If you had asked me years ago which super power I would choose, if I could have any super power at all, I would have answered without hesitation.
I had spent most of my life trying, though mostly unconsciously, to become invisible.
To be invisible meant to be safe, protected, and obscured. To not be seen meant no one could hurt me, and if no one could hurt me, maybe I could stop hurting myself.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
My earliest memories are the most terrible things that happened to me when I was small. When I think about being little, I think about the shame I felt after my little body was violated by a pedophile. I think about the panic I felt every time my dad lost control of himself. I remember the betrayal of my mother, and the deep sense of worthlessness that consumed my tender young heart. I think about feeling abandoned, unwanted, and unworthy of love.
There have been many times in my life that I wished I could just disappear.
Ironically, my desire to be invisible manifested as morbid obesity. The larger I made myself, the smaller I felt. There was safety in feeling small. I went practically unnoticed when I was a hundred pounds overweight. I seemed to blend into the background wherever I went.
When you’re morbidly obese, people treat you differently. They avoid eye contact. They shy away from physical touch. Sometimes, they seem to look right through you, unable to relate to the person in the body that they cannot comprehend.
Yes, the closest thing I’ve ever felt to invisibility was when I weighed 250 pounds.
I gained the weight during my 13-year marriage to a man who couldn’t love me. It was on my therapist’s couch that I made the connection. Keeping myself fat meant keeping myself faithful. Subconsciously, I gained the weight to avoid attention from other men. Ending my marriage was crucial in my quest for better health.
After my divorce, I successfully lost 70 pounds on my own with diet and exercise. That’s when I discovered the triggers I never knew were there.
Male attention, no matter how positive and well-intended, created anxiety for me. It felt threatening. It didn’t take much to send me right back into my binge eating disorder—because, somewhere in my heart I still believed that I needed to insulate myself for my own protection. The weight was my shield, and without it, I felt exposed, vulnerable, and unsafe.
My eating disorder went far beyond fidelity in my relationship. This behavior truly began at age three—the very first time a man used my body for his own gratification. That’s when I became disconnected with my body. That’s when I learned how to comfort myself with food. That’s when I began to feel broken inside.
It’s taken almost 40 years for me to learn how to manage my weight. It is still a daily struggle for me sometimes. The process of healing this part of myself has been incredibly painful, challenging, and so very necessary. I’ve learned so much from this experience.
I’ve learned that my past only defines me as a person if I allow it to. I am not a victim of abuse, I am a survivor. No matter how painful my past was, I can choose to leave it behind me. I can choose to live in this moment without fear, without resentment, and without pain.
I have learned that the men who harmed me in the past are a small minority. Most men speak to me with kind words. Most men respect my boundaries. Most men touch gently. Most men would never hurt me—truly, there is nothing for me to fear.
I’ve learned that my body is sacred and deserving of respect. I spent most of my life feeling damaged. I thought that there was something inherently wrong with me—that I deserved to be mistreated. I allowed others to abuse me, and I found many ways to harm myself. I now understand that the people who hurt me did so from their own pain—it never had anything to do with me. I am kind to myself now, and require that others treat me with respect.
I’ve learned that my weight was a physical manifestation of my emotional pain. I learned to recognize my triggers to stop the cycle of binging in its earliest stages. I’ve learned to feed my body well. I’ve developed an appreciation for exercise. I’ve learned to ask myself “why” I want to eat—to determine if I’m trying to satisfy a physical hunger, or if I’m trying to change the way I feel with food.
I’ve learned that it is safe for me to walk through the world at a healthy weight. About a year ago, I realized that I get to choose who may touch my body. I didn’t know that I could say “no” before then. Now, I know that I don’t need to use my weight to avoid unwanted attention or advances. I can choose instead to use my voice.
If I could choose to have any super power today, invisibility would be pretty low on my list. I no longer feel the need to hide out, avoiding my life inside the cell of my obesity. I don’t need to make myself smaller to feel safe anymore. If I could choose today, I would choose to use my strong, healthy body to fly. To soar above the treetops and experience the freedom and bliss of being weightless.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Catherine Monkman