This post is about the subject of body image and eating disorders and so may include content that may be difficult to read.
I believe it is very unhelpful, to those who struggle with these issues, to use numbers and sizes, because I know from my own experience that we can distort what we read to turn it into new challenges and/or standards for ourselves to strive toward. Accordingly I will not be using either. It simply doesn’t help anyone. If it does anything it just satisfies curious minds. And I’m not going to do that in case it causes someone else to stumble.
It doesn’t take much to go from a child who has little idea of how she looks, and desperately wants to look like her friends, to an adult who is unsatisfied, still doesn’t know how she looks and eager to learn any of the latest weight loss tips. One thing leads to another and before you know it is completely out of control… and you still don’t know how you look.
This not knowing how I look didn’t come from not having a mirror in our home, and I’m not suggesting that it was the definite reason for difficulties later, it’s just that now, I can perhaps see where things might have started.
There is a photo of me as a seven year old, with my brothers, kneeling in front of the Christmas Tree. Nothing unusual about that except I had no idea that I looked like the little girl in the photo. My school photos from the same time are similar. I can’t remember what I thought of those photos at the time but now I can see that here was a pretty, blonde kiwi girl. It’s just that girl is not who I thought I looked like. It may as well have been some other little girl. I saw myself as ugly, straggly hair that was no particular colour and…
That ‘big’, tacked innocently on the end of the sentence is really important to this story because I always thought, actually I knew, I was big. And what I meant by big was fat, overweight, and different from my friends. Enormous!
I wasn’t any of those things in reality, but my mother would regularly tell me I was a big girl. Those exact words. Right through my childhood I would hear those words and I grew very quickly to hate them. I didn’t want to be ‘big’. I wanted to be small and petite, like at least a few of my friends. To give my mother the benefit of the doubt, I did end up 5′ 10″. I wasn’t really tall as a child but I guess I was at the taller end of the class. But if she meant ‘tall’, why couldn’t she have said ‘tall’? And if she meant I was older, then why not say that? ‘Big’ did some damage that I still struggle with today. ‘Big’ is like a red rag to a bull.
The thing is there could be lots of explanations for what Mum told me but what matters is that even as a young child, body image was clearly an issue for me. And as I grew, the issue grew into a problem.
For a minute I need to talk about body dysmorphia and I chose the journal I did to get a definition, because the title of the article is “Body dysmorphic disorder(BDD): recognizing and treating imagined ugliness.” (1.) I had a laugh to myself because I have never seen it described quite as accurately as I experience it. Imagined ugliness.
But really, it’s no laughing matter. And to me, it is not imagined. It is my reality.
“Individuals with BDD obsess that there is something wrong with how they look,
even though the perceived appearance flaw is actually minimal or nonexistent…” (1.)
That’s what the journal says, but what it means for me is that when I look in the mirror I don’t see what other people see when they look at me. Actually I have very little idea of how others see me. I just don’t get what they see. I can look at myself in the mirror for hours (actually I don’t let myself do that anymore) but can not for the life of me tell whether I am big (like Mum said), small, fat, thin, short or tall. I just don’t know.
I did this exercise today as I was preparing to write this post and it was almost as if the image in the mirror was constantly changing. I have lost a little weight recently. I stay away from scales now (well as much as I can make myself) but a friend mentioned I was looking good and said I had lost a little weight. I knew she was right about the weight loss because my jeans are loser, but I literally can not see it. From when I was of an anorexic weight to an obese weight (and yes, that happens more often than anyone admits – more about that later), the image in the mirror looked the same. How accurate is it? I have no idea. I just don’t see myself how anyone else sees me.
I hate photographs. They are always a surprise to me because I just don’t know what I am looking like. Of the last photo I saw of me (taken a couple of years ago) all I could think was that I looked pregnant. And that was not a good thought. I choose not to use photographs of myself on any social media because of security issues I have expressed previously, but actually I’m glad I don’t. Because I hate what I see in the photographs. Maybe what anyone else can see is different but I am not game to trust anyone on that. I’m sure that the real truth is that my mum was right… and I am simply big (still).
To be continued…
“. . . hell is wanting to be somewhere different from where you are. Being one place and wanting to be somewhere else . . . . Wanting life to be different from what it is. That’s also called leaving without leaving. Dying before you die. It’s as if there is a part of you that so rails against being shattered by love that you shatter yourself first.”
― Geneen Roth,
Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
Phillips, K.A. (2004). ‘Body dysmorphic disorder: recognizing and treating imagined ugliness’ World Psychiatry. 2004 February; 3(1): 12–17.
- Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me
- This body-image death spiral ends at universal self-hatred | Zoe Williams (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘I lost 11 stone in just a year but still felt like an obese monster’: How body obsession ruled my life (mirror.co.uk)
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder Patients Who Eat Less More Likely To Attempt Suicide (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Body Dysmorphia Takes Son’s Life; Propels Grieving Dad to Walk (abcnews.go.com)
- Restricted Food Intake A Predictor Of Increased Suicide Attempts In Body Dysmorphic Disorder Patients (medicalnewstoday.com)
- The link between suicide and body dysmorphic disorder (mnn.com)