. I pointed out that she is an artist exploring and expressing herself in a way she sees fit for her fan base. I also pointed out the many male artists they had not judged for far more overtly sexual material. Sadly I lost the battle with an overwhelming “but she is a mom, that’s disgusting”.
So I ask you, when you have that knee jerk reaction to a young woman and her choice of clothing/actions, can you use this moment as a teachable moment? Ask yourself the questions about why this makes you uncomfortable. I think you will find most often that little inner critic about your own body and sexuality is running the show. Before you utter those words of your social training, the words that fit you into the group you feel safest in, can you ask yourself if those words perhaps violate the first lesson in yoga “Ahimsa – do no harm”. I suggest that you consider not only that those words might do harm to that young blossoming woman you are judging but also self harm by reinforcing that inner critic that judges one’s own body as not measuring up to society’s beauty norms. Our words matter. We have the power to uplift and support each other on our own journeys EVEN when we might not want to take the same path.
-FUBAR yogi, shellyQ