On Appearances

By all accounts, I am a rather attractive female. I’m  5’9″ (175 cm) and proportionately built. I have curves and a butt, but I’ve been blessed with excellent Nordic genes and I’ve never been significantly overweight. At my heaviest, I weighed over 160 pounds (73 kg), about 20 pounds overweight. My most comfortable weight, not too thin or too heavy, is around 145 (66 kg). Right now, I’m about 150 pounds (68 kg), though I never weigh myself. I know just by how my clothes fit. When I was a drug addict, I weighed 120 pounds (54 kg). I was nothing but a sack of skin covering a skeleton. I had bones poking out everywhere. It was awful.

I’m tall and relatively thin. I have fine, straight, blonde hair that shines like silk. I have decent skin that doesn’t break out. I have the most gorgeous green eyes and a pretty face. I have never been significantly overweight, but to my brain, it doesn’t seem to matter. Even at 120 pounds, I thought I was fat. I am never thin enough. I am never pretty enough. My rational brain knows just how absolutely idiotic that is, but my irrational brain, the one in charge most of the time, is never sated.


Image from nhs.uk.

I have something called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD causes your self-image to be distorted. You don’t see the real you. You don’t see you as a whole; you just see the faults. I just used the bathroom at work, and as I was washing my hands, I looked in the mirror. For a split second, I actually thought, hey, you look pretty today. And then my eyes drifted to the piece of hair sticking up in back where my head wound is. Ever since my head was sliced open, my hair doesn’t grow normally there. I ran my finger under the faucet, plastered it down and left. My mind always goes to the faults.

From the BDD wiki linked above: “BDD is linked to a diminished quality of life, can be co-morbid with major depressive disorder and social phobia (chronic social anxiety).”

Check, check. I have major depressive disorder and social anxiety. My BDD isn’t as severe as some. I don’t have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and I don’t self-harm anymore. When I was in high school, I had anorexia and was a cutter, but I’ve stopped both of those for the most part. Although, even now, I do have to force myself to eat every single day. If I don’t consciously think about eating, I won’t eat.

Also from the wiki above, some common compulsive behaviors associated with BDD include:

  • Compulsive mirror checking, glancing in reflective doors, windows and other reflective surfaces.
  • Attempting to camouflage the imagined defect: for example, using cosmetic camouflage, wearing baggy clothing, maintaining specific body posture or wearing hats.
  • Compulsive skin-touching, especially to measure or feel the perceived defect.
  • Self-harm.
  • Comparing appearance/body parts with that/those of others.

Check, check, check, check, check.

Some causes:

  • Introversion
  • Shyness
  • Social phobia
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Teasing or bullying during childhood.
  • Neglect, physical and/or sexual trauma, insecurity and rejection.

Check, check, check, check, check, check.

Sadly, those behaviors and causes are only the ones I experience. Many other life experiences may also act as triggers to BDD onset. There are more at the link.

BDD is one of those things that no one likes talking about, especially the people who suffer from it. Talking to the world about your issues is horrifying. It’s a private affair, best conducted behind closed doors, between our bodies and our brains. It is not something we talk about. It’s a lifelong struggle. It is not conscious. It is not something we can control anymore than we can turn off our hearing. It is the result of neglect, abuse and insecurity. In my case, it is the result of child sexual abuse. When you are seen as a sexual object before you are, it can do all sorts of damage.

I don’t self-harm anymore, not with knives, not with substance abuse. I eat every day. I’m five pounds over my comfort weight and I’m not freaking out about it, at least, not consciously. I am mostly comfortable in my skin now. Even if I do still see the flaws, I can look at myself in the mirror, if only for a second, and think that I look pretty. It wasn’t always that way.

I’m talking about this today because people need to know. If you suffer from BDD, anorexia, bulimia, self-harm or any of the myriad issues we can have, please, know that it is not your fault and it can get better. It won’t be easy, but it can get better.

The best thing you can do for someone who suffers from any of the issues mentioned in this post is not judge them. We might be trying to fix it. If we’re not, we might need help to realize that this is something inside of us that we cannot control. We might be secretive and reluctant to seek help, because we irrationally believe others will see us as vain or self-obsessed. We might need help. Thanks for listening.

There are 56 comments

  1. AR Neal

    Thank you for sharing this important information. We don’t often attend to the ways in which sexual/physical/mental/emotional abuse leaves nasty traces later. I know I have some of those symptoms and it doesn’t help that I am overweight by my own standards, as well as by most physicians, even though my husband doesn’t complain ;)


  2. Mental Mama

    We are all beautiful, precisely as we are.

    Thank you for being brave enough to write about this. More people need to know about this, know that they’re not alone, and that there is hope for life beyond the diagnosis.


      1. Mental Mama

        I really just can’t even imagine what that must be like. I think all women have some level of discontent with our appearance just because of the way society is right now, but what you’ve described is just heart breaking.


          1. Mental Mama

            The Body Shop did a really lovely campaign back in the 90s with a Barbie doll girl they named Ruby – did you ever see that? She was always naked and she was entirely curvy. The whole point of it was to stress that we really are all beautiful. I thought it was one of the best campaigns geared at women that I’ve ever seen.


  3. donofalltrades

    I’m glad to read about so many bloggers sharing their stories and information about these sorts of things. It gives sufferers other people to relate to, and folks like me more information and hopefully, more empathy towards people we may judge without knowing their stories. I’m also amazed at how awesome people can turn out to be after enduring something as awful as child sexual abuse. Good for you!


    1. goldfish

      Here’s hoping. I talk about these things on the off-chance that it might help someone else.

      It really is amazing all the damage that sexual abuse can do, and yet, we carry on and don’t end up as abusers ourselves.


  4. aliceatwonderland

    I hate the BMI. The way they’ve got it now, it’s extremely easy to be categorized as overweight and even obese. I’m overweight – but I’m not huge. I wear a size 14 and I’m 5’7″. I’d like to weigh less, but I was putting so much stress on myself I had to stop it for a while. My male doctor told me I should lose 35 pounds. My female gyno looked shocked and said more like 15. Interesting the difference, huh?

    I’ve had self-esteem issues most of my life. I didn’t believe I was attractive when I was younger and I still have trouble saying that now sometimes, even though others told me I was. Though I realize this is a real disorder, I think all women to a certain extent are vulnerable to this kind of shit thanks to our lovely media and culture. People prefer an anorexic (like the Victoria Secret models with their ribs sticking out) to a “fat” person. Girls as young as 8 or 9 put themselves on diets – or are put on diets. It’s sad.


  5. braith an' lithe

    Yes…I would never say I had BDD – and I don’t, I can be very self-critical but essentially am happy in my own skin and wouldn’t like to look different- but when I see that compulsive behaviours list… And then I thought, almost all the teenagers I know could check off that list.
    I learned about BDD 15?+ years ago, reading an article about Uma Thurman suffering from it. I was gobsmacked at the time to discover someone so incredibly beautiful could feel so ugly.


    1. goldfish

      Those compulsive behaviors are only the ones I have. Sadly, there are many more.

      Uma Thurman has it? That’s a shame. And that’s pretty much it right there: she’s beautiful, but she feels ugly.


      1. Revis Edgewater

        Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure we’ve already had this discussion, my fishy friend. Oh well. I’ll just tell you that you’re a beautiful fish and wait patiently for you to call me a suckup. :-)


  6. SocietyRed

    I came here through Rarasaur; so glad I did.
    My 30 year old daughter has had a lifetime of struggle with herself. Your description of BDD is as close as anything I have read to describe my perception of her life challenge. Thank you for another perspective to work from.


    1. goldfish

      I’m sorry that your daughter experiences this. It’s not fun. It’s impossible to talk about, too. When we talk about it, it puts the spotlight on our perceived issues and we think that people will judge us even more.

      I hope that neither of you blame yourselves for it. It’s not something that you or she can control, but with a lot of work, it can be excised to some extent. Good luck.


  7. Madame Weebles

    I understand how you feel. I have BDD, I always think I’m fat even when I’m not. Even when I was at my thinnest, I thought I was enormous. And now that I’m a lot heavier than I’d like to be, I can’t even bring myself to look in the mirror. Unlike others with BDD who obsess over everything and look in the mirror constantly, I avoid the mirror as much as possible. I don’t look unless I absolutely have to. I’m very anxious around people, even people I’ve known for ages because I always assume they’re judging me. So I have a tendency to avoid people like the plague. Thank you for sharing your story, Goldfish.


    1. goldfish

      I go back and forth. I tend to avoid mirrors. If I do look at them, I look at certain things only, like my hair or to make sure I don’t have crap in my teeth. But I look in reflections constantly. I can’t help it.

      I’m sorry that you know what it’s like.


  8. Emma Newman

    Is BDD something you can be officially diagnosed with? I’m constantly thinking about what I eat, when I eat and how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ I’m behaving in relation to my food intake and it mostly has a huge effect on how I feel about myself both in the short and long term. I think about every time I got to put food in my mouth and for the most part I despise mirrors and looking at myself. I’ve been told I could have some form of BDD (by someone who has does a PhD in psych, though is not a practicing psychologist), but I don’t want to be all ‘I’m jumping on this bandwagon because I can and I hate my body’, not that I think that, but…well…yeah. I’m very cautious of including myself in something when I know there are people out there who are far worse off that me, who am I to say I suffer when for the most part I guess I don’t.


    1. goldfish

      It’s not easily diagnosable like cancer. Most mental health issues aren’t. It takes a good rapport with a mental help professional to diagnose.

      I would recommend talking to a health care professional about it, but it seems that it’s not effecting you too badly. Still, medication can help.


      1. Emma Newman

        I do see someone regularly which is good and helps a lot. I have a wonderful talent for deciding I’m being silly and getting on with it, which can be good and bad. Guess its a process. :) thanks!


  9. Fat Bottom Girl

    I recently lost around 40 lbs. . . at least I think that’s about how much I lost, because I don’t own a scale. I went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago and told them to keep that information to themselves too. It messes with my head, and I become obsessed with it, and it destroys me. I know I wear smaller clothes, and my boobs shrank a size—damn boobs! I wish I was thinner, but know that regardless of how thin I might get, it will never be thin enough. My mind will still see me as being fat. It will pick apart everything I see in the mirror, and make me believe I am ugly. I don’t want to be that way, but I am.

    I came here via The Outlier Collective, and hope to come back soon and read more. :) You know, by the way you describe yourself, you seem like one of those women I would see out, and immediately start comparing myself to, thinking I am not as thin, or as proportionate, etc. Isn’t it strange how that works?


    1. goldfish

      I don’t own a scale either because I tend to obsess over the numbers. I’m sorry that you know what it’s like to never be thin enough. I don’t want to be that way either, but the good news is, with lots of work, it can change. Thanks for stopping by.


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