I recently admitted to myself that I have body dysmorphia—a disorder where you can’t stop negatively obsessing over a minor or imagined flaw(s) in your appearance.
The negativity I feel towards my body started when I was a young girl. I spent the majority of my time in dance class in my youth. This meant I was constantly standing in a room surrounded by mirrors in a tight leotard comparing myself to other girls. Then, I would go home, look in the mirror, turn to the side, and suck in my stomach while imaging what I would like if I was smaller. AKA if I looked like the other girls.
In high school, I ended up leaving dance to pursue cheerleading. There were no mirrors at cheerleading practice, and I loved being able to dance without the constant worry of what I physically looked like next to everyone else.
However, even though I felt free on the cheer mat, I still felt self-conscious in my uniform. I gained a significant amount of weight in high school after being introduced to beer and vodka. And because I wasn’t tiny like the majority of the girls on my team, I immediately felt like the heaviest person on earth.
When I went off to college, I vowed to reinvent myself, so I got in shape and lost thirty pounds. But even though the scale said I was smaller, I didn’t feel smaller. In fact, I felt the same as I did when I was heavier.
I spent 99 percent of my time comparing myself to other people and wondering how they thought I looked. Did they think my thighs were too big? Could they see an extra chin when I smiled? Did they think my arms were too flabby?
How I Realized I Had Body Dysmorphia
Soon enough, my happiness became based on how many likes my Facebook profile picture got and how many compliments I received while out. I was in need of constant validation that I looked okay, and it was getting annoying. But I wanted to be okay with the way I looked, and I wanted to stop obsessing over the scale and practicing unhealthy eating habits to avoid gaining weight. The problem: All I could see was the girl who was 30 pounds heavier than me, and all I wanted was to be smaller.
Years later, I still have trouble seeing what I really look like in the mirror, but thanks to this one sentence – “All that matters is that you feel comfortable” – I’ve come to terms with the fact that I think I’m bigger than I am.
After hearing friends, family, and my boyfriend say this to me numerous times after asking how I look in dresses, bathing suits, and pictures, I realized that I’ve never felt comfortable with my body. Never once from the time I was a nervous six year old in dance class, to when I was a 27-year-old adult who bought clothes that were way too big because I still saw the 17-year-old who was thirty pounds heavier in the mirror. But I didn’t look that way anymore. I had body dysmorphia.
The Steps I’m Taking to Accept My Body
Upon realizing this, I started listening to people when they would tell me my clothes were too big on me. I convinced myself to try on clothes in smaller sizes, and found out I had been buying shirts and dresses two sizes too big for years. But of course the clothes were too big — I had never changed my clothing size, even after I lost weight.
Now, I’m focusing on changing my relationship with the mirror. I want to be able to look at myself without obsessively searching for what’s wrong and berating myself for having big thighs. I want to wear a bikini without breaking out in nervous hives.
I’ve come to realize it’s not about changing the way I look (although I’m pretty sure I will always be striving to lose 3 to 10 pounds, so that’s a lie). It’s about changing the way I feel.
The more comfortable I feel with my body, the better I will think I look, and the better I will actually look to other people. Confidence is the most attractive quality one can have after all.
Sometimes I fear that I don’t actually have body dysmorphia and that my flaws actually do exist (in other words, I really hate my thighs). But then I remind myself that of course my flaws exist. Without flaws, I wouldn’t be human. Without imperfections, there would be nothing to love about me. No one is perfect. But if I can be comfortable with my imperfections, which I’m starting to be, that’s all that matters.