Merriam-Webster defines empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. I have never been sexually assaulted. I can’t claim to know the impact and weight sexual assault leaves on women, but I certainly can feel empathy.
There must be more empathy in this world. If we were able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes for even just a second, and attempt to feel what they are experiencing, I am confident this world will be a safer, happier, and kinder place.
Though it is doesn’t compare to the act of being sexually assaulted, I have been emotionally harassed on several occasions. The first significant encounter was in sixth grade. He was the boy I crushed on all of elementary school. In fact, we were the greatest of friends. We saw Casper, the movie, listened to the Lion King track, went bowling, and just enjoyed each other’s company.
Then we went to middle school. Was it the pressure he felt to be “cool?” Why was making fun of someone the code to feeling accepted? He turned on me. And, turned on me quickly.
We rode the bus together, and both sat up front. It started off as teasing, and then gradually grew to straight up harassment. I was definitely late to develop physically. That meant my chest developed later than most, my period came after all of my friends, and my body remained petite and teeny. In other words, it was obvious that I had no boobs.
“If I was blindfolded, I wouldn’t know which was your front and which was your back,” I recall him shouting repeatedly. “You’re as flat as a pancake,” was one he had in his repertoire. “You may not even be a girl,” is another one that has continued to replay in my mind over the years. This quickly went from persistent teasing to harassment where my mental state was no longer able to “ignore it,” and my polite request for him to stop was disregarded.
Because of the toll it took on my emotional state, I felt I had no other option but to report him to our counseling staff. Thankfully, they took action. The harassment stopped, but the aftereffects did not.
After being persistently teased about my body, how was it possible for me to not develop a negative body image? Or not to analyze every physical feature of mine? It is clear this one incident was not the only cause for developing an eating disorder many years later. However, once the small encounters add up, they do eventually lead to an unfair and preventable outcome.
To this day, it still effects me. When I received his Facebook request to be “friends,” I couldn’t help but cringe. I did ignore it, but I just haven’t accepted it.
One of my main goals in sharing my journey about developing and battling an eating disorder is to break silence the same way we are doing today for sexual harassment and assault.
Have empathy. Be kind. Break The Silence. #metoo