MENTAL HEALTH SERIES – PART TWO
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (also called BDD, body dysmorphia) : A mental illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. The flaw may be minor or imagined. But the person may spend hours a day trying to fix it. The person may try many cosmetic procedures or exercise to excess.
“BDD can seriously affect your daily life, including your work, social life and relationships. BDD can also lead to depression, self-harm, and even thoughts of suicide.”
Have you heard of BDD? I hadn’t heard of it until last year when I was at work, I looked down at my phone and saw a text from a friend. She messaged me and said “Hannah, can you please take down the photo you posted of me? I’m really sorry but I’m finding that it is triggering my BDD.” Immediately I apologized, removed the photo without even knowing what BDD was. After googling it I felt such guilt over posting a photo that could trigger any symptoms that made her feel anything but the beautiful girl that she was/is. At the time I immediately apologized and removed it. All I saw in the photo was her beauty, but I never wanted to trigger her symptoms or upset her by any means.
In the last few months I’ve started to think about how I see myself in photos. How do I perceive myself when I look in the mirror? Are my thoughts about my body “normal”?
I remember around 6/7 years ago I found old photos of myself from growing up and I ripped them to shreds. When I looked at them I was filled with disgust and wanted to discard any evidence of them. I think back on that and it makes me incredibly sad. The fact that I viewed myself in such a negative way, hated the way I looked so much that I thought ripping up memories was the way to cope. At the time I didn’t realize what I was doing wasn’t “normal”. I knew some may call it “extreme” but I didn’t think anything of it. The photos I destroyed were of me from the 4th grade. 4TH GRADE. A literal child, yet I gave those images of my younger self zero grace.
I’ve always struggled with my body. My first memory of me criticizing my body was in the 3rd grade. At a mere nine years old I viewed my body as ugly and fat. I wanted to look like the skinny girls who had long legs and straight hair. I remember thinking that starving myself would make me look like the other girls I compared myself to constantly. It makes my heart physically hurt when I think about that. I want to take 9 year old me, hug her and tell her she’s perfectly fine and beautiful just the way she is. But the ironic thing is that I can’t seem to tell 26 year old me that.
I can assume that you may sometimes look in the mirror and not love what you see, it’s human nature. Our society has trained us to believe that our bodies are not 100% ok the way they are. Now while most people are just somewhat bothered by physical imperfections, those who suffer from BDD spend hours a day obsessing over real or imagined flaws. They take excessive and sometimes drastic measures to hide their perceived flaws from others.
On this blog, I have found that the sharing my mental illnesses/health with you all is both extremely therapeutic and freeing for me. I know I scare some with my vulnerability, but I have a story and a voice and if by using it I help someone feel less alone, then I’ve done my job. I’ve received notes from my readers that say my openness helps them process issues in their lives too. But I have to say, this post is a big one. I’ve taken many deep breaths while writing this, hoping that this post is eloquent, informative, and honest. I’ve written many drafts, rewritten, edited, etc and I still don’t know if it’s exactly “right”.
I’ve been in counseling on and off for almost 8 years. In previous posts, I have mentioned this and discussed how it literally saved my life. I cannot recommend it enough. A great counselor can help you understand you, your thoughts, your everything so much more than you could ever do on your own. In all my years of counseling though, there is one aspect of my life I kept secret. My body image issues. For a long time I didn’t know if they were even worth bringing up. I decided that relationship woes, workplace drama, etc was more pressing to talk about and unpack in my sessions.
I believed that it should be kept a secret, up until recently. When I decided to unpack it all with my counselor she was taken aback about the fact that in our 3 years together I had never discussed this with her. That I had opened up so much to her, but yet never talked about the abusive way I perceive and treat my body. To be honest I think I always wondered if my thoughts about my body were abnormal or normal…and I didn’t know if I wanted to hear the answer to that question.
A few sessions back, I told her that I had done some research into BDD and that I thought I may have it. We discussed my tendencies, my thinking, my history of self loathing etc. I specifically told her that I didn’t want to be “labeled” but that I needed to understand and further work on why I viewed my body the way that I do. She pulled out this massive book and we discussed the criteria of BDD. After further discussions, she confirmed that I do have/suffer from body dysmorphia.
I’ll be honest…I was shockingly relieved. Not relieved to have received a diagnosis, but I think I wanted the way I thought about my body to be abnormal, so that it could be worked on and hopefully “fixed” — not a normal thing that I would have to learn to deal with. Because the thing is, I’m so tired of feeling, thinking, and obsessing about my body the way that I do. It is exhausting.
I’m an “all or nothing” thinker and processor. Through counseling I’ve come to learn that I think in extremes. Black and white, rarely in grey, it is not in my nature to give myself any grace.
The way I’m learning to combat my BDD is all through my thinking. I must create counteractive thoughts to my self loathing thoughts. I have to counteract the thoughts that come into my head and make me google prices of liposuction. The thoughts that come into my head when I see the tiniest flaw and obsess over how to change it. The thoughts that tell me I should count the stretch marks on my body and keep track of them. The thoughts that tell me my nose isn’t straight and that I should see a doctor about it. The thoughts that tell me I will never be skinny enough or pretty enough without severe alterations. I work on making mental lists about what I actually LIKE about my body vs what I hate. Even making those lists seems so counterintuitive to what I’ve been taught my entire life.
See, here’s the thing. Society has told me that I am not ok. My body needs fixing 24/7. That’s why “quick fix” diets, diet books, diet programs, skincare companies, plastic surgeons, etc make so much money. From the time we can read and write we are fed the notion that our bodies are defected. Young girls go on diets, compare their weights, compare their clothing sizes, all with the hope of shrinking. We are told as women that in order to be valuable we must be smaller. Shrink, shrink, shrink, shrink it all. The standards set for us are impossible to reach. But they’re impossible for a reason. If they were possible then corporations and cosmetic companies wouldn’t exist. They wouldn’t make billions of dollars every year feeding off of the insecurities, that they in the first place, set in motion for women.
My whole life I’ve been under the impression that my body is not good enough. Not skinny enough. Too tall. Not tall enough. Weird smile. Not curvy enough. Too curvy. Not smart enough. Too smart, be quiet. Too fat.
My brain holds onto comments. Like a big metal filing cabinet, I can remember moments in time when someone made me feel so low that my body image issues grew in intensity, like fungus on a tree.
- When boys in elementary school didn’t like me because they said I was one of the “big” girls in school.
- When a coach in high school told me I was the “biggest girl” on the team, but that it was ok because apparently I’m just “big boned”.
- When a boy I liked stared at my chin and told me it was “weird” and then proceeded to laugh.
- When that same boy told me to my face that it would be funny to see me naked.
- When a random guy in my college dorm freshman year laughed and pointed at my legs when I walked down the hallway in tight shorts.
- When recently a man on the internet told me that I was “fat” and that no man wants a “fat woman”.
Derogatory comments are like chips in a marble statue. We come into this world perfect, created in the image of Christ. But over time we allow comments and opinions of others chip away at the body Christ gifted us with. With each comment that implies we need “fixing”, our self esteem and confidence is slowly chipped away.
What I have decided through all this bulls*** that society has put on me and women, is that I am OKAY. I am not a defect. Just because I’ve been told that not having a flat stomach makes me less than, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because somewhere along the way someone told me my weight is a defect, that doesn’t mean it is. I have to remind myself of these truths every single day. I am having to literally retrain my brain to believe that I am OKAY.
If you follow me on instagram you may notice that I have started using my platform for Body Positivity. It may seem strange then that someone who preaches body confidence with almost every post, suffers from BDD. It wasn’t until this last year that I felt a calling to talk to women about body confidence and body image. When I first shared my body positive post I remember feeling like a fraud. To be honest, there are many days I write an inspiring caption telling women to love their bodies, and then I go straight to the mirror and obsess over my perceived “flaws”. With each caption I write to my followers, I in turn am writing it to myself. Counteracting the self loathing thoughts that can flood my brain with positive, genuine feelings about self love.
Having BDD is very new to me, because for my entire life I thought there wasn’t anything wrong with how I viewed my body. I thought that everyone constantly hated their body and worked obsessively on ways to fix it. But I’m learning to combat BDD in my life. Counteract the negative obsessive destructive self talk with positive, self love. At times I feel like I’m speaking another language. It feels so foreign telling women to love their bodies at any shape and size, when I’ve been told the complete opposite my entire life. I truly can’t explain what it feels like to pose in a bikini while at my heaviest weight and tell other women to praise and love their bodies. It feels so freeing in the moments that I believe what I’m saying. I want those moments to occur 24/7 and that’s what I am working towards. I truly want to feel confident in my body 24/7 and love it at any stage.
Something my counselor said in our last session really struck me. She said “your body was not created for attraction. It was not created to be something pretty for others to look at. Sure it’s beautiful but it was made for so much more than you give it credit for.” Woah. I realized how rarely I am thankful that I have a heart that beats, lungs that breathe, a brain that thinks, arms that move, legs that can walk. It is so much easier to look at what “defects” cover our body than the literal functions of it.
If you suffer from BDD, please know I am here for you. I am still learning. I am in the early stages of learning how to combat it, but I am here for you. You can always message me on Instagram at @thiswildamazinglife. For the first time since starting this blog, I’m quite anxious to hit the “publish” button, but what good is it to keep our stories to ourselves when they can make someone else feel heard/less alone? I will not combat BDD overnight, but I am doing the work to combat it.
As I type these last words to you, I am saying them to myself as well.
Your body is not a defect. Your weight is not your worth. The number on the scale is just a number. Your worth is not determined on what your body looks like. Your stretch marks are not defects. Your stomach rolls are not defects. Your body does not need “fixing” or “altering”. You are beautiful.
. . .
“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.” – Tina Fey
“Body Dysmorphia is not a fancy synonym for being insecure…insecurities do play a part in the disorder but ‘body dysmorphic disorder is having a warped vision of one’s own body to an extent that it interferes with their ability to live a normal life.’ there’s a big difference” – Twitter user @quenblackwell
*If you think you may suffer from BDD, I recommend seeking professional help and get help taking back control. Please do not be ashamed. You are not alone.