I want to talk to you about clothes and sexual violence. And before you stop reading, I’m not referring to the old, “she’s asking for it” BS. We all know (finally) that it’s never what a person wears that causes rape. The cause of sexual violence is ALWAYS the perpetrator.
I’m talking about the clothes we wear AFTER experiencing sexual violence.
I know I’m not alone; my clothes and what I wear have had an enormous influence on my healing journey. From not getting dressed in the morning because seeing my body and my reflection in the mirror is too much to face. To having horrible flashbacks because I’m scared someone will notice me/think I am attractive and look at me with want in their eyes. Then we move on to wearing the same thing for days on end because it’s safe and means I don’t have to face the inevitable emotional tsunami. To wanting to feel something else but forgetting how to dress or shop because the person I once was has changed while I was hidden in trauma.
And that's a thing right there. How to shop. Is it just me or are clothe shops one of the most triggering places in the universe. The music is so loud my brain instantly goes into overwhelm. I need peace and calm to regulate my nervous system; loud music that I have no control over makes me feel like I’ve got a heart-attack queued up and ready to go. People don’t seem to care about space and get REALLY close, you know what I mean, though when someone has seen what you are looking at and they hover closer and closer. You can feel them ready to strike like a viper. IF you get past those things, you get to enter a tiny cubicle, usually at the back of the shop with one way in and one way out (if you know, you know) the music feels even louder, and I swear the walls of the cubicles take on the feeling from Star Wars (A New Hope) trash compactor scene apart from there IS NOT a Wookiee to save you, and you DO NOT feel like a sassy Laya.
But all those things might be manageable until we are faced with the next mountainous hurdle, how we feel about ourselves. Tell me if you relate?
“I don’t deserve to have nice things.”
“I hate the way I look.”
“If I wear this, people will think that I’m okay, and I’m not okay, but I want to be”
It doesn't stop there, does it? Then we're hit with not recognising your reflection in the mirror because the new clothes she is wearing doesn't look like you or communicate the volcano of turbulence going on inside your mind and body.
Then let's add the next layer. Balancing in the no-mans-land between the perfect makeup, blowed dried hair, emotionally balanced, smiley, put-together shop assistants imitating a person you can’t ever remember being and your fellow customers that make you cringe because “oh my god, am I like them?” realisations.
Take a deep breath. Take four. I think we need and deserve them.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to dress anymore. There is such a massive void between what I feel and how I want to feel.
And we’re told repeatedly that what you wear affects how you feel. My most recent advice from a stylist was to dress for how I want to feel.
But I have issues with this on two levels.
I want to feel safe. I want to be able to leave the house without worrying I’m going to bump into those people who did what they did to me. Will my clothes stop me from being triggered, having flashbacks, and heal my burnt-out nervous system? Or are my clothes going to make me stand out like a well dressed sore thumb?
Secondly, I can’t quite get my head around how clothes can be so important and taken so seriously on a day to day level when sexual violence and the trauma it causes are not.
Thirdly, there’s the judgment that comes with being a well dressed/scantily dressed/ outrageous dressed victim or survivor of sexual violence. Because if you’re not in ill-fitting, dark coloured, past their best clothes, you're just not a “good enough model of a victim”.
But still, we can’t escape it; clothes do influence how we feel.
I broached some of these questions to a stylist called Loulou Story I met via the gram. I want to share her advice in case it helps you too.
Loulou's first piece of advice was that if coming out of old, baggy clothes feels like too much keep wearing them. Instead of changing them consider ways that you can add to them or dress them up. Maybe experiment by adding jewellery, new shoes, nice socks, a new coat? This got me thinking, how about using the opportunity of clothes that hide us as a way to add some fabulous undies? Nobody is going to know but you darling.
Loulou's second piece of advice was when experimenting with new clothes get used to wearing them around the house first. This gives you the opportunity to get comfortable with new fits and styles in the safety of your home. Think of it as breaking in a pair of shoes before taking them out on the concrete. That way, when you do make it out of the front door your clothes don't feel new and strange, they feel normal and right.
The last piece of advice was concerning being noticed and the male gaze. Loulou recommended considering using being noticed as a way to give yourself reassurance, something along the lines of "I know they are staring but I am going to choose to think that they are starting because I am (insert your empowering adjective here).
(While we're talking about staring did you know that people stare for different reasons, the first one being that you are beautiful (I know that thought might make you squirm but it doesn't make it any less true) Maybe they are trying to read you, maybe you look confident, there is something unusual about you - purple hair, body piercings, tattoos, makeup?, you dress well, you're recognisable, they are attracted to you ( I know, I know, that one is scary and uncomfortable), they are bored and people watching - we're all guilty of that right, you're in their way or they are trying to catch your attention).
I think trauma-informed stylists should be made available to people who have been subjected to sexual violence more than the anti-depressants our GPs feed us for years and years. I believe traditional routes of sexual violence support are outdated and are increasingly failing us, the hundreds of millions that are trying our best to walk this dark and scary tunnel while relearning to walk in heels wearing a fuck-off gorgeous dress.
You'll be pleased to know that sexual violence healing doesn't have to be an uphill trek in dog walking trainers, baggy clothes and grey knickers. There is a better way, a new way, an absolutely gorgeously beautiful way to gain confidence and self-love. A way to move forward with your healing so that you can feel safe and stop blaming yourself.
It's called Healing School.
Healing School is for women who are ready to free themselves from the cage that is sexual violence trauma.
Healing School allows you to rebuild your relationship with yourself and others—being guided within a seven-unit framework, you choose how and when you participate. Your journey at your pace but not on your own. No waiting lists, no doctors that aren't trauma-informed and no triggers. You're healing made a priority alongside a safe and understanding community. A place where you are supported to find peace of mind and build good feelings and experiences. And because I know what it takes and feels like to face the trauma caused by sexual violence Healing School gives you everything that typical healing avenues don't.
There are three ways you can find out more about Healing School.
You can email me HERE
You can check out my website HERE
Or you can find me on Instagram right HERE.
Until we speak again, be kind to yourself,
All my love and friendship, Leanna x