I n t e r v i e w w i t h m y f i r s t m u s e, M i c h e l l e H a t t i n g h
Part 2 of my road to New York + Berlin exhibitions.
Michelle Hattingh was born in South Africa in 1988 and holds an Honours in Psychology from the University of Cape Town. She lives in bustling Kloof Street, Cape Town with her partner and two cats. She currently works as content manager at an NGO, Praekelt.org. She works on projects that provide sexual and reproductive health support and education to youth in Sub-Saharan Africa, and on projects which support nurses in South Africa.
'I'm the girl who was raped' is her first book. The North American rights to the book was bought by Inanna Publications and the Australian rights by Spinifex.
Why did you write this beautifully raw and deeply personal account of your rape?
I wrote it for myself. I started writing stories when I was eleven years old and I haven’t stopped. After I was raped, writing about it was the only way I could cope and make sense of it. It was a cathartic process that helped me heal. I wrote it like you would write a diary and only halfway through I realized it could be a book.
When I realized it was a book, I wrote it for everyone who had been raped but couldn’t tell the world what they’ve been through.
Before the rape, how did you feel about your body compared to after?
I’ve never loved my body; it’s always been a space of struggle. I’ve fought too many battles against my skin.
The rape fueled my hatred for it. I punished my body by eating too much or not at all. My skin would swell and burst and shrink, leaving angry stretch marks as a reminder of what I’ve done to it.
I would love to say that my healing process has included coming to terms with and loving my body but it has not. Instead my body and I have come to an uneasy truce. We respect each other but some days are better than others.
How do you view sexual experiences presently?
Presently I view myself as master of my sexual experiences.
When you are raped, your ownership of your own body is taken away from you. Your body is under someone else’s control and that other person decides what happens next. You have no choice in the matter.
Rape is not about sex, it’s about power. So to feel powerful in your sex life is the ultimate form of freedom
The next step is to transcend feeling powerful and to simply know that you are. I’m not there yet but I know I will be.
As simply a female, what about your appearance do you find most beautiful?
I like my eyes. I like that they are a deep, rich green and how they are framed by bushy, unruly eyebrows. It feels like it best represents who I am.
Looking back at your childhood and adolescence, where do you feel your insecurities came from?
My physical insecurities started when I was very young as I grew up in a household where eating disorders were rife. I enjoyed eating but when no one else ate I would feel ashamed. I started punishing myself by eating too much at a very young age.
From when I was about 11 or 12 I was already taller and bigger than my two sisters and my mother. This fueled my obsession with my size as well. No matter what my size, I always feel like I’m living up to the title that I gave myself as “the fat one”.
If you could speak directly to women who have been raped, what message would you most like to get across?
I want them to know that they are not alone. That they are worthy. That it’s not their fault. Mostly I would like to hug them tight because some things transcend words and pictures.
On a scale from 1 – 10, how would you rate your self worth with regards to your physical appearance?
On a scale from 1 – 10, how would you rate your self worth with regards to your achievements?
What would you most like to gain through this photoshoot and as a muse for artistic expression?
I would to see myself as beautiful.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anis Nin
In your own words and experience, what is feminism?
Feminism is, simply put, equality. You should not confused equality with sameness though. The most important sign of equality is choice: whether you can choose to do or care about something.
I cannot choose whether or not to care about rape, that is a luxury afforded only to some men. As soon as you can choose NOT to care about something, you are privileged.
My feminism has been a gift to me as it’s made me aware not only of how society mistreats women but also of my privilege as a middle class white woman.
How can we as a community contribute to the fight against rape and physical abuse?
I think gender based violence is such an overwhelming topic, it can be really difficult to know if you can make a difference and how you can go about doing it.
I believe that it starts with small things like making people uncomfortable. Don’t laugh at the rape joke at the braai. Insist on the same salary that your male counterpart has. Refuse to blame victims who were “drunk” or wearing “inappropriate clothing” for sexual assaults.
And if you know someone who has been a victim of gender violence, talk to them. Be there for them. Sit with them and listen to them.
If we all did that, it would make a huge difference.
What is your chosen charity to donate to or volunteer?
First artwork reveal to follow soon.