A friend of mine posted on Facebook about an ignorant comment her coworker made to her. As I had this happen recently, I sent her a private message offering my thoughts on the matter. As I was writing it, it occurred to me that stomping your foot and declaring “no one understands me!” is totally counterproductive. The fact is, no one can truly understand another person. People are going to say stupid shit in an attempt to be helpful or comforting. That’s a fact of life. When they don’t get the reaction they’re expecting, they usually bungle it even more. I know I’ve done it. All you can do in those situations is tell the person it was hurtful, why it was hurtful, and let it go. It’s not my responsibility to change someone’s mind. I can plant the seed, but the rest is up to them. If they’re doing the best they can, I can appreciate that, even if they say the wrong thing. As the cliche goes, it’s the thought that counts.
One of the things that’s been more difficult for me is accepting compliments, especially from men on how I look. A very large part of my abuse was being paraded around as arm candy in various states of undress. I still carry around a lot of shame relating to that. After the relationship ended, I gained 40 pounds (about a 30% increase from when our relationship started), cut off my chest length hair (something I swore I would never do), and developed an eating disorder (something I had avoided throughout my years in the dance world). I did everything I could to make myself unattractive. Being fat, inked, and having a boyish haircut kept most men at bay. In my mind, if a man said I was pretty, that meant I was going to be abused again. Now I know that’s not true. I wasn’t abused because I was pretty. My looks had nothing to do with it. His actions and his screwed up ideas had everything to do with it. Now that I’ve lost 15% of my body weight since March and settled at a weight more in line with my bone structure, the compliments have been rolling in. It’s been a challenge to smile, say “thank you”, and appreciate the fact someone took the time to pay me a compliment. The dysmorphia that trots happily along with disordered eating is still there. On bad days, I’ll tear myself a part inch by inch. Most days, I’m neutral. On good days, I’ll look at myself while I’m getting dressed and think “Hey, not bad!”. Men who comment on my appearance aren’t going to hurt me. People like Will are few and far between. They’re not discounting my intelligence because I’m attractive and well dressed. They aren’t implying I’m just a body. It’s nothing to be afraid of. Smile, thank them, and move on with my day knowing someone took the time to notice and speak up.