I was visiting a witty, attractive and self-assured friend of mine recently when he said to me, within the context of inane bus chatter, that he has no real attachment to his legs and would easily give them up for bionic ones. I didn’t realise it at as I began to reply, but slowly as my shocked and rambling response unfolded with me making dumbfound arguments such as, “but they’re your legs,” and the conversation began to divert to the issue of cosmetic surgery, that the reason I felt so strongly is because I know what it’s like to have your body taken from you. I know what it’s like to lose control.
For a number of years, I was raped, beaten and sexually assaulted regularly by my first ever boyfriend. I allowed it to continue for so long out of guilt; he blamed me, as did his friends, for an attempted suicide shortly after I ended the “relationship”. I was thirteen, he was seventeen. I was young- too young to even really understand what sex was and it continued into my adolescence before I gained the courage to reclaim myself by breaking his nose and basically growing a backbone. Most people in my small town were aware of what was happening but it had been distorted and propagated so I was a whore who deserved it. I had my excuses for the bruises but blind eyes were turned by even members of my own family. This has never been something I’ve been able to talk about and with one in three women today being victims at some point in their lives of domestic abuse or sexual assault, I think a lot of people feel as ashamed as I once did.
Today I don’t feel as much ashamed, perhaps because I know it’s so common, perhaps because I’m finally, at the age of twenty-two, growing out of the mentality that it was my fault, that I did deserve it. The mentality which was hammered into me for so long. Mostly though, I live in fear that my grandparents or younger sister will ever have to suffer the heartbreak of knowing the extent of which I understand pain.
Most of my relationships since have been abusive in some way or another and only a select amount of friends know some truths of my life. I don’t think anyone knows the whole story in full (and indeed this article is but a snapshot), though the entire saga has been confessed in hard to say and hard to swallow chunks over the years to those who I trust or those with romantic intentions who I recoiled from and felt I owed explanation to.
I’m not a “perfect ten”, but I’m a long way off ugly and yet when my handsome friend bought up this idea of “bionic legs” and having no “real attachment” to any part of his body, I started to feel sentimental about my own legs which have carried me so far. And for my face with a fractured and healed cheekbone, the bump in my nose from various breaks and the cigarette burn singed into me just above the space between my legs which has caused me so much unhappiness but also in my life, a lot of joy. My face has been kicked and it has cried, but it’s laughed and loved too. My joints creak from the years of attempting to gain control of myself by excessively exercising and my size ten waist isn’t perfectly flat from using food as a barrier at times between myself and members of the opposite sex who I feared for so long.
People will comment on how I look so unlike pictures of my childhood self with the blond locks, the round face, the button nose and the happy eyes. I dye my hair dark because I’m not that person anymore and can’t pretend to be but I’m broken, scarred and I’ve grown and healed. To borrow wise words from Whitman, “I celebrate myself”. And so should you all. This is not a subject people often discuss and I don’t go around shouting about “being a survivor” because there’s a lot more to me than that and I refuse to be defined by it. But to anyone who may understand this article more than most, you are a beautiful flawed human being. Those words are not oxymorons, they are synonymous in my dictionary. There is a Japanese practice called “kintsugi” in which broken ceramics are repaired with gold. The result is that the plates, vases and bowls are often more beautiful, because of their golden flaws, not in spite of them.
So ask me again if I would consider botox or bionic legs and I will smile politely and say, “No, never.” What I won’t tell you is that this body isn’t perfect, but I’ve reclaimed it time and time again. It has endured, and it is mine.