“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”– Albert Einstein
“You’re so tiny!” she exclaims. “I know, look at how small,” he says, “You are so skinny!” I cringe, forcing an obligatory smile and a, “Yeah thanks,” before leaving the room. I look down at my arms and flex them, I place my hands over my quads and bounce the muscle to reassure myself that I am indeed not wasting away like they’ve been saying. It’s a compliment, or so they think. Women want to be petite, delicate, skinny, and slim. Or so they think. It sends me into a spiral; I’ve been fighting with body dysmorphia almost daily now. I don’t know what I look like. Every corner I turn, my brain receives different input. I feel weak and small. I turn, and I feel athletic, toned and fit. I turn again; I feel overweight, someone taking up too much space, and too much oxygen trying to maintain a struggling circulatory and respiratory system. I close my eyes, and re-focus, just trying to comprehend the truth.
I don’t know what I look like. What I see in the mirror that I am familiar with is different from what I see when I pass my reflection in a mirror that I’ve never passed before. What I see in a picture I take of myself is different from what I see in a picture of myself that someone else took. Recently, I sat on the couch and opened birthday presents while my mom took pictures. She sent them to me, and all I could do was sit, with furrowed brow, and look at the figure there with my face, holding up a bag of matcha powder, (great birthday present though, thanks Mah!) and say, “What?” I look foreign to myself. My brain is forced to see my body in these instances without its muddled filter. It has drawn its own conclusions, based on past experiences and future expectations – and feeds me back these illustrations in spite of reality.
So sometimes I can see clearly the thick muscular definition I’ve worked my ass off for. Sometimes I think I weigh much more than I do. Recently I’ve been bombarded with ‘compliments’ about my size that make me feel unsure – small and inconsequential. But I know I am not that. I know that I am not skinny – I never will be and I never want to be. I understand maybe that people are feeding me the bullshit they think I want to hear, or that they are saying that I am tiny in comparison to what I once was. I guess that is true. But no, I’m not small. Don’t further confuse me. Don’t throw wrenches in the cogs of my already debris ridden brain.
Give it to me Straight
I’ve worked my ass off to have legs strong enough to crush the souls of men. I’ve worked my ass off to have intimidating arms and impressive shoulders. I’ve sweat and cursed to build definition in my back. Don’t comment on my size, it lends nothing to my brain or my confidence. Tell me I look terrifying. Tell me I look like I could pull the intention out of a tornado. Tell me I look like I could go rounds with the devil and come out even more fierce. Tell me I look capable. Tell me this, or nothing at all. I distinctly don’t need your comments if you think I did this much work to be cute.
Without extraneous input from well meaning strangers, I would have enough to deal with trying to get through the strange sensation of floating outside of reality. I am one of many. Body Dysmorphia is a fairly common thing, I’d be willing to bet that most people experience it in their lives – whether they know it or not. It is particularly common amongst those whom have experienced significant weight fluctuations.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body Dysmorphia, as I experience it, is a disconnect between the way you perceive your physical self, and the way your physical self actually exists and appears in reality (that is, the collective reality that society as a whole experiences.) The way the brain perceives things is often skewed. Your brain has the power to distort your experiences in real-time. In my case, I currently perceive myself as larger than I am. Conversely, when I weighed 272 lbs., I perceived myself as much smaller than I was. To be exact, it is very hard to dislodge myself from seeing myself in the weight range of 180-220. Because I existed for such a significant amount of time at 220, that is the image that is set in my mind. At 272, I thought I looked 230. Now, at 150, I feel like I look 170. Over the months my mental number has decreased, and seems to slowly be ‘catching up’.
Essentially, my brain is much slower to change than my body has been. The misperception is made all the more difficult because I had formed a very certain image in my brain of what 150 lbs. would look like on me – without taking into account the poor elasticity of skin that has been over stretched for well past fifteen years. I don’t actually know what the body underneath a realistic 5-10 lbs. of less-than taught skin looks like.
And for Others?
In short, it is a discrepancy between how one thinks their body, or a part of their body looks, and how it actually looks. Women often see themselves larger than they are; men often see themselves as smaller than they are. There is some confusion between the difference of dysmorphia and dysphoria. Dysmorphia is in reference to body dysmorphia, as described above. Dysphoria is in reference to gender dysphoria, and has to do with feeling or believing that your biological gender is not congruent with your mental gender. They are distinctly separate, though can be experienced simultaneously by a single individual.
Dysmorphia is not an eating disorder, though often may be accompanied by one. When body dysmorphia is severe and negatively impacts a person’s daily functioning, it may be diagnosed as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I’m not doctor, but I don’t believe my case is severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of BDD. Thankfully.
What is BDD?
BDD, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder, is the clinical diagnosis of Body Dysmorphia. When an individual is experiencing severe enough symptoms that fit the criterion, and they seek out the help of a professional qualified to make such a diagnosis, one may be made. If you are experiencing symptoms and habits that are affecting your quality of life, seriously, please seek help. BDD is a mental illness that can be addressed by qualified professionals.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is very commonly used to help treat this disorder. Sometimes patients may be prescribed anti-depressants. For more information, check out this website
What I’m Doing to Close the Gap
Working on a gap in reality that you are experiencing can be dicey. I’m no doctor. I’m no psychologist. None of it. Again, if you need professional assistance, seek it. And again, my case isn’t bad enough to be a diagnosable condition. As time passes, I notice more and more the gap closing. Taking care of myself, and openly acknowledging and thanking myself for those acts has in and of itself improved my state of mental health as it relates to my relationship with myself. Acceptance is a huge part of this. Accepting that my body doesn’t look like I hoped it would, accepting my skin, accepting my failures and pushing myself to make better choices is something I have to consciously do on a daily basis.
Taking time to analyze, and believe my eyes, when I see pictures taken of me has really helped. I realized that at my heaviest, I really and truly believed I was at least 40 lbs. lighter than I was. If I had had the power to circumvent the protective barriers my mind had set up against the fact, and been able to really look at pictures of myself, and accept the truth, things might have turned around faster. But that is in the past. Trust viewpoints other than your own, they aren’t put through the rose-colored glasses of denial, nor the muddy covering of self-hate.
Running through facts is a grounding technique that can reassure you when things get particularly confusing or unbelievable. This can help keep you in the here and now until you can get reassurance from an outside source if need be.
On another note – Don’t fuck with your brain. Love it. Treat it well. Fuel it well. Work it well. Accept its flaws and always strive to improve its health. Sometimes it can be a real dick; you don’t need to give it anymore reason to mess with you.
Do you have any experience with Dysmorphia?
What is your story? What have you done to cope and improve your state of being? Let me know below in the comments, or connect with us on any of the following social media platforms!
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not a vet, adventure guide, personal trainer, doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
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