As a Survivor, My Hypersexual Attire Is a Personal and Political Reclamation of My Body

Angelica Alvarez / ([None] (Photographer) - [None]

Recently, I posted a photo of myself in a low-cut black crop top – my double-D breasts jumping out of my bra and into your Instagram feed – with the caption: “Is this, like, too much teta for an official headshot?” I was half-serious, half-joking. Of course, I’ll use the sultry glamour shot for work-related matters. If you follow my journalism on body politics, you know that my aesthetic is intentional and political. The lighthearted caption was simply my way of celebrating the strides I’ve made on my journey toward body freedom.

I revel because it wasn’t always this way. A photo of me two decades ago, when I was 11 years old, shows me in an oversize black sweatshirt during a blistering Florida summer. That image sums up most of my childhood and young adult years: sweating, near the point of fainting, as I hid my body from public view. As a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, I learned young that my youthful curves attracted attention, even if I didn’t want it. At church and in my religious home, I was taught that women, particularly those with voluptuous figures, were responsible for the sins of predatory men. My barely teenage mind concluded then that concealing my newly forming breasts and hips would prevent me from making older men sin and guard me against the torment and shame their transgressions left on my body.

But no matter how much I covered myself in sweaters and sweatpants, I was never able to save these older men from wickedness. I blamed myself. Disgusted by every touch, stare, or flirtatious utterance, I internalised their perversion as my own. To punish myself, I began harming my body. Immoral flesh wasn’t worthy of nourishment, so I stopped eating and started purging. I locked myself in my room where no one could see me. Alone, I fantasised about my death and relished overexercising-related blackouts. My body, I told myself, deserved every verbal and physical beating I gave it.

It wasn’t until my early 20s when I started to unlearn the dangerous myths society, church, and families tell young girls that my outlook on my body started to change. Through therapy, support groups, and feminist literature, I discovered that my body – how it’s shaped and how it’s dressed – never provokes sexual violence. In fact, abusers are wholly responsible for the threats and violence they carry out. This knowledge was transformative; it allowed me to redirect culpability to its rightful owners and influenced my path in journalism. But it didn’t heal me. Years of trauma-related disordered eating and body hate don’t vanish overnight. Instead, every day is a war: a battle to reacquaint yourself with a body you’ve disassociated from in order to survive; a fight to nourish and care for a body you’ve spent a lifetime mistreating; a struggle to look at yourself in the mirror and not cry in disgust; and a crusade to explore your sexuality when touch is a trigger.

At 31, nearly a decade into my healing journey, the war wages on. None of these battles have fully been won, but they also haven’t entirely been lost. Bruised and bloodied, I’m still in the ring, with each of my blows packing more vigor than the last. In many ways, my aesthetic is one of my most powerful jabs. It’s not that I tie beauty or sex appeal to my self-worth. Conversely, I value the brilliance, the tenderness, the grace, the ferocity, the power, and the humanity of all the women, girls, and femmes that society blames and discards because of their sexuality – whether that promiscuity is real or presumed based on the shape of their body or the style of their clothing.

My wardrobe is a purposeful, revolutionary choice. As such, I don’t sanitise my aesthetic when I walk into the office or places of worship. Every curve-hugging, V-neck-plunging, thunder-thigh-baring outfit I bless you with is a machete, clearing my path toward body reclamation and freedom. It liberates me from the falsehoods my church taught me. It emancipates me from the lies my eating disorder sold me. And it releases me from the chains of predators. I’m no longer ruled by your deceptions – and I look damn good dressed in freedom.

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