I’ve struggled with body image issues all of my life. I’m not sure where they stem from, but I remember being as young as seven and looking in the mirror and thinking I was fat. At that point no one had ever told me I was fat, no one had judged me based on my looks (yet! ..or as far as I can remember) and I really didn’t have anyone shoving it down my throat that I needed to be thinner. I just remember looking at myself sideways and wondering why my belly stuck out instead of being flat, why my cheeks were so round, and any other “imperfection” I thought I had at seven years old.
As I grew older and my world changed around me, my body image issues only got worse. Enter the abusive stepfather and they increased ten fold. By the time I was seventeen I had been suicidal, depressed, and eventually anorexic. I was 125 lbs and thought I was fat. I looked in the mirror and saw flabby skin, rolls, and never thought that I was attractive. I started by counting calories and then eventually reduced my food intake to one small bowl of rice every other day. I hid it from my family, pretending to eat when they were around or saying that I ate already before I got home. Everyone told me how great I looked because I had lost so much weight. I looked in the mirror and I saw nothing different.
The bout with anorexia only lasted a few months because thankfully when my dog came into my life my depression lifted and I also discovered veganism. Having the puppy to take care of and learning about veganism gave me something other than myself to focus on. I didn’t think “Yay I’m going to get healthy!” I was just enjoying everything else so much that I started eating again.
So.. I was healthy again, getting back to normal, and weighing an average weight. But when I looked in the mirror I still saw fat. If I felt pretty all it would take would be one look in the mirror or one photo to remind me that I was fat and ugly. If you ask any of my friends for photos of me when I was a teenager, they likely won’t have any or in those photos I’d be covering my face. I never wanted my picture taken because I knew if I saw it I would criticize it and make myself feel awful.
But things were getting better! Right? I was vegan, eating healthy, had a great dog, awesome friends, an AWESOME car, a job.. and then eventually a boyfriend->husband->family. I started doing kung fu. Thought I was pretty healthy… but even at my smallest I still thought I was fat and ugly. Now, after my kid I did put on a lot of weight as many women do when they have kids, and I have been working since then to lose that weight, but my point isn’t really about my actual weight. The point of this post is about how I see myself. How I saw myself then, how I see myself now. How I’ve always seen myself… I wanted to write about it because I think there’s a huge misconception out there about people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
I have never been officially diagnosed with BDD, but based on the reading I’ve done (and based on the way this one psychiatric school keeps contacting me after I took their survey) I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what my problem is. BDD goes beyond just thinking, “I need to lose a few pounds.”
BDD is when you obsess over the features you feel are imperfect. I won’t go into the symptoms and all that here because I’m not a doctor and it’ll make this blog post even longer, but I’ll explain it this way:
My brother and I were talking about one hollywood actress who keeps getting plastic surgery. He told me that he was so irritated and annoyed at people who constantly pay for surgeries when they were already perfect to begin with. He didn’t understand why they felt they needed anything. I told him that some people just don’t see what everyone else sees when they look in the mirror. One might look at her and think she’s absolutely stunning and perfect, but when she looks in the mirror… All she sees is the imperfections. She probably knows that people find her attractive and that’s good, but what SHE sees is not what she thinks is beautiful… and since she’s got the money? She can “fix” it.
I used to want to save up for plastic surgery. I was going to have my nose turned up, get a tummy tuck and take some of the jiggle off my arms. I always liked those cute button noses. I used to push my nose up and hold it there when I was a kid, hoping it would grow that way if I did it enough. I didn’t think anyone could possibly find me attractive because I looked “weird” and different.
I know that some people find me attractive. I know that in the grand scheme of things I’m not terribly ugly. But when I look in the mirror I don’t see someone who I find attractive. In fact, I’ve just met my weight loss goal that I set over ten years ago and when I look in the mirror sometimes it doesn’t look like I’ve changed at all. I just have to remove myself from the situation and remind myself that I’m no longer a size 14, I’m actually a size 8. A size 8 is small. Therefore I’m not allowed to think that I’m fat. If I let myself think that a size 8 is too big, then we’re getting into dangerous territory. When does it stop?
The great thing is I have amazing friends and family who are always there for me to help me see what I can’t. Kung fu taught me to teach myself how to be confident, my family makes me feel beautiful, my friends make me feel important, and God makes me feel special (and not like special but like.. one of a kind 😛 ). Over the years it’s helped me learn to recognize when I’m being unrealistic. I still get depressed now and then, but I’m much much better than I used to be. I still obsess over my flaws but it’s not debilitating, it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to , and hey! I even take pictures now 🙂
I feel like this is becoming a whiny blog and I don’t want this to be a whiny blog. I just wanted to say something about BDD and body image issues in general as well as mentioning eating disorders.
Be kind to people who seem like they’re dealing with the same thing. Tell them the truth, but be kind. A lot of people told me AFTER I re-gained my anorexia lost weight that I had actually looked sickly when I was at my smallest. I think they were trying not to hurt my feelings when I was starving myself. Be encouraging, but don’t encourage the negativity. Encourage healthy thinking and healthy living. If you’re really concerned for their health and well being? Suggest counseling.
If you think you might have a problem with body dysmorphia and it’s disrupting your daily life you should seek counseling. Talking to a professional will help you get your mind on the right track. Surround yourself with people who love you and see you the way you wish you saw yourself. It’ll help.
I feel like I’m rambling now so I’m gonna stop there. Goodnight and good luck!