With the “new year, new me” noise, weight loss and resolutions related to changing your body reign supreme. However, there is a defined difference between losing weight and changing your body. Especially when the change you want to make becomes an obsession. This obsession that interrupts your daily life and keeps you from being social has a name: body dysmorphia.
You might be thinking, so what if someone wants to change their body? It’s their right, of course. But losing weight and getting in shape is something totally different than living with body dysmorphia. According to the Mayo Clinic, “With body dysmorphic disorder, you intensely focus on your appearance and body image, repeatedly checking the mirror. Your perceived flaw and the repetitive behaviors cause significant distress and impact your ability to function in day-to-day life.”
It sounds a bit over the top, right? Well, that’s because it is. We all talk about disliking parts of our bodies. Truthfully, society basically conditions us to feel less-than if we don’t look like a Kardashian. It’s one thing to see body dysmorphia from an outside perspective. But it is an entirely different experience to live it. So today, I would like to shed some light on the subject by sharing my own journey.
Body Dysmorphia and Poor Body Image
In my preteen and teenage years, I was a true believer of the #thinspo and #ana movement without fully understanding the psychological damage that it would bring to life. For those of you who aren’t familiar, ana was short for anorexia, and thinspo was short for thinspiration. Yes, you read that right. I spent years romanticizing and glorifying an eating disorder and “thin inspiration”.
During this time, I kept a floor-to-ceiling picture collage, photos to remind me what I was working toward. My very own collection of thinspiration, with a body-length mirror propped up in front of it. Anytime I looked in that mirror, I reminded myself that what I wanted more than anything was to be thin. More than that chocolate bar, more than my favorite comfort food. I just wanted to be thinspiration to someone else.
For a time, after having my daughters, I thought I had gotten better. I focused all my energy and time entirely on them. However, slowly but surely, the body dysmorphia reared its ugly head again. After welcoming my second daughter, I got in the best physical shape I’d been in for years. But I couldn’t see it. All I could see was a jiggly stomach, untoned arms, and legs that were shapely but also stumpy.
It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better — But It Can Get Better
When eating clean and exercising didn’t give me the results I wanted, I turned to less healthy, more dangerous means, to create the image I desperately wanted to see in the mirror. Logically, I knew it was wrong. But I couldn’t shake the visceral feeling of disgust that bubbled up every time I caught a glimpse of my reflection.
I traded in my breakfast for 2–3 cups of coffee a day. Lunch was substituted for a can or two of Diet Coke, with a pile of lettuce, if I was really hungry. Dinner wasn’t really my jam. Most days I opted out by exercising after I cooked for everyone else. By the time I surfaced from our home gym, the kitchen was empty. I gleefully did the dishes thinking about how much progress I was making towards my goal.
In three months, I lost 35 pounds. It might not sound like a lot, but on my short frame, it made a difference. Well, to everyone who surrounded me, that is; I still couldn’t see it. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I saw was the same body that I’d grown to despise and punish. Had I gone from a size 18 to a size 10? Well, yeah, but my body still looked the same to me. Body dysmorphia totally eroded my sense of self.
Constantly I received compliments on how great I looked, but it did nothing but infuriate me. How could they not see how much further I had to go? How could they not see how much of a failure I was because of all the lumps and bumps and cellulite I still had?
If Any of This Sounds Familiar, Call Your Doctor
I couldn’t see the changes in my physical body because my mental health was off-kilter. Instead of seeing changes, I fixated on everything I perceived to be wrong with how I looked.
You might think this all sounds overdramatic. But I wish I could have taken a photograph through my perspective to show you how nothing appeared to have changed at all. Looking back at photos from that time, I can see the difference as clear as day. But when you’re in the moment, your mind plays tricks on you.
Fortunately, between my primary doctor and therapist, I have healed from some of the body dysmorphia. Yes, I gained back those 35 pounds and honestly even more. But the most valuable gain I have made is insight, knowledge about body dysmorphia, and self-love that I so desperately needed since I was a preteen.
Don’t get me wrong. I still struggle, and have to consciously choose to not give in to my negative self-talk and engage in unhealthy habits. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding balance. And yes, I am still finding mine.
As I said at the beginning, I am sharing this with you to encourage you to pay attention to the way you see your body. Is it a vessel you love and cherish, or do you feel disgusted and shameful? Does your inner dialogue about your body use gentle and empowering language, or is it negative and harmful to your mental and emotional health?
Living with poor body image, low self-esteem, and depression aren’t uncommon or unusual, especially with the expectations society has projected for normal, non-celebrity people. If you struggle with any of these symptoms, or these feelings are relatable, please don’t hesitate to get support.
I promise, living life through a lens of acceptance and appreciation for your body is possible — and what all bodies deserve.