My time on StyleLikeU and ultimately why it wasn’t about me
It’s hard to know where to begin, this is such an emotional post. You’d better get a cup of tea/gin and tonic and prepare for a long one. There’s no room for platitudes or pretentiousness right now, this shit is real. I suppose I should do the trigger warning thing, except I don’t actually believe in it. The way life is right now, it needs a giant trigger warning slapped all over it. But that’s for another time.
Okay so I got asked to do this interview where you talk about your vulnerabilities including your body image while you remove layers of clothing. As those of you who follow my blog know, I’m mostly talking about clothes and in my case, wearable art. Well , this time, for a change, I was asked to talk about What’s Underneath which is , most conveniently what this project is called . The mother and daughter team , Elisa and Lily , who are the driving force behind the style and body acceptance blog, StyleLikeU have taken their own exploration of body issues and dis-ease within this current system and turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. I take my hat ( and the rest of my clothes ) off to them. They are beautifully ,empathically subversive in their quest for a kinder way of people regarding themselves and each other.
I can’t lie, I was initially sceptical about the project. As a feminist (grrr) who has publicly spoken out against objectification issues with women, I thought the idea of removing my clothing on camera was going to be counter productive to my personal campaign for women to be be regarded more than just the body and image. So I researched the project. All I can say is a few piles of screwed up tissues later , I’d changed my mind completely. What I saw were humans in their fullness, talking beautifully openly while stripping away layers of clothing ( and emotional armour). It was beautiful and yes, empowering. ( I shudder to even use that word , it’s been so overused, but this time, it really was). So to cut a long story short, I ended up on a stool in a posh Battersea house baring my soul and taking off my clothes for the world to see.
I thought this kimono I made for myself was appropriate for speaking while being vulnerable.
I think at this point it would be useful to watch the final result.
So, as you see, there were a few tears shed during the process. If you listen closely at the end I make reference to magical synchronicity connection during the interview. What you don’t see/hear is what I was referring to when saying that.
The interview was scheduled for a Monday in December. Something came up last minute and it had to be resheduled for the Wednesday, the day the team were going to be jetting off back to New York. ( This was their first foray into international episodes, starting with a group of 8 women in London). So I came back on the Wednesday to squeeze my one in very last minute. During the long interview ( which was edited down to 11 minutes, how I’ll never know , it was quite brilliantly done. ) I spoke about the death of my dear dad. Anyone who knows me knows just how much of an impact his death, 3 years ago, made in my life. Anyway, I was shedding a few tears speaking of my love for him and I was gently asked when exactly did he die. I sat on the stool working out just how long it had been. I said,” 2 and a half… maybe 3 years soon…hold on , what’s the date today? ” Well, you’ve guessed it , I sat on the stool as the growing realisation hit me that it was the third anniversary of my dad’s death that very day. Cue more tears as the poignancy of that moment sunk in. It’s like he arranged it all. He probably did, knowing my dad. He would have thought it funny.
The video aired and I watched it for the first time with my partner, Angel , sitting next to me ( yes , he is a real angel, I believe in angels yes I do). I was rather nervous , as you might expect as I felt my lovely partner’s anxiousness , he shared my initial reticence about the project, being a very protective sort of person. We watched it and when it came to the ‘he loved the bones of me and still does” bit , I burst into tears. What a weird experience that was watching myself cry and crying at that… Well, he was very proud of me and delighted at the outcome of the video, declaring it really good. I think I even got a kiss. ( But that’s private haha). Both of my daughters responded very positively to it too, but my granddaughter won’t be watching until she’s MUCH older.
What I didn’t expect was what happened next.
A mountain of messages came my way, from teenage girls, young men, all the way through to women in their 60s. All speaking of how they had related to my video in different ways. I got permission to share some with you anonymously so you can gauge just how much this affected me:
I’m not writing to commission you, but this seemed like the best way to get in contact with you so I hope this is ok! I saw your interview with stylelikeu and it struck a chord with me that I really wasn’t expecting it to. I clicked on it because I watch all their videos and the title seemed intriguing but it was when you spoke about your experience at 13 that it caught my emotions off guard in a sense. I’m 18 now and in my first year of college, but from about the age of 14-16 I had a very similar experience with a 25-27 year old. I thought we were in love that he was my boyfriend and that it was my job to make him happy, basically. And like you I didn’t know how to say no. Even though it’s obviously such a tough subject, it was actually refreshing in a way to hear you talk about it, if that doesn’t sound crazy. I think this experience actually happens to a lot of young girls, and that makes me sick to my stomach but I think it’s true. The uniqueness of that experience though that makes it so rarely actually spoken about is a mixture of a lot of things, but for me it’s the weird sense of shame that’s associated with it. Because at the time it felt consensual you know? You chose this and you were in love, etc. Of course this is completely untrue because even if the 13 year old thinks it’s okay, it’s pedophelia and it’s rape and it’s a crime. But for me at least, it left me with this feeling like I deserved it and it was my fault and that I didn’t belong in the victim club. I had the residual damage and feelings of a sexual abuse victim but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to call myself one. Not to mention the whole affair was largely a secret so even if I wanted to talk about it and cope, I can’t because I really don’t want anyone past 2 or 3 people in my life who I trust deeply to know. Sorry if spilling a part of my life story at you wasn’t something you really signed up for, but I just felt in my heart that I /had/ to try and write you because I’ve never seen a woman talk about that before and to see someone who’s been through so much and who has grandchildren and a sense of self and years of experience bring it up is so…. I can’t describe the feeling but it makes me feel like I’m not crazy. And that what happened to me is real but in the way that it’s real and it’s sad but the blame is not on me. Anyways I don’t really have a very good closing statement to this, other than thanking you for being brave enough and bold enough to publicly talk about that and that you’ve really helped me by being a stepping stone in my journey of dealing with my experience. I’m emailing you from an account I haven’t used in years just because of the paranoia of this email being associated or somehow leaked with my real name. Regardless, thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.
” Thanks for speaking. Everyday I learn to love myself more because of the honest women. Your personal history sings to the tune of my own and I’m sure there is a whole chorus of us who are drawing a lot of power from you..”
“…it’s scary as I’m only 17 and have a wild story already. My sex life has been very similar to yours. At 14 I was drinking a lot and I slept with many people. I thought I was special because older men wanted to have sex with me. I thought I was being worshipped like some sex Goddess. But in reality, as you said, they were paedophiles. There were 30 year old men who I thought I had some sort of spiritual connection with, which is bullshit. It was pretty much Stockholm Syndrome. I was so depressed that I’d feel worth something as long as someone was attracted to me. ”
This young woman went on to say she’d found someone who loved her unconditionally already and was well on the route to loving herself properly. A happy ending !
” Hi , I just watched your stylelikeuvideo and it spoke to me so much. I was abused multiple times from 13-17 and hearing you speak validated so many of my own views and opinions …”
” I watched your video on StyleLikeU and almost began crying. Your story struck a chord with me because I was sexually abused around the same age that you were…”
This young woman went on to say she reported her rapes at 22 and got a conviction. Kudos to you warrior sister.
The messages went on and on. I barely left my desktop all week as the messages had to be replied to, so much personal bravery needed a response. Then of course there are all the YouTube comments. I was so afraid of them. I have seen how toxic YouTube can be but a miracle occurred. Only a tiny bunch of comments were negative. The overwhelming response was positive in the extreme, so many people commenting like the messages I was receiving , saying how they shared my story.
There was a common message running through all of these messages: of the normality of paedophilia. So many young people ( men included ) were sending me accounts of their abuse as children but not realising it was abuse up until watching me talk about mine. It took me almost 40 years to have my own realisation, so little wonder.The mind hides stuff from us that we cannot process without dealing in too much pain. Until we are ready , that is. ( Disclaimer: I am aware that women can be sexual abusers too. It’s just that the overwhelming majority happen to be male, not to discount anyone who has been sexually abused by a woman. We are all human, we are all capable of doing wrong to others)
So where is the outrage from the good men who aren’t taking advantage of school aged children for their sexual kicks? I’d urge all men who really want to take this pain and do something about it to watch this video. The wonderful Jackson Katz explains all:
So that was the abuse issues. Interestingly , one person commented saying that ‘This woman has had psychological issues all her life’ . When we speak of our pain, there is an attempt to silence. Always. Of course I’ve had issues since I was 13. That’s what happens when you are victimised. That is the consequence of abuse. I will not go away. I will not be quiet. I encourage all those who resonate with me to do the same. Sing out! It wasn’t your fault.
I wrote a poem a few years back that was dedicated to a sister friend who had found the courage to report her abuse in later life and had experienced a massive shift in stress and emotional issues afterward. Her life changed overnight. I am so proud of her so I dedicate this again to her. She knows who she is.
Sing Your Song Sweet Sister : A poem about changing the world through truth telling.
Sing Your Song Sweet Sister
Sing your song sweet sister
Sing it loud and clear
Don’t be afraid to tell your truth
To anyone who’s near
Sing your song sweet sister
Sing it deep and low
Sing about your sorrow
Let your sadness flow
We will hear you sister
We will feel your pain
We will share your sadness
And help you heal again.
Your song will be our song
Our stories are all the same
We share a commonality
We share a common pain
We hide our common injuries
Behind a wall of shame
It’s time to break that wall down
It’s time to place the blame.
We were blameless victims
We didn’t ask for this
We didn’t ask for violence
Or that stolen kiss
We didn’t want to be property
Or just another thing
To be used, abused and spit out
So sing sweet sister, sing!
Let them hear our anger
Let them hear our pain
Let them feel their part in this
As we sing out with no shame
Let’s all join our voices together
Into an angry choir
Let us start to change things
Let’s set our hearts on fire.
So sing your song , sweet sister
I believe in you.
And the next sister that hears your song
Will believe in you too.
Then she will sing her own song
And so it will go on
Until we are all singing
Sing your song sweet sister
Sing your bitter sweet song.
I’ll leave discussion on body image for another blog post. I think I’m done for now.