Body Dysmorphia and Me
My body and I are not friends.
I’ve tried for a long time to not hate what I see when I look in the mirror; when I gaze down at my naked form; when I can’t help but visualise myself from the outside when I’m having sex.
I fixate on my flaws. I pull myself apart. I ruthlessly compare myself to others – friends, celebrities, passing strangers, anybody! And I am never satisfied.
It’s been this way for almost as long as I can remember.
Some of my most stubborn memories from my teenage years involve the obsessive analysing of my changing body. I would get out of the shower and *will* my thighs to shrink down to their pre-pubescent width (they did not). I would grab at and pull on the fat that had deposited itself around my waist – mentally chastising myself of being so lazy, so useless, so disgusting. I would contort myself into impossible poses, desperately trying to find the one angle where I even vaguely resembled my peer group and the celebriteens on TV.
But there was no getting away from it. I had gone from waif-like child to puppy fat-encumbered teen – virtually overnight (or so it seemed to me). I couldn’t understand why I didn’t look like most other girls my age. I was obsessed with studying their slender bodies and trying to work out how I could achieve those proportions. Slim arms, flat chests, tiny waists, and thigh gaps. That was beauty. That was desirability. That was what teenage girls should look like. And it didn’t help that other people – school kids, family members, complete strangers – saw fit to comment on my body.
“Why are your thighs so big?” (Small child at dance school)
“See you soon! I’m sure you’ll have put on another two stone by that point.” (My grandmother)
“Wide load coming through!” (Teenage banter-merchant)
“Squidge, squidge, squidge!” (My ex-boyfriend, as he grabbed at my love-handles and belly…in public)
To paraphrase Rufus Sewell in A Knight’s Tale (because there’s never a bad time to paraphrase Rufus Sewell in A Knight’s Tale), I had been weighed, I had been measured, and I had been found wanting.
Oh yeah, and the acne was brutal. Win!
So far, so standard teen experience.
I’m sure, in fact I’m certain, that I’m not alone in experiencing the double-whammy of pubescent weight-gain and problem skin, along with the underlying hormonal cluster-fuck that both gives rise to these issues and renders you incapable of seeing them in perspective. My teenaged self was a self-loathing narcissist. She wanted nothing more than to be beautiful but was incapable of seeing any beauty in herself.
But we grow up. Our bodies continue to morph and develop. Our hormones eventually level out, and we settle into our adult selves – finally secure in our bodies. We recover.
Except when we don’t.
I, along with just over 2% of the general population, have body dysmorphic disorder. My relationship with my body is one of near constant second-guessing. I have to check how my weight is sitting on my frame. I am constantly squeezing and pinching and pulling at any excess I can get my hands on. I can’t trust mirrors. I can’t trust my own judgement. And I certainly can’t trust other people’s assessments of how I look.
I often fantasise about having liposuction on my legs, or worse: taking a knife to them myself. I am regularly taken out of my normal thought patterns by the recurring image of me slicing into my own thighs and removing pounds of flesh. I could be happy then.
The severity of the obsessive thoughts and compulsive checking varies over time. Some days are better than others, and I can even – in very rare moments – feel happy in my own skin. But then the bubble soon bursts and I am back to self-loathing and acts of micro-harm as punishment for my inability to be perfect.
And all of this – ALL OF THIS – is so at odds with what I believe I should feel about my body. Forget how I actually look (trust me, that’s completely irrelevant), I believe that I should love my body for all the reasons every wellness blog or feminist text on the issue will tell you: because this is the only body I have. It is mine, and it is unique, and it is powerful, and it is not there for the benefit of the male gaze or the critique of society – It. Is. Mine.
I just wish I could believe it.
I’m lucky in many ways. I’m acutely aware of the flaws I see in myself and I feel a visceral, white-hot hatred for each and every one of them, but I know that the problem is in my mind and not in my body. While this may not sound like the definition of ‘lucky’ to you, at least it prevents me from actually taking up that knife.
But I want to.
More often than anyone would guess.
Some resources for BDD:
Article by VERVE "She Said" Contributor Sarah Bradnum