Courtney Stodden explains how sexual exploitation damaged their body image, self-worth: 'I quite frankly hated the way that I looked'

·6 min read

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Courtney Stodden is working to reclaim their relationship with their body.

The 27-year-old, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, is just over two years out of a marriage with actor Doug Hutchison, who married the 16-year-old teenager when he was 51 years old. After speaking out about the reality of the couple's relationship and alleging that they were sexually groomed and verbally assaulted throughout the course of the nearly decade-long marriage, Stodden is recounting the impact that it had on their body image and self-esteem.

"My relationship with my body today is so much more healthy than it was even a year ago. I do believe that I am on a trajectory of really learning what it is to be confident in myself. Truly, truly confident," they tell Yahoo Life. "Still, I struggle every day."

Born and raised in Washington state, Stodden grew up participating in beauty pageants and had aspirations of modeling and acting before being introduced to The Green Mile actor as their acting coach. In 2011, when Stodden's parents gave parental consent for the teen to marry Hutchison, they quickly became tabloid fodder.

While being labeled as a "child bride" in the media, Stodden was also highly objectified. Seeing paparazzi photos of their body "made me hate myself," they explain.

"I was a very insecure teenager. I had very horrible self-talk, very negative thinking. And it didn't help to find myself in a slut-shaming storm of my undeveloped body, which just exacerbated my insecurities within myself," they continue. "I was broken down to the point of analyzing every inch of my body and it got to the point of body dysmorphia."

Stodden recalls feeling like they weren't "living up to the standards of society of what a woman is supposed to look like." Although they were just a teen at the time, they wanted to look more grown-up.

"I wanted to fashion myself after Pamela Anderson. That was the like ultimate woman," Stodden explains. "I think that was the image that was in my head that I needed to portray to overcome my own insecurities."

At the age of 18, Stodden got breast implants, the news of which was notoriously shared with the public. "I made sure that I got a breast augmentation because I had the body of a child but my personal situation behind closed doors and then obviously my career at the time really called for this overtly sexual image that I couldn't necessarily completely fulfill."

"I was just trying to look more like a woman for him as well," Stodden says of their ex-husband who they believed desired a more mature figure. "He told me that I was gonna be grotesque after I got my breasts done."

Yahoo Life reached out to Hutchinson for comment but did not receive a response.

It wasn't until the self-hatred persisted after altering their body that Stodden recognized the toxicity within the relationship and how it was impacting the way they found value in themselves.

"I quite frankly hated the way that I looked. I hated almost everything about myself and to have that exploited was really damaging to my self-worth and my self-image," Stodden reflects. "It just shows what a toxic situation I was in."

And that toxicity didn't end when the relationship did.

Just after getting out of their marriage, Stodden scheduled another surgery for themselves to get butt implants to fashion their figure after the latest beauty standards and trends.

"I was so insecure about my butt. I mean, it just never ends. It was the breasts and it's the butt, and then it's gonna be something else," they explain. "A week and a half before the surgery, I was looking in my mirror in the bathroom and I started crying. I said out loud to myself, 'You are beautiful. Why are you doing this to yourself? Is this for society? Is this for Instagram? Is this for likes? Is this for you? Is this gonna be healthy for you? And that was the first time that I had any kind of self-love talk to myself."

Stodden canceled the surgery as a result and sat in the realization that this was a part of the healing process.

"I am overcoming the sexual trauma, the brainwashing that the most powerful tool we have as women are our bodies," they recall thinking. "Being from a background where I have been sexually groomed really made me think that that was my worth, honestly, that is where my worth came from. That [my body] is basically the most important thing about myself, which in retrospect and now as an adult is so disgusting. And I'm in therapy dealing with a lot of this stuff."

Since announcing their official divorce from Hutchison on March 3, 2020, Stodden has found support from multiple therapists. "I don't just have one. I have a few to try to help me out with all of this," they clarify. Much of the work is focused on their relationship with body image and sexuality as they regain control over both.

"I've realized that my temple, my body, it belongs to me. It doesn't belong to anybody else. I mean, even our sexual partners or society. It doesn't belong to anybody else other than ourselves," they say.

They've also made a practice of lessening the worth placed on their appearance. "Some days I don't look in the mirror and I completely rid myself of that importance because for so long my reflection was really my main purpose," Stodden explains. "And now, I spend maybe three days without looking at myself in the mirror a week and it has helped me a lot."

Most notably in the journey to connect with their identity rather than their appearance, Stodden came out as nonbinary to allow themselves to push past a boundary that they felt trapped within.

"My gender and the way I presented really has never been in my control. It's been something that I was groomed into believing that was something that I was always going to be," they say, reflecting on the impact of being sexualized from a young age. "I really found safety in [identifying as] nonbinary. I found healing. I found a reemerging within myself. And I think being trapped for so long and [by] so many perspectives and labels, I feel free."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

For anyone affected by abuse and needing support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or if you're unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.

-Video produced by Olivia Schneider

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