Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness where an individual becomes obsessed with flaws in their appearance that they believe they have.
Even if these flaws aren’t noticed by others, the individual with body dysmorphia is convinced everyone notices, and may go to great lengths to hide them.
It’s hard to remember my life without body dysmorphia.
I remember being seven years old when I noticed how big my nose was compared to others. I desperately wished for it to magically shrink because I thought it was the only thing people would notice about me.
At ten years old, a classmate told me I was ugly, and it didn’t come as a shock to me because I had convinced myself that I was from an earlier age.
By twelve, I became obsessed with the size of my thighs, trying to pull them apart to see how I’d look with a thigh gap. I could not stop thinking about how fat my thighs were and that was the age I stopped wearing shorts in order to hide them.
Throughout my teenage years, I became increasingly self-critical about my appearance. I could not look at one body part and not see a flaw. My feet were too big, my knees were too flabby, my butt wasn’t perky enough, my stomach wasn’t completely flat, my neck was too long, my lips were too thin, and I had acne.
I had convinced myself that I was fat and ugly.
I eventually moved away from home to university; which is where my body dysmorphia became problematic.
I used makeup as a coping mechanism to deal with my insecurities. I could not leave my dorm room without doing my makeup perfectly, which usually took an hour to do. And I refused to go bare faced to grab coffee for two minutes or go write an exam. I was convinced that even in a lecture hall other students would be judging me.
This behaviour continued to get worse throughout my four and a half years at university.
I was known to my friends as the one who always had to be dressed up. I would take hundreds of selfies, just to pick apart every tiny flaw I had.
For others, it was just my personality. I gave the impression that I loved having my hair and makeup done at all times, that I hated dressing down, and I loved taking pictures of myself. It is hard for others to believe that it may be a sign of deep insecurity and mental illness.
During my third year of university, my body dysmorphia—combined with a traumatic event at that time—caused an eating disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders are not always co-morbid, but it can be common.
Even when I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and knew I was severely underweight, I could not see myself as skinny. Even with the concerning stares in public, seeing my emaciated body, and having my friends tell me how ill I looked; I still could not look into the mirror and consider myself to be thin. In the depths of my anorexia, I still was convinced my thighs were too big. Even at a little under 90 pounds, I still perceived myself as fat.
Body dysmorphic disorder can easily become serious. I refused to go to inpatient treatment because I still never saw myself as skinny enough to be sick. I spent hours doing makeup, hair, and picking an outfit, which could have been time doing something more productive.
I’ve heard stories of others with body dysmorphia who would go into debt after spending money getting plastic surgery. Some people will avoid going out into public entirely because of their body dysmorphia. There have also been suicides in some cases.
These extremes are a sad reality for many people.
The judgement behind body dysmorphia is very toxic. Being seen as vain, delusional, and attention seeking only causes more shame and stigma towards those who suffer from it. Any kind of mental illness is hard to control and understand. Body dysmorphia may never even go away for some. I believe that some mental illnesses you learn to live with and control.
My body dysmorphia has gotten a lot easier to manage after I recovered from anorexia.
I still have some days were I feel sad about the way I look and how much I weigh. But I learned to start accepting my body for the way it is, and being thankful for all that I have. Taking anti-depressants, going to therapy, and learning better coping mechanisms helped the disorder, but didn’t cure it.
Because I can’t just “get over it”; it will be years of recovery.
Body dysmorphia may be life-long healing. And if you have a loved one with body dysmorphia, I encourage you to learn to be patient, understanding, and kind to them through it. They’re doing the best they can.