Ed. note: This story shares details about sexual assault and disordered eating that might be triggering to some.
When I was a teenager, I loved my body. I ran track, marched in the band, and spent hours learning choreography from Aaliyah, TLC, Janet Jackson, and Destiny's Child. I wasn't obsessive about my looks, my weight, or my appearance. I was just a teenager living my best life. Then my parents got divorced. Next thing I knew, I was in college, not eating, and obsessing over my weight. So much so my athletic frame became something I looked in the mirror and hated.
After each meal, I would throw up. Or, I would starve myself to the point where I was light-headed. For years, I thought my eating disorder was a direct result of the imagery of thin models in ad campaigns and magazine covers. After flunking out of college going to counseling, I realized my parent's divorce triggered my need for control. My eating disorder was my way of regaining it, as unhealthy as it was.
My experience isn't uncommon, as studies have linked the need for control to the manifestation of eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The pause between my transfer to another university enabled me to work on getting myself back to a healthy weight. I threw out the scale. I stopped binging on junk. I took note of my triggers—many were linked to my role as the go-between in my parents' relationship. Setting boundaries with my family became my lifeline. That is, until another event in my life rocked my world and crushed my spirit.
Days before New Year's Eve 2018, I was sexually assaulted. He wasn't a stranger. He was someone I was dating and trusted. After the encounter, I did my best to brush it off. I went back to work. I traveled. I smiled. I tried to hide my pain from everyone, but I had changed. I self-isolated. I bought pepper spray (which I carried in hand everywhere I went) and a taser. I spent hours lying in bed, eating junk food, over-indulging on wine, and rewatching every episode of Law and Order: SVU. Watching a fictional character like Olivia Benson advocate for survivors was comforting, even though I was sure that type of support didn’t exist in the real world.
I accepted that what happened to me wasn't my fault, and they armed me with resources to help on my journey to healing.
I couldn't bear to leave the house. Every man I encountered felt like a threat. After months of shielding myself from the world, I started to chat with counselors at RAINN. With their help, I was able to express myself without judgment. I accepted that what happened to me wasn't my fault, and they armed me with resources to help on my journey to healing. When I finally came out of the fog, nearly nine months later, I couldn't fit into my clothes. I stepped on the scale and saw my 30-pound weight gain.
That extra weight made me want to lean on old habits. I thought about dieting, limiting my food choices, and getting a scale. But I knew it would be a slippery slope for me—I knew there was a direct link between my traumas, my relationship with food, and how I saw my body.
Instead of dieting, I started working out. I also cut out the junk food that was giving me comfort. The goal wasn't weight loss. I wanted to find what felt like a safe way to get back to me. I picked up cycling and built a supportive community at Sweat Cycle, a cycling studio in Downtown L.A. Some days I would cry in class because it made me feel things outside of the familiar numbness or guilt. Even with the new curves along my thighs, butt, and boobs staring back at me in the mirror, I felt like myself again.
On my journey to reclaiming my body, I watched Beyoncé's Homecoming and she said something that stuck with me: "I feel like I'm just a new woman in a new chapter in my life, and I'm not even trying to be who I was." She was talking about giving birth to her twins Rumi and Sir Carter, but I could still relate. I'm not pressuring myself to get back to any specific weight. I've decided to donate all of my old clothes and start fresh.
My body is beautiful, no matter the size. I will embrace my new curves without apology and continue to reclaim my joy.
I will never be the same again, and I'm okay with that. As traumatic as my experience was, I have felt a positive shift. I have found my voice, and I'm not afraid to use it. I was victim-blamed by family members, former friends, and colleagues. For a few months, I thought they were right. That somehow, if I'd done more to protect myself, the man I let into my safe space wouldn't have harmed me.
As I write this, I know that way of thinking is dangerous and wrong. I used to be ashamed. But I am no longer afraid of sharing my experience. I now hold those around me accountable for how they speak about women's health, sexual liberation, bodies, and trauma. As far as fitting into my size twos and fours again—I'm good on that. My body is beautiful, no matter the size. I will embrace my new curves without apology and continue to reclaim my joy.