I have a weekly date on Periscope with my brother.
We are live every Wednesday at 9 pm, EST and we answer dating, relationship and sex ed questions. I happen to think it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve been honored to speak to a lot of really interesting personal matters via this format. We get most of our questions via Ask.fm because it’s easy to post anonymously there. Last night, I woke up to this question, which isn’t in fact a question at all, and I knew it was going to end up becoming a blog post:
When I encounter women such as yourself, who are beautiful and appear to have it all together, I go deaf. It’s difficult to hear you because I assume you have no idea how hard this world is as a less than beautiful person. I know I am kind and smart, yadda yadda. Beauty is skin deep. I am sexist!
The story continues. This morning, when I cracked my computer, I realized I’d also received an email from this person. I was surprised to learn that the writer was female, though I’m not entirely sure why I assumed she was male. Her email expressed regret at the question she had posted, and she seemed very eager to make it clear that she didn’t mean it to be insulting. I didn’t take it as an insult, not really. Instead, I thought it was an opportunity. If this woman was expressing her feeling that my perceived beauty made it harder for me to recognize life’s difficulty, surely other people have felt the same. Please read on for my response.
Thanks for this email. I read your question last night, at about 2 am when I spontaneously woke up. Once a month, I have at least one or two nights like that, last night was one of those.
It’s so interesting to me that you are a woman. In my mind, your comment was from a male, but I get where you’re coming from, I really do.
Part of my struggle has been learning to give people the benefit of the doubt, in everything, which for me (a trauma survivor) is the hardest thing to do, even when those people are the ones I love most. I try to approach the questions we receive for our Periscope gig through that same filter, and to answer with compassion. Kyle, usually not so much. He’s just not there yet. I say this with love and amusement.
I have been described as attractive, and there are moments where I genuinely feel that way. I understand the advantages this has given me in my adult life, I notice it most directly with regard to work. Job interviews, meetings, professional interactions, these always go well. What I want you to know, especially now that I know you’re a woman (I’m a little bit sexist too, I think we are the gender most connected to the power of the Universe) is that inside I feel like an awkward child. An awkward child who feels unlikable and ugly.
When I was about eight, I was strangled on a crowded playground by a disturbed fourteen-year-old boy who pretended to go into a trance. He chased me down and tackled me in the bushes while the rest of the kids on the playground watched. The kids in my neighborhood said he could channel the devil. Maybe they cheered him on, maybe they were trying to help me, I can’t remember. What I do remember was the fury in his eyes, the detached rage on the mask of his face, and the absolute feeling that I was going to die. I don’t know what made him stop strangling me, but he did. I have absolutely no recollection of how I got away, or ended up home. I never told my parents until years later when I was an adult.
I believe trauma shapes us because it brings us face to face with death. Or at least, with our own mortality. I understood my own mortality when I was eight. I understood how unpredictable people, and in fact life, could be when I was eight. I understood real danger when I was eight. I didn’t realize, until I had my own eight-year-old person to love, how deeply fucked up that is.I believe trauma shapes us because it brings us face to face with our own mortality. Click To Tweet
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar episode of trauma? As a woman, the chances are pretty great that you have. If that’s the case, then you’ll understand when I tell you this experience shaped the rest of my life, and continues to do so in many ways today. Here’s what I understand about the impact of that moment:
- I have lived much of my life feeling that I was deeply different than everyone else around me, which is why this kid singled me out. Sometimes I could tell myself that it was because I was very good inside, and his devil-self wanted to kill that goodness, but mostly I have felt that I was rotten and deserved to be snuffed out. This feeling was set in stone by years of teasing and bullying in grade school.
- I have lived much of my life feeling like nobody can ever really protect me from harm, and that at any time, anyone can choose to harm me. You can well imagine the impact of that on my ability to build trust and create loving relationships.
- I have hated my body, the fragility of it, the weakness I felt in that moment when I was attacked. I have felt ugly, ashamed, angry at my body. Cue the dysmorphia so many of us women struggle with, lifelong body image issues, and a battle with detachment whenever I’m in an intimate physical situation.
- As an adolescent, I learned that I could manipulate people with my sexual power. I’ll let you fill in the blanks here, but know that my relationship to my sexuality is an ongoing journey that’s not always negative. Sometimes I truly feel like a goddess.
- The sound of children playing loudly, their wild energy makes me feel rage, fueled by a deeply rooted terror that I have only recently been able to understand. I have three children, and my two eldest are not my biological daughters. They came into my life when they were three and a half and almost six years old, when I had no decent parenting tools and little experience with kids. The chaotic, naturally boisterous energy of kids makes me panic. Part of my brain goes right back to that place where I was being attacked. Motherhood has been an interesting journey in paradox and I struggle with deep shame for some of the ways I’ve reacted to my children for just being children. I’m very proud and grateful to be able to tell you that this is a place where real growth has happened quickly, largely due to my personal investment in years of therapy.
So, my dear…I may look pretty to you, but inside is the same kind of mess we all have to drag around. I know pain, self-loathing, sorrow, and anger just as well as the next guy, and not nearly as intimately as so many others. Does attracting people give me an advantage? Maybe, right now, but I know that my face will be subject to aging and the ravages of life, and I’ve always wanted to be more than the way people perceive me physically. Besides, what good is being told you’re attractive, when the idea of that ultimately seems absurd?
I say all of this with love for you, and your own personal struggles. We all have something going on just below the surface. I’m a pretty open book, and I try to share my journey and my joy to help other people. I’m happy to answer your questions, drawing on my own life and learning to hopefully offer you insight. I’m not insulted by you, just deeply motivated to share this truth.
Finally, I’m sorry to say we won’t be Scoping tonight. I’ve had a hella week caring for sick family (everyone is fine now, thankfully) and now I have a cold creeping up. We’ll see you next week, same time.
Thanks for your bravery and honesty. I appreciate it sincerely,
Here are the details for our weekly Scope: