It was a stunning day today. Spring finally looked as if it might someday appear. It was 54 degrees today! 54!!!! That is a number that was unfathomable just a week ago. The sun was shining. The children at school were able to actually go outside for recess and run amok for a few glorious minutes. I was able to venture into the great outdoors without gloves for the first time in months. I had a good day at work and was ready for a nice calming evening.
I was not ready for another sneak attack of PTSD, right at the end of the work day.
We are getting together a little health challenge at work. Just a few of us, keeping track of weight loss and body fat measures. There’s a friendly wager involved. I’ve been exercising lately and trying to eat better, and I was planning on joining this challenge. My good friend, the physical education teacher, is organizing it and acting as confidential guardian of the dreaded weight information.
This afternoon, he came into the room I share with another teacher and was telling us the details. He started talking about the body fat measurement and wearing shorts so he could do a skin fold test on our thighs. This immediately set me on guard and put my defenses up. I started panicking and making excuses…”I don’t have any shorts that fit,” and the like. I was assured that I could just wear sweats and pull them up and all would be well.
If only they knew how unwell all is going to be. The conversation concluded and I left for home, much distressed over this silly thing. A 5-minute test to see how fit I am. My heart raced all the way home. Maybe I could do the test myself? Maybe one of my women friends could do it? Can I just leave that test out? What do I give as a reason? Do I tell him the truth or just say I have “issues” or “feel uncomfortable”? It took most of the 40 minute drive for me to get grounded and calm down. All over the thought of exposing my thigh to a man.
Now, you have to understand he is one of my oldest friends in the district. I trust him completely. He’s a good Christian man who never gave me any kind of “get away from me” vibes. That isn’t the issue at all.
And it’s not actually showing off my leg that’s bothering me. I don’t care if anyone knows my weight. As 45-year old thighs go, mine aren’t half bad. I think people are realistically aware of how fat or thin I am. It’s not like I have terrible secrets hiding under my clothes. No major scars or warts or anything.
So why was this so terrifying for me? Being a rape survivor and having positive body image rarely goes hand in hand. I have a genuine fear of exposing my body. Even when I was young and pretty darn cute, I was overly modest. I always wore long skirts, longer shorts, one-piece bathing suits (on the rare occasions that I swam). I put a wrap around my waist at the pool and only took it off at the last second before jumping in the water. And I covered up with the towel the second I climbed out. Now that I’m older, I just don’t swim.
With my husband, I don’t like being completely exposed. I pull the covers over me when I’m waiting for him to join me in bed. Even with him, the most trusted man in my life, I don’t want to be naked. And he thinks I’m the most beautiful thing in the world, no matter how my body has changed. It still makes me uncomfortable.
Is this how it is for everyone?
For me, I think it all comes down to exposure. All of my fears. Fear of exposing my body, my true emotions, my soul. When I first began writing I did so when everyone was out of the house or asleep. No one knew I was even writing. My fear of playing the piano boils down to exposing my inner self to people. I can sing in public as long as I’m in a group and my voice doesn’t stand out. The second my voice can be heard, my throat closes up. Music comes from a place deep in my soul and it is hard to open up that much to others.
This is the biggest remnant of my rape. The one I can’t quite shake 30 years later.
Exposure. Vulnerability. Fear of being broken at the deepest level.