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.