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My Journey Healing Body Shame After Incest

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Every day, my little five-year-old self had to see this naked photo of myself.

I was five years old when my dad taught me how to pose for the camera. No, these were not family portraits. They weren’t headshots. They were nudes. Not artistic, innocent nudes, either. My dad posed me like the women he saw in Playboy magazine.

Criminal behavior? You bet. But it is nevertheless how I began my long journey with body image and body shaming.

Once my dad developed his version of soft child porn in his private darkroom, he framed a presumably favorite pose and mounted it on the wall of our home.

Every day, my little five-year-old self had to see this naked photo of myself. And I hated it.

And my dad used the photo to shame me further. He told me that I was flat-chested and skinny. Mind you, I was only five. But somehow, I had already disappointed the most important man in my life. And he wasn’t disappointed in my behavior, he was disappointed in the shape of my body.

Things did not improve once puberty hit, either. I continued to be the target of daily insults. My dad told me I was "skinny and flat-chested" like my mom so many times it defined my sense of self.

My dad hated my mother and thought she was ugly. He also hit her. I lived in fear of being mistreated the same way she was.


I wanted the verbal insults to stop and I thought if I gained weight, my dad might finally give me a break.

After all, I had been listening to his negative evaluations about my body for a decade now. I thought if I gained a couple pounds he might finally stop berating me.

So I tried to gain weight, but it was not an easy task. We didn’t have junk food in our home. We were health nuts. So I ate bowls of blackberries for a year until I finally put on five pounds. I was elated! 

Finally, I would look the way my dad thought a woman should look.

What my young self didn’t realize was that it would also mean unwanted sexual advances — from him. 

So at fifteen, my dad was only fixated on my body. He could care less how his assessments about my appearance affected my head or my heart.

I left home as soon as I could. And in college, it seemed like I got a break from the body shame. I was surrounded with girls my age and they had all sorts of different body shapes. After college, I moved from Oregon to California, where I interviewed to be a fitness trainer/

It was 1982 and the guy who interviewed me had no problem telling me that I needed to get a tan and lose ten pounds. I was shocked. I had worked so hard to gain weight to please one man. Now another man was telling me that I needed to lose weight to please him.


Ever eager to avoid criticisms about my appearance, I began a crash diet. I wasn’t interested in the job as a fitness instructor anymore because I didn’t like the guy who interviewed me. But, that didn’t stop me from endangering my health to conform to his concept of the perfect female body.

My diet consisted of salad, zero-calorie-dressing, diet soda, and cigarettes. I lost weight. But it was never enough.

A couple years later I developed a severe cocaine habit and that took the last bit of fat off. I was now the thinnest person in the room but I never felt thin enough.

Friends would express concern about how much weight I had lost but somehow, I took their words of warning as encouragement to lose even more weight.

The bathroom scales were my nemesis. Every morning and every night I would compulsively weigh myself and even a one-pound fluctuation would send me into an emotional tailspin and more anorexic behavior. There were days when the only food I ate was the olives and celery in my Bloody Mary.

By the time I got sober at age 25, I was diagnosed as protein-deficient and malnourished. That seemed silly to me since I thought I looked great in my clothes. But years later, I learned my anorexic drug days had negatively impacted my health in several ways including bone loss and gum disease.

On doctor’s orders, I did my best to shift my focus from my weight to my health.

Granted, it was not always easy to put my health first. I would at times be tempted to short-change my health and well-being in order to achieve a certain look.

For instance, when I got sober, I posed for men’s magazines. Of course, the obsession to look a certain way in order to please the male gaze is what those photo shoots are about — and yes, it was on one level, a replay of my childhood.


But it also provided unexpected healing. I was able to take charge of a scenario where I had no control as a child. And instead of my dad’s derision, I experienced praise from thousands of strangers. It felt good.

But it didn’t really fix the insecurities that had plagued me since I was five.

Fortunately, over time, my experiences taught me how ridiculous it is to worry about what any man thinks when it comes to personal beauty. There are as many opinions about what makes a woman attractive as there are men — and the entire game of trying to win male approval for how we look is a no-win anyway. It gives undeserved power to others instead of asking us what we want and what's best for us.

And since no two men are going to see female beauty exactly the same, women can drive themselves crazy trying to please first this man and then that one.

Until we get that the beauty standards are arbitrary and represent a moving target that's always changing, we will feel utterly frustrated. And this is one very potent way that we give away our power.

For me, I had to put some distance between my dad and myself. That distance was crucial for my sanity, but it was no indication of how much I loved him. Despite his abuses, I had compassion for my dad. He was himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  

He gradually went insane and eventually died a very lonely man. He never got help for his problems. I wish he had. But I am so grateful that I knew to reach out for the support I needed to heal from my childhood trauma.

For years, I worked with therapists and support groups to heal the scars of incest that had hurt my young psyche.

No matter what has happened to us, we can heal if we get the help we need. And no matter who has shamed us for how we look, and no matter who has told us we are not enough the way we are, we can rise above the pain caused by those hurtful words.  

Real love never talks that way and only people who hate themselves can speak that kind of hate.

Your body is beautiful. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Veronica Monet, ACS coaches women on body confidence and sexual self-acceptance, among other things. Contact her for more info:

This article was originally published at Author's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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