As many of my long-time readers and friends know, I have struggled with body image for a long time- since I was about 8. There have been periods in my life which have felt better and periods which I have felt much, much worse. Much of my mood surrounding my body image has been pinned to my weight, and a particular number on the scale.
Last year, about this time, I put our scale down in the basement and I haven’t weighed myself since. I want to feel good about my body, and not have an external message, in this case a pretty arbitrary number, tell me how to feel and think about myself. I even closed my eyes both times I was weighed at the doctor’s last week.
But since about October, my negative self talk and obsession with weight and body shape have been on a downslide and the past couple weeks have become worse. I finally typed in “body image disorder” into Google and was amazed to read about body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t necessarily think I could be clinically diagnosed with the disorder (although I do think it’s quite possible), and that part doesn’t really matter to me. What does matter to me is that what I deal with on a daily basis has been experienced by others, and it is considered a significant and detrimental experience; it’s not just a “silly” concern of mine, narcissism, vanity, or selfishness. And when people tell me that it’s “crazy” that I have body image concerns, I think to myself: You don’t understand. I logically know that my body shape and size is healthy and that many people find me attractive. But I am compulsive in my self-critiquing and worries and have no relief from my obsessive thoughts. (And many, many people in my life have told me I’m “crazy” or “silly” for my worries- it’s a common way of trying to compliment someone on their body.)
I spend hours a day obsessing about the parts of my body that displease me (usually, my thighs and stomach), thinking about food (how much I’ve had, what I want to eat, what I should and shouldn’t eat), and thinking about exercise (how much I have had, what I want to do, what I should do). I mirror-check constantly, to the point that it cuts into getting other things done. My obsessions interfere with my ability to concentrate on work, personal projects, and conversations I am having with people (including J, friends, and family). These obsessions have impacted my social life, making me feel as though perhaps people don’t like me or respect me. They have impacted my sex drive and sexual life. This comic is a pretty accurate portrayal of my internal world, most days, a lot of the time:
My counselor understands that these are deep concerns, but because she is a psychotherapist, she is less driven to help me with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and much more interested in why and how I got these concerns. She sees my obsessions rooted in a fear that I won’t be valued or loved if I am not a particular body shape, and thinks I received these messages from my mom.
I don’t think my counselor is wrong. I definitely think all of that makes up part of my BDD/body image obsession pie. But I’m really not sure how far I am really going to get in dissecting my early childhood experiences related to body image, eating, and exercise. I’ve already thought about it all way too much, and I just want relief.
I want to wake up in the morning and think about social plans or work goals or personal projects, and not in a frantic dizzy over “needing” to exercise a certain amount, obsessing over my breakfast, or worried that yet again today I will not look good enough to myself in the mirror. I want to stop constantly looking at myself in every mirror, analyzing and critiquing and absolutely hating on myself. I want to appreciate and love the body I have, because it’s the only one I have.
Eating disorders are stigmatized, and it seems from the little bit that I have read that BDD that it is particularly difficult for folks to talk about because it can come across as narcissism or vanity. However, it is way more like OCD or anorexia to warrant such dismissals.
I want to reclaim my mind and my body from my mom and from my childhood friends and from the media and from the fucking mirror. I’m on the road to figuring out how.