I'm A Rape Survivor And Stripping Helped Me Love My Body Again

Photo: Aleshyn_Andrei / Shutterstock
woman looking out the window

"I'm sorry I'm late! The sitter was late, and the kids didn’t want me to leave. But I'm here!" I yell, as I take off my jacket and dim the lights. "Are you guys ready to get sexy in here?"

I briefly catch the reflection of myself in the mirror: pink bra, black lace underwear, and not much else. You see, I'm a stripper now. Technically, I take my clothes off for money, but I don't take them off for men — I take them off for women. Oh, and these same women take their clothes off with me. Usually while crying.

Are you lost? Thought so. Allow me to explain.

Twice a week I get together with a group of women and they pay me to not only teach them how to take their clothes off in the sexiest way possible but also how to love their bodies.

I teach strip dance, but honestly, it’s so much more than that.

As we take our clothes off, we heal. And sure, while we may be learning to please our partners, we're mostly learning to love ourselves.

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You're still lost. Maybe I should start at the beginning.

A little over a year ago, I stood in front of the mirror and looked at the body reflected in it. I paused for a minute, holding my breath as I gazed at myself from head to toe: my hair, my eyes, my skin, and my tears.

There I was, in front of the mirror, yet I didn't recognize the reflection that was staring back at me. It was me, but that body (the skin that I was in) wasn't mine. It hadn't been mine since the night that he had stolen it from me — the night that I ceased to be the woman I once was.

It felt then as if the possession of my body became his that night as he raped me.

Every single day after that I had let him keep it, avoiding my thoughts, avoiding mirrors, avoiding me. I didn't want to acknowledge myself or that body of "mine" that felt entirely foreign. So I stopped looking at myself.

I would drag myself out of bed in the mornings as I walked blindly past the mirrors and into the shower. Even in there, with no one to hurt me — no one to judge — I would move like a robot, quickly washing and dressing a body that felt like it wasn't mine.

If I didn't have to look at it, I wouldn't have to remember. If I didn't remember, it couldn't hurt.

Years went by, the man of my past was gone, and a new one had entered my life. One night, as we were doing things that couples do, I felt his hand run across one of my scars.

"I'm sorry," I said, apologizing for the ugliness it brought to my body.

"Get over it," he replied back.

"Um, excuse me?" I said, hoping that I had misunderstood as I felt rage start to boil up from the core of my soul. "Did you just say get over it? You know how I got that scar."

"Yes, get over it. It's a scar, it's a part of you, get over it."

I remember sitting there so angry at how callous he was being and confused as to why he was discounting something that he knew hurt me so deeply. He must have noticed that I was about to shoot laser beams out of my eyes at him because his expression softened, and he began to explain his views on those scars in a way that I had never thought of before:

Those scars weren't evidence of what was taken away from me, they were proof that I had survived.

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Scars only form when you heal; you only heal when you are alive. You are only alive when you have survived.

That guy and I didn't work out, but I will forever be thankful for that night because he helped me see what I had been avoiding for years. He helped me finally see myself.

That night after he left, I stood in front of the mirror for the first time in as long as I could remember, and I let my clothes slip to the floor. There I was again: my hair, my eyes, my body, my tears, my scars, me. That reflection was me. It was all of me.

It was the belly that birthed two babies and the arms that hugged many. It was the eyes that welled with tears as I looked at the scars that healed when I survived. I looked at the body that I hadn't looked at for as long as I could remember, and I started to fall in love with her again.

I fell in love with my body again that year. I got back into dance (a passion that I gave up when my body was stolen). Being on the dance floor gave me a feeling of control over my body — a feeling that I had been missing for quite a while.

Time passed, and I found myself running a domestic violence and sexual assault support group. I watched women struggle to not only love themselves but to love the bodies that they were in. How can you love who you are if you hate what body you're in?

I watched them as they bounced from man to man, searching for worth by feeling sexually desired. I watched as others shut down completely, burying their scars under bulky sweaters and sexless lives. I watched them and I saw my former self.

The support groups I ran were phenomenal for helping women through the emotions of their trauma, but I soon realized no amount of talking was going to enable them to see their bodies if they were too scared to look.

The Sexy Survivor's class meets twice a week now. It's a group of women  — all makes and models, none less beautiful than another — and all trauma survivors.

We shed our clothes, we move our bodies, and we face what has terrified us all for so long.

We run our hands across our scars and we shake what our mamas gave us. We move in the ways that feel good to us — for us — and we become proud of the women that we are while regaining the confidence that was torn from our very souls.

We learn to regain our sexual confidence in the right way: by connecting with who we are and being proud of what we possess.

Will these sexy dance skills be used on our partners? Maybe, but this class isn't about pleasing others. It's about loving ourselves and being proud of our body — because it houses our soul.

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Eden Strong is a freelance writer who can be found speaking (what's left of her mind) about single motherhood, recovering from abuse, and everyday humor on her blog "It Is Not My Shame To Bear." You can also catch up with Eden on her Facebook.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on YourTango on October 22, 2014.