Originally published in Latinitas: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/when-fear-of-harassment-curbs-recovery-from-an-eating-disorder/
My growling stomach is trying to tell me something. I’m hungry. But I’d rather not eat. Grabbing dinner with only a debit card in the South Bronx means I’ll have to walk to an A.T.M. or a restaurant on the corner, and I know that means preparing myself for the endless catcalls, the sexist jeers and the unwanted touching.
But I have to eat. My body needs it; my mental health depends on it.
I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for a large part of my life. I chose recovery more than three years ago, but each night when I fall asleep with a stomach barking for sustenance, an unwelcomed part of me rejoices. I don’t want to feed into the eating disorder, and I haven’t, but fear of the street harassment I’ll undoubtedly endure as I scurry to the nearby food spots keeps me static in my bedroom.
I’ve been dealing with street harassment since I was in elementary school, so I already know what to expect. On most occasions, someone will make an unsolicited comment about my body, likely remarking on the parts I’ve struggled with the most, and then hurl expletives my way for not appreciating their “compliments.” But then there are other times, like when I was 12 years old and a man in a white car chased me while I ran home, only to follow me around during the day and sit in his car in front of my house at night for an entire week. It was horrifying then, and it still is more than 10 years later.
These days, I’m terrified when groups of men crowd around and tell me what they’re going to do with my vagina. I want to get home, but walking there as they follow and taunt me means they’ll know where home is. I’m alarmed when I plod through a busy avenue and my body flings back because some stranger thinks it’s O.K. to grab my hand or arm while he rushes in the opposite direction. I’m exhausted having to literally run away from men who chase me in their cars or on their bicycles. It’s triggering to me when my harassers constantly tell me how “fat,” “thick” and “big” my derrière is, and then squeeze it because they “just couldn’t help myself.”
But this is my reality. Street harassment is a part of my everyday life. And I know I’m not the only one. This is also the reality of countless New Yorkers. So many women in New York City who walk out of their buildings, jump on a subway, head to school, commute to work, jog through a park or grab a bite to eat will deal with some form of street harassment, whether it’s annoying like leering and whistling, or illegal like stalking and sexual touching.
I’m just 23 years old, and I’ve dealt with all of that. But even knowing that the women in this city are surely experiencing the same street harassment that I meet most times I walk out of my building, I still feel isolated and helpless during each encounter.
Even on a crowded block, when my body is threatened, I feel alone. The strong and empowered woman that took years to build loses control, resembling the vulnerable girl struggling with bulimia.
What do you do, then, when you want to fight back against street harassment but you literally fear for your life?
How do you deal with that sense of failure that creeps in when you had the chance to school someone on sexism and the objectification of women but you let your anxiety get the best of you?
How can you truly get over an eating disorder when your fear of the men outside and the potential for sexual harassment keep you in a painfully familiar state of hunger, apprehension and self-loathing?