My father used to call me Sarah Berhardt: Sarah Bernhardt October 1844 – 26 March 1923) was a French stage and early film actress. She was referred to as “the most famous actress the world has ever known”. Bernhardt made her fame on the stages of France in the 1870s, at the beginning of the Belle Epoque period, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas. She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the nickname “The Divine Sarah”. (Wikipedia)
I was a born super star… Much like Mary Katherine Gallagher from SNL, an awkward misfit, bullied…I was very petite, next to the shortest person in the entire school but in private I loved to perform. Once I created a private show for my father and G’ma with my organ… Would you like to fly in my beautiful ballon….do you know the way to San Jose… WITH a candle! I was smart and talented (except for singing). Regardless of my narrow world not caring for me, I was friendly, polite and kind. I rescued animals and sincerely had a heart those less fortunate.
Then in first grade I was molested. My childhood was over just like that. OVER.
Seemingly after that…and each year it happened more and more…like I had some sort of invisible sign that only attracted the most perverse of sexual predators… child molesters.
My body was not mine. It was take-able. It was unprotected. No boundaries. No protectors. I believed I was unworthy and a burden to my family, to my friends (whom I believed I needed to buy and/or barter with in exchange for the smallest act of kindness…since after all they were risking their place in our adolescent caste system by speaking to me at all….and made that point known countless times. I remember the threats after calls made by them, to me, asking my advice re their problems…telling me firmly…”If you tell anyone I am calling you I will tell them you are a liar and never call you again”. I hated school.) My value was clear, I had two qualities…1. I was a good thinker… I was excellent at relational problems of other people. 2. I was fuckable. Before I even had pubic hair I was sexualized and abused by a list to long to mention…
My body was never precious. Adored. You know the way healthy families adore their children and watch in awe the way they grow… my body was a commodity, it was all I had to trade… for a meal, a place to sleep or later…in my teens it was I gave it away simply as a trade for the gift of being held…I would pretend in those fleeting times that I was wanted, loved, protected…but only at night or day light in secret but God knows I wasn’t good enough to be seen with in public or the light of day.
My body was a blessing and a curse. It (i) brought out the worst of humanity… the worst of humanity devoured my body, fed off my young flesh to satisfy their perverse hunger… not only did they rape my body but ripped away any sort of normal child/teen/young adult life away from me, and all the life memories/events/lessons supposed to made then..forever… The message I received was clear… I was born, as so “they” are “stuck” with me and have accepted this responsibly/burden. I am to be seen, not heard, work hard, not to needy and do as Im told. For decades after, I chose mates that treated the way…it was familiar. Never to be first or second… never worthy of protection or adoration or showered with the gifts of adoration like what I saw other girls/women enjoy. My body and mind had some value… in a “outside the norm” place. It wasn’t what I wanted. My world had a glass ceiling and I was clearly never going to be allowed in the normal world. I had to make do with what was and stay alive somehow. My body was a blessing and a curse.
I remember the evolution of healing… after my sudden and unexpected divorce, I was absolutely devastated…not knowing how to survive in the real world…after all I had been living in a very dual area, on a farm land as a christian homemaker…. My Bible Church home wasn’t open to single divorced wemen. I was abandoned by my husband, his large family and worse yet… my church and church friends. So, once again I was using my body to get sexual attention…it made me feel like I existed. I went right back to being 17 years old. Although I was 26.
The pain of rough sex, for me, was like the release girls who “cut” … like a huge pressure release as the deep uncontrollable sobs erupted out like a tidal wave…sometimes it freaked me out…I couldn’t always stop or control the waves of emotion…When it erupted I feared I wouldn’t be able to stop or that I would have some sort of a mental break down…Id go crazy and never come back.
Twice for short periods after the divorce I worked as a dancer, once so I could pay my rent, I dance for two weeks. Then again when I was 27 after a boyfriend beat me up, I sent all my stuff C.O.D. and flew back home to Kansas and my mothers couch… I had no car and just a few items of clothes. I worked at the “Shady Lady” dance club in KCMO. I worked nights and took a cab to/from work. I paid Mom rent and helped with food. I never bought a car or anything big by myself before so when I went to buy a car I told the car deal management the whole truth and begged him to help me make my way through the process. I signed a blank contract, he explained what it would be cheaper to get a new car vs the used one I picked out. (I picked cars that I could sleep in if I needed to… that was my usual criteria) So within a month, at about $350 coming in a night… I worked nights and never weekends (amateurs came in on weekends-bachelor parties-people who couldn’t handle booze or their hands—- not for me) Weekends I spent playing with my children. I made enough money for the car, and a little loft.
The ladies who worked there took pity on me, I had nothing and I was covered in bruises from my beating. I didn’t hook and stayed away from their regulars. I lap danced every song I could and never sat idol. I didn’t drink or drug at all so it was easy to save up money quickly. They showed me what to do then we stayed out of each others way. They were kind to me and protected me in their own way.
The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that preference isn’t standard. Meaning… for example let me tell you about the bodies that worked there: 1. Tall long legs college girl in her 20’s loved a big crowd and worked them. 2. Huge body builder part time dental hygienist part time dancer. 3. old jewish new yorker with an attitude 4. a short fat pale 20 something whose body…I kid you not…looked like porky the pig. 5. a rocker chick, to skinny, long rocker hair who seemed to be constantly drunk but never missed work. 6. a voluptuous chocolate brown 20 something with a big bottom and a beautiful smile…called herself “Mercedes”. 7. tall uber thin red head skin white as snow, very quiet and shy. 8. The blonde nursing student… 9. the bad ass tough as nails dancer/hooker who NO ONE messed with… as so on… I watched as the men who adored the porky pig type never even gave the tall blonde the time of day… I thought WOW “Not everyone is attracted to the same type of body. If someone turns you down for a lap dance, don’t take it personal… you just aren’t his type and thats good because everyone has someone that IS into their body type. There is enough attraction/love/interest for all of us.” And that was a great lesson for me. I also learned that the vast majority of the men who wanted to spend $10-$20 a song for me to sit on their lap…really just wanted someone to listen…to pay attention to them for just one song…whats that 4 minutes? It was rarely sexual. Im not kidding. There are a lot of lonely people who just want someone to listen to them. I understood that…after all I let people have sex with me so I could get held and pretend I was loved… for a few minutes.
My sister was in art school, one semester for cash ($10 an hr) I modeled for an art class. I did this twice. Another amazing body/life lesson… They had used countless body types, men without arms, without legs, women without breasts or morbidly over weight people… The art was about form not sex. I never felt less sexualized than I did standing naked in a class room of art students at the Kansas City College of Art. I grew up with Playboy on the coffee table all my life. I looked at the pictures and compared them my mother who was very comfortable naked around the house… I thought my mothers breasts then were gross. I wanted playboy bunny breasts. I wanted to look like Wicked Wanda and be as confident as Wicked Wanda when I grew up. (fyi Wicked Wanda was a cartoon) But at the art school I saw the beauty in the uniqueness of all bodies. Then what I learned from the dancers bodies… I was learning life lessons about “BODY”.
Confidence came from the Drag Queens. Laugh if you will… Those girls have balls all day long… so to speak. Long after dancing, art class… cleaning houses… landscaping/greenhouse work…many other odd jobs…ministerial classes… (a story for another time) ….home health school and HHA certification…working in medical office…working with Hospice…working in national sales… I had the money to go to a fancy beauty shop before events. I chose to go the one where the Drag Queens worked. I would bring in dress choices and they would pick my dress and do my hair and put on those damn fake eyelashes. I learned so much from them…for example one would say to me…”Your vagina was wasted on YOU girl…if I had YOUR vagina…(and then so loudly for all to hear…) IF I HAD YOUR VAGINA I WOULD RULE THE WORLD!!!” Then they would show me naked pictures of their hot rich handsome well hung husbands who took them on FABulous trips and bought them amazing wardrobes and gifts and spent time with them every chance they could get away from their wives and children… ugg.
I understood bartering. I understood body preference and confidence… But I wanted it ALL. Meaning, I wanted to fall in Love with a good man. I wanted to be 1940’s wife with 1999 respect given in return. I wanted to be treated…adored..showered with gifts like girlfriend…I would treat him like I was a whore… but be a team. I wanted a authentic, healthy, passionate, loving relationship and no matter how much the price tag… I wasn’t for sale.
After the beating, leaving and working at the Shady Lady… I met a women I’ll call Kay. I met a group of upper class lesbians… a friend of a friend invited me to a party at a women’s lake house, spent the day on her pontoon where I met Kay. A lovely contrast from my life. I had a new car and rented a one bedroom loft in downtown. I didn’t hang out with my co workers and was lonely for female friends. I wasn’t interested in men romantically then for obvious reasons. These women were successful, doctors, lawyers, TV producers… they were independent and seemingly happy. I WANTED WHAT THEY HAD. I wanted to be around them and learn from them. Kay was COOL. OMG was she COOL! The whole story will be told another time but what I learned from them was this: “Catherine… when a man and a woman walk towards you…make eye contact with the woman NOT the man. STOP GIVING ENERGY TO MEN.” Didn’t realize I was doing that. That little talk from them changed me forever. I learned… like Norma Jean vs Marilyn Monroe … how to release and restrain my own sexual energy. In business I n
knew when I was leaking sexual energy if men came on to me. If I could do meeting after meeting in a male dominated room and not get hit on… I was doing a good job of being professional. If I got nervous and insecure and needed to see if “I still had it”… then some place other than work..I would be more Marilyn and boom… bees to honey…
Slowly, I didn’t need to be sexual I just needed to know I could attract people sexually if I wanted to….and that was enough.
As I aged and I watched youth leave my mirror, fear set in. I refused to find a rich man… I didnt have to… they were everywhere! The offers were remarkable really… I would have to SELL and not just RENT my body… and that would make me no better than what I spent decades trying to heal from. I have no issue with adult men and women having contracts…How many men have I met that married a mother for their children while having a sexual relationship with another woman for the same 20 years as their marriage… I have my own opinions on this. Same with abortion… I understand the need but I could never do it. I knew how much a billionaires money would mean to me… an aging woman with no degree. Some of my offers included an actual legal contract …
I remember one mates family thinking I was a “gold digger”… lol…I thought to myself… “if you think Im a gold digger than at least make me a GOOD gold digger…give me some credit! This guy doesn’t have any real money”… gotta laugh… haters can’t even make me a good gold digger 🙂
My mother used to tell me, “Cathy, today you can be choosy, you’re still young and attractive…but one you’re going to wake up, look in the mirror, see an old woman and your ability to choose will be GONE. You will wish you had chosen financial security.” Maybe she will be right. Maybe not. I have prided myself in a sort of “pride among thieves” mentality… I never stole more than I needed. I traded for a meal not a new wardrobe, car and condo in Cabo… and somehow that made me feel less “bad”.
As I grew older and less $$ needy I would rather go without the —meal or whatever than trade for it. I did everything I could to earn my own money so I never needed to trade for a single thing EVER. I made so much money if fact that I got to feel the other side of the coin… younger men coming on to me…dropping sad stories and financial needs like bread crumbs hoping I would pick up what they were putting down. That was a very interesting chapter in my life… I was earning a six figure income. Who would I choose to be sexual with if I had ZERO needs? Back when I was a teen of 17 yrs young, I was married for 8 years, for 7 my head did not turn…I kid you not… not a single time. I was in love. Then during the 8th year his attentions left and soon so did he. But as alone and vulnerable as I felt at 17 was how I felt at 26. Having spent 12-17 on the street, then married, a homemaker on an isolated farm in Kansas… I REALLY did not know about child support and how to divorce and what my rights were.
Im trying to explain my relationship with my body to you. I hope I was effective…
As an adult, my body bothered some women. They hated me before they even knew me. I never saw how anyone could dislike me because of how I looked, I never thought my looks warranted it. I saw myself as a plain girl who dressed up well. Make up is my friend. Anyway…
I tried triathlon because my mate at the time was very active in that sport. Previously I had only competed in 5-10 K runs because they were fun. Road bike for fun. Weight lifting at the gym because I loved to. Weight lifting was were my non sexual self esteem started to bloom… I would look in the mirror and do an exercise exactly the way it was supposed to be done and my mind would say GOOD JOB! And so positive thoughts about myself were planted. Triathlon was fun… I like strangers…I love to swim and bike and run. But someone liked my boyfriend and wasn’t happy I had him. Others didn’t like ME and actually created an email account to cyber bully me… I had to get the police involved… and “he” only wanted me when he couldn’t have me…each time I came back to the relationship I would quickly sink to the bottom of his priority list and in to my comfort zone. As much as I truly loved him… my mother was found to have cancer so I said good bye to “him” and the sport. One of the many gifts he gave me was this sentence: “You are a natural athlete.” For a girl who at PE class was fought over …ie the team captains saying…”I took her last time! YOU take her this game!” It was a THRILL to be told I was an athlete! WOW! A year later I found a new romantic interest who never set foot in a gym and a body building competition had a division called “figure” for women. My new love worked double digit days and I was a lone to much for my own mental well being. For the heck of it I hired a figure focused trainer and a diet coach who was also a judge for body building shows. I used my blocks of open time to train for my first figure competition. This was a whole new world! The human body… MY human body wasn’t sexualized. My trainers didn’t make sexual comments. No one hit on me. My body was considered living art and together we were sculpting it for a non sexual show. Wow. I was training, eating, practice posing….like an athlete… heehee like a NATURAL ATHLETE! SO COOL! I started to enter inside my own body… look at, notice each part of my body like art. Not a burden, not a commodity, not white trash, not a victim, not a whore or a hooker, not sin, not a store house of pain to be bled out when the pressure grew to great… I am an athlete. A NATURAL ATHLETE. This is my SPORT.
When I looked at other competitors for inspiration I saw them as athletes… I felt motivated and inspired… NOT turned on. I thought wow what great shoulders NOT I wish I was her…not I want to DO him/her. I believed, and still believe, my peers felt the same way about me. I rarely ever got asked out or had sexual comments made about my body… and on the rare time someone did… I unfriended or blocked them.
So what kind of people are attracted to different things…???
Who are attracted to extreme fundamental religion? Or cats? or Dogs? I remember a dog trainer taking me to my first dog show… she pointed out the kinds of people who were attracted to German Shepherds, or Yorkies…Dalmations, Great Danes…
I remember being at a truck stop diner and a driver who sat beside me would point out what kind of truck someone drove by the way their body looked… huge barrel mid section = freight box. thin/strong driver= flat bed. I started yelling out at drivers coming in..”Are you a flat bed driver Sir?”… my side kick was right 100% of the time. Interesting how we try to quickly surmise whether we are safe or not by cues we imagine based on how people look or act.
My body building sport accepted me. It attracts a very diverse group. It has been a hugely positive experience for me. Those IN the sport verses those watching… have never been inappropriate… I have always felt supportive, protected, accepted….
This is where everything I have learned all came together….
I stood on stage, in front of my peers, mostly naked, and I belonged. Our bodies are living art. We are natural athletes. We are healthy. We respect each other… you back stage after 5 years I have never heard one cat call… one gross comment…one hey baby… I never saw a single woman behave in a sexual way. On the contrary… I see competitors helping each other with hair and make up… bakers bringing everyone treats…men helping each other pump up… volunteers back stage making sure we all know what to do and when to be there… judges driving hundreds of miles and giving us all their attention and after a long day still answering contestants questions re how to improve for the next show.
When I am on stage I am seen as the healthy natural athlete I am NOT seen as a victim…dancer, hooker, punching bag, broken loser… they see my dedication, my hard work, hours of micro managed eating every two hours… posing practice…financial investment… they know. They do it too. It is respect worthy.
It took decades to inhabit my body. I was so used to my body being victimized I did it to myself too. I was so detached from myself that you could stab me and I wouldn’t say OUCH for months later and by then I would be confused not being sure which stab went to which OUCH.
Now I live and ENJOY living INSIDE my own body. It was a long journey back home into myself. Now I feel in real time! Im not as sharp as my peers who totally know what carbs work or don’t or when they retain water… but I say ouch the moment I get hurt… and thats huge for me. I can participate in competition without flirting at all… absolutely zero sexual desire…. just amazing pride to feel like I belong…. that Im wanted…
You know the funny thing is I don’t think that any of them have any idea what they have done for me.
Now this sport isn’t for everyone… if you have any sort of eating disorder…please stay away!
But for me I have experienced a sisterhood like no where else before.
Working out is my medicine. 1-2 hours 4-5 days a week. I sleep well, I have made my way through my own hellish healing my PTSD /acute chronic panic/anxiety without antidepressants, anti anxiety, sleeping meds… nothing. I simply could not tolerate almost any medications, Still can’t…not even tylenol or novocaine. Food, exercise, meditation, rest, play… have been my mental health meditation.
This sport has shown me a place where I can be seen as so much more than I ever was…
And this phase of my life has gifted me with a different level of confidence… a deeper level of self acceptance… little did I know why…
And now five years later I look back and clearly see how everything as all come together at just the right time to bring me to the place I am now…
With the confidence and self acceptance of body and mind to stand in front of a far less accepting audience…
To share my story, to prevent what happened to me from happening to other children. To education the care takers of children. The police and lawyers/judges. To inspire others victimized to heal and bloom into healed survivors! To show their future can be so much better than their past…
This winter I suffered from menopausal migraines. One headache lasted 21 days. I had them almost daily for three months. I lay on the couch for days at a time… I lost my muscles and grew fatter… and I knew it was ok… that my value isn’t defined by my body.
Heaches are gone and I am back in the gym. My peers were there with me while I was on and then off the couch… I am accepted and supported regardless of being “on stage” ready… or not.
And so… when I started hearing women gossiping about whether or not I should or shouldn’t be a spokesperson for anti child sex abuse or anti sex trafficking… I was ready.
I chose not to take down my competition pictures off my social media.
I am not ashamed. I am PROUD. My sport isn’t sexual or sexualizing.
I am who I am. I am used to women (and men) judging me. And there was always a place in me so full of shame… I believed my haters. I thought worse of me than my haters.
But not anymore.
This is my BODY. Sometimes Im stage ready. Sometimes Im sick and fat. My body doesn’t define me or equate my value. The “I” I believe I really am… is the Soul that lives inside this groovy body that I call my cozy home. It was a looooooong painful journey to finally arrive here. And I intend to not let anyone shame me or my body ever again.
I wish this feeling for everyone who feels now as hopeless and helpless and shameful as I once did… for decades.
Do your work and make your way back home…to yourself.