Over the next four weeks, I will take you on my own personal journey of becoming an overall healthier person, mind, body and soul. We will explore healthy relationships (romantic or otherwise), habits, and having healthy mental outlooks. I will divulge the lessons that life has taught me and how sometimes you really do just have to learn the hard way, (well in my case anyway). I will in no way pretend to be the authority on any of the topics discussed. I will merely be sharing my experiences with you. Hopefully, something resonates with you and that you may see a little bit of yourself in me along the way.
Note*: Latishia James is a trained rape crisis counselor and is willing to offer any additional support to any reader who feels they may need it, including resources for local rape crisis centers and hotline.
By: Latishia James
Lesson 1: Self-Worth= The value you place on yourself…
[Trigger Warning: This piece will explicitly talk about molestation, rape, sexual abuse, and self-harm. If you feel that any of these topics could have a negative impact on you, the author recommends taking the best measure for self-care for you.]*
Self-worth. Self-esteem. Self-care. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-awareness. Self-love. Okay, I think we’re starting to see a theme here don’t you? All of the aforementioned words have something in common. They all consist of the word, self. All of these words imply that it is dependent upon us to have positive outlooks.But what happens when it is not up to us? Society has informed to fix the things that we don’t like about ourselves, if we’re capable to change it. It is deemed our responsibility and no one else’s to fix.
However, what if the lack of self- (insert appropriate word here) was not caused by something you did or did not do? What if it was caused by something that was done to you? It took me a very long time to love my body (actually I am still working on it). One of reasons that it has taken me so long is because I never truly saw my body as my own– until fairly recently. Now, some of you may be wondering, “How can a person not see their body as their own?” I’ll provide you with an explanation, bear with me. As a child, I grew up with the notion that my body was good for only one thing– being the pleasure of men. By the time I began menstruating at the age of 10, I had already been groped, sexually harassed (physically and verbally), and molested, both by strangers and “family” members. Instead of seeing menstruation as this ceremonious occasion ushering me into pre-womanhood, I became overwhelmed with a sense of dread. I feared how much harder I would have to work to keep my quickly developing body protected. The idea that one has to actively protect one’s body is something that no person, let alone any child, should have to endure. However, many of us due to reasons beyond our control (race, class, gender, sexuality, religion etc.), have experienced it at one time or another. As I walked to school, the local corner store, or church– I would pray for invisibility as I passed by men on the street. I’d pray that they would not speak to me, not attempt (and succeed) to touch, grab or slap me. One day I finally came up with my form of protection. You see, by the age of 10, thanks to the pervasiveness of the media I had already learned the beauty standards of our society. I had learned that fat did not equal pretty, this was my security. I began to actively overeat in the hopes that getting fat would finally stop the unwanted attention from men (sometimes old enough to be my grandfather) and boys. However, thanks to two little things known as DNA and cultural expectations my plan backfired. The more I ate, the “thicker” I got, which resulted into more attention. I received my first lesson from a culture, which is obsessed with the female posterior. Needless to say, the attention that I had been trying to protect my body from increased. Men now felt that my body was even more theirs than ever before.
I coasted through my adolescence with a sort of expectant fear that gave way to a lack of care for my person. I began to develop a “what’s the point?” attitude. What’s the point of loving myself when others degrade me? What’s the point in trying to protect my body when others see fit to use it how they please? So, I found that it became “easier” to make allowances.
I no longer saw my body as my own because it was always being used for someone else’s pleasure and/or benefit. Then, when I was 14, the greatest of violations occurred. I just gave up in every area imaginable. I not only lacked the need to continue to protect my body, I didn’t want to inhabit it. I, in ess
ence, wanted to crawl out of my own skin. There was nowhere for me to go.
Everywhere I turned I felt as though another male was expecting some part of my body. I feared what would happen if I did not allow them to have it. I had low self-esteem, low self-worth, and developed a propensity for self-harm. When you begin to think that you are worth nothing you treat yourself that way. I was suicidal from the ages of 10-16 and did not want anything to do with life. I felt as though I was destined to be used by others and nothing more.
I cannot pinpoint for you exactly when the darkness over my life lifted, but I can tell you how. It started by speaking up– after having someone show me that they cared. That one person revealed to me that I wasn’t to blame for other people’s perceptions of who I am. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way suggesting that I was instantly “cured” of my self-loathing ways. However, due to this one person seeing more to me than my body, I was able to see more. I was able to see that I am smart, funny, and resilient. We have a tendency to become products of our environment. If you are constantly taught to view yourself in negative ways, you will begin to believe it. A small positive change can make a world of difference. I started formulate my own opinion of myself when I looked in the mirror, while divorcing the poisonous opinions of others.
Self-worth. Self-esteem. Self-care. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-awareness. Self-love. We’re left with the opinions we have of ourselves. Our opinions are sometimes influenced by the outside thoughts, perceptions, experiences, etc. Yet, at the end of the day when we are unable to undo all that others have done to us, we are left with ourselves. I was able to realize that everything I had gone through made me who I am. Every scar makes me beautiful and every experience makes me strong. This has given me a unique perception of who I am. This is all that matters.
Latishia James is a sexual health educator and advocate for women and girl’s health and reproductive rights. She currently coordinates