*TW for mentions of body dysmorphia and weight loss/gain.
I have body dysmorphia.
When my therapist confirmed my self-diagnosis a few months ago, during our third session, I have to be honest and say I felt relieved. I thought that hearing the words “body dysmorphia” coming out of the mouth of a licensed psychologist would wreck me but no. At that moment, I finally understood the young adult fiction cliche of “I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.” Because I did. I let out a breath that I’d been holding for over ten years.
Though the term and the diagnosis are new to my life, the actual disorder has been with me since I was a teen.
I have body dysmorphia, and I’ve had it for a long time.
Here’s what body dysmorphia is (to me*):
- It’s not really knowing what you look like, not really. Living with it is like having an image of yourself that swirls around your head, never quite fitting with what you see in the mirror.
It’s having constant, obsessive thoughts about the way you look, thinking that when people turn to look at you, they’re looking at your body in disgust, whispering about it, taking pictures. It’s feeling like no one could ever look at you and see something good, something worthy.
- Body dysmorphia is being unable to take a compliment because having someone see you when you can’t even see yourself feels momentous and impossible.
- It’s canceling plans because everything in your closet looks ugly, your favorite dress yesterday isn’t flattering today. Every item of clothing you put on your body feels like a prison, pointing out every flaw. So, you have to cancel your plans and go back to bed. You can’t have anyone seeing you look this way.
- It’s trying every diet in the book and losing weight, only to still hate very little thing you see in the mirror, to still have the nagging feeling that you’ll never look good enough, be good enough.
- It’s gaining all the weight back because what’s the point, then? If being skinny doesn’t make the obsessive thoughts go away, what’s the point?
- It’s seeing other people with your body type and thinking they’re gorgeous but looking at yourself in the mirror and having the image contort to the point where all you see is a monster.
- It’s crying in foreign countries because the outfits you brought with no longer look the way you remember them looking.
*I am not a registered psychologist, so if you feel this way too, don’t self-diagnose yourself. Go see a therapist for an official diagnosis.
Those are just a few ways in which my body dysmorphia manifests itself. Some experience it differently. Body dysmorphia isn’t just about weight, it can be about anything. Your nose, your hair, a freckle on your cheek that you think is abnormally large but that, realistically, no one can see.
But for me, it’s about my weight, about the shape of my body. It’s always been that way. And it’s true, all the things I wrote above. I always obsess over the way my body looks. Even now, as I’m sitting alone writing this, I feel my stomach protruding, can picture my double chin. I’m constantly hyper-aware of how I look, or rather, how I think I look.
It sometimes feels like I’m being held captive by my own mind.
Unfortunately, these thoughts didn’t just come out of nowhere. Throughout my life, these thoughts I tell myself have been validated and embedded by family, ex-friends, old bullies.
I can think of a few instances where I think the seeds of my body dysmorphia were planted (like the time my mom told me I couldn’t buy a mini skirt when I was eleven because they’d make my legs look huge), but there’s one moment that sticks out among the rest.
I was thirteen and going to a Halloween party that a girl in my class was throwing. My small group of friends and I thought we’d show up as cowgirls and had the great idea to tie up our shirts and show off our belly buttons once we got out of sight of our parents. We were new teens and raging with hormones so the thought of showing some skin felt scandalous. My crush of the moment was going to be there, and I remember feeling flushed at the thought that he’d see me in my denim skirt and tied up flannel shirt and fall madly, hopelessly in love by the punch bowl.
I walked in and all eyes were on us, which back then, didn’t bother me much. I wasn’t wildly popular in the 8th grade but I thought that all the eyes looking at me were finally looking at me in awe, that everyone was thinking “wow she’s beautiful.” Oh, to be thirteen and naive again.
The host of the party was an incredibly cruel girl who liked to call me The Jolly Green Giant (I was 5’10 and taller than everyone in my class) behind my back. She took one look at my costume and immediately made me regret ever thinking I was beautiful. I spent the first half of the party oblivious to her, but in the meanwhile, she was whispering to everyone in the room to look how ugly and fat I was. My best friend pulled me into the bathroom. She told me what the girl had been saying about me.
I left the party early, in tears with my shirt untied and tucked in.
It’s moments like that one, where my body dysmorphia sprouted.
I’m 27 now, and thankfully, no thirteen-year-old girls are turning entire parties against me. I’ve gained confidence and learned how to hide. I’m good at taking the things I do love about myself and pushing them to the forefront in order to disguise the things I hate and obsess over. I’m good at camouflage.
My body’s a battlefield. Victory’s a void filled, a memory vanquished momentarily.
That’s partially why I’m writing this. Not for pity, but to show the world that everything isn’t always what it seems. But also, to be open and honest with you, the reader.
I struggle with body dysmorphia and have struggled with it for years. Now, though, I’m pulling at the weeds and getting rid of all the bad seeds a lifetime of hating myself has planted. I’m writing this because want others who might stumble upon this post to know that they’re not alone. It’s always much better when you can struggle with someone else.
I’d like to come back to you in a year. I hope I can tell you that I’m healing. To give you hope. To show that it does get better.
Because that’s what I feel like everyone needs right now, in 2020. A little bit of hope. And maybe this post is hope for me, too.
I have body dysmorphia, yes.
But the real truth is, I have body dysmorphia and I’ll be okay.
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