Last night, my daughter came home with a bloody gash on her right eyelid, a deep scratch on the tip of her nose and big knot on her forehead. And she was smiling, because she could see the beginnings of a black eye. She’d never had a black eye before, and was quite excited.
This morning, as I handed her antibiotic cream and a spent tea bag for her now-black, puffy eye, I realized that Skyler has never, ever been in a fight in all of her 17 years. Neither has Trey, and he’s 21. No, all of Sky’s scars, black-and-blue bruises and cut lips are now and always were a result of her years in all-star (read: more difficult) cheerleading – the kind you see on ESPN.
Unlike my kiddies, I was in about three fights during elementary school. Always because of my weight. Some loud-mouthed skinny-minnie would start teasing, then grow bolder and maybe push or throw a punch. What would happen next was always a blur, but in the end, I was the only one still standing. The other person? Scratched up pretty bad and hurt. I never lost a fight and was never suspended: I was the victim, and being a brainiac (complete with Ben Franklin glasses) supported that statement. I really was a good kid – but a heavy one, and therefore a target.
Secretly, I deeply regretted those fights because I was forced to hurt someone else. Openly, there would be no apologies. I needed to be feared; it was my way of avoiding conflict. To this day, however, the need to defend myself remains omnipresent.
By now you know my history of childhood sexual abuse and rapid weight gain. But did you know weight loss’ bonus gift is a fear that losing weight would attract unwanted attention from men (even though I get that attention, anyway). As an adult, I know what happened was because of perversion, not my looks. A child, though, is incapable of making such distinctions.
Believe me, I’m hip to all the psychology. But even after losing just 15 pounds, subconsciously, there’s disquietude. And people, the subconscious is the most powerful part of your mind.
I’ve chosen to embrace this need to protect myself. I’ve always been independent, a bit fearless, out and about all hours of the day and night, often in one of the most dangerous places on earth – a Wal-Mart parking lot (just kidding). Seriously though, I am cautions.
My years in Shotokan karate gifted me with a heightened sense of my surroundings and quite a bit of confidence. I was a purple belt when I quit; in my dojo, purple comes before brown. My biggest problem was sparring. I could not stand hitting another person, especially a woman. Every time I’d land a hard punch or kick, I’d apologize. I actually preferred to battle the guys, though I’d still apologize (just not as much.) It was just . . . ridiculous.
I understand now that what I feared was loss of control. Back on the playground, I lost control. In the dojo, I’d see people lose control. One hard kick and they’d just lose it. It was intense. I enjoyed Shotokan, even won a medal or two in competition. Many times I’ve wanted to return to the dojo, but I know I’d just be wasting my time. I don’t want to spar, and dare not allow myself to be provoked to the point of true violence.
But here’s the thing: I would have absolutely no problem beating the crap out of an attacker. I’m no longer an innocent little girl. I know what’s up. And if, despite taking all precautions and care to avoid conflict or provocation of any kind, someone makes that move, the rules of the playground are in full effect: Do whatever it takes to be the only one standing when it’s over. Without apology.
Still, I sympathize with those who continue to hide behind their extra weight. I really do. It’s sometimes difficult for me to truly enjoy feeling better and healthier without instances of that old, familiar anxiety. I refuse to be revictimized by weight, which is why I’m partnered with a therapist.
Now all I can say is . . . What do you think about kickboxing?
I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self defense; I call it intelligence. ~ Malcolm X
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.