On my blog entry entitled Battling Self Hate after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:
By the way, on a related note, can you write a post about body image after child abuse? I have terrible issues with body image, some stemming from the fact that I have DID (so my alters are not adjusted to the fact that they live in an adult body), but some others probably stemmed from the hurting. ~ Astrid
Body image issues are very common for child abuse survivors. Some child abuse survivors, particularly those who suffered from sexual abuse, wear baggy clothing so their bodies are covered. (I am guilty of this – I don’t want anyone looking at my body in a sexual way.) Many people who self-injure in ways that leave scars (such as cutting or burning) will wear long sleeves, even in the heat of the summer, to hide their scars. Many sexual abuse survivors insist on wearing shirts over their bathing suits, even in the water, so they can keep their bodies covered.
These body image issues can spill over into eating disorders. People with anorexia often wear baggy clothing to cover how small their bodies are. People with bulimia or binge eating issues might hate their bodies for being larger, even though their larger bodies are a direct result of the way the person is managing her emotions.
If you think about it, having body image issues after child abuse really does make sense. I experienced my trauma through my body as it was violated, so I rejected my body because it provided the means for my abusers to hurt me in ways that ran much deeper than physically. The physical wounds healed, but I carried the emotional wounds with me for decades after the abuse ended. Rejecting my body makes logical sense to the wounded little girl inside of me.
Mixing in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can make body image issues even more complex. I was a thin little girl but then got fat at age 12 through an eating disorder. I have skinny little girl alter parts who are appalled at the size of my adult body. Even though my body objectively looks pretty good (especially after lifting weights for a year, working out regularly, and losing 20 lbs.), my body feels “off” to some of my alter parts. While some is due to weight issues, a lot is simply due to a little girl part feeling out of place in a woman’s body. It’s just another layer of complexity in healing my body image.
Photo credit: Hekatekris