Thursday, July 4, 2013

BODY DYSMORPHIA: I'M MESSED UP. Are you? Let's discuss.

I just read this beautiful, haunting, honest, and hilarious piece by a writer who recovered from anorexia. It came in the middle of an internet rabbit hole I fell into, one of the negative-body-image-fierce-lady-writer variety.  As usual, I emerge from the reading binge, bleary-eyed in my underwear, wondering what it all means for me: as a writer, a woman, a daughter, a friend, a teacher of adolescents, and a lifelong disordered eater.

Confession time: My weight never dipped below 100 pounds. 

Here's the thing: not all anorexics and bulimics are thin. Many of us look quite normal. At my smallest, I looked a bit bony, arms and legs dangling off a normal-looking, even slightly soft midsection. Both times... At 16, eating 300 calories a day, downing half a dozen horse-sized diet pills, and running track... At 26, eating 890 calories a day, working out endlessly and never leaving the house... I looked good. 

I was never hospitalized. I came close once, after going four days without eating and passing out during a final exam, but never quite made it there (thankfully). 

No one ever staged an intervention. There were no doctors, nurses, treatment centers, support groups, or anything of the sort. Only crash diets, gym memberships, vomiting halfway through a 10 mile run on an empty stretch of highway, and years of feeling unhappy and uncomfortable in my own skin. 

At my thinnest in recent years, I was 127 pounds, and looking back I'd sacrifice a few relatives to get back to that weight, but at the time I felt pudgy. I remember vividly how, even with so little fat on me, when I laid down to tan in my bikini the skin on my hips fell out of my bikini at an unattractive angle. It's gotten to the point where I don't know what I look like at all. I can't tell. Nothing fits. My body appears stretched out, loose, misshapen, and weird. My face looks good, not fat like before when I was crash dieting, but my body... I guess you can only bounce back from so much. 

I go through positive phases. I'll see myself naked in a mirror, lift my arms above my head, and think, "You know what? I'm actually pretty hot." Looking at my stretch marks, I'll think, "Damn... those are awesome stretch marks. They're badges of honor, battle scars to be worn with pride... They are marks of survival, not failure..." 

Then I remember that nothing fits, and I want to cry again, I want to give up, I want to crack down and get back in shape I can be proud of, I want to lie down and do nothing at all... 

AND IT'S JUST A BODY. Before you even think about saying it, realize that I've said it to myself a million times, and I'm saying it right now as I write this: What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I let this take over? Am I that vain and self-absorbed? Is there nothing else that matters to me? What does it say about me that I'm so obsessed with how messed up my relationship with my body is? I hate it. I hate it. I wish I could stop it. Part of me hates you for judging me, but part of me is right there with you, making a face at myself. 

I don't know what to do next. The whole thing makes me extremely uncomfortable. But I have to find some meaning in all of this madness, or else what will it have all been for? There's no way I can just wake up one day and not agonize over my body, right? That ship sailed in elementary school. I was never going to be normal. Maybe I should set my standards lower and learn to cope. 

CONFESSION TIME: I hate myself. Not who I am, but my physical self. I think it has always been this way, and the periods in my life when I thought I was coping were actually denial. I don't know if I know how to NOT hate myself. 

RELEVANT EXAMPLE: My legs look great still, but all I see when I look at them is how much nicer they would be if I hadn't tortured them with years of yo-yo dieting. All I see when I look at them is the fact that they don't fit into my pants and I refuse to buy new ones because new ones are failure. All I see when I look at them is that they are 3.5 inches greater in circumference than they were 1 year ago and I HATE that I know that, I HATE that I have the measurements of my thighs logged from this week last year. I HATE THAT I'M THE KIND OF PERSON WHO MEASURES MY THIGHS, LET ALONE WRITES THOSE MEASUREMENTS DOWN WITH DATES. 

Part of the problem is the fact that I'm afraid to talk about it. I feel self-absorbed, selfish, superficial, obnoxious, and like a total jerk because there are people everywhere that have real problems bigger than being 20 pounds heavier than they should be and not feeling confident naked. People everywhere yo-yo diet, cry in fitting rooms, and count calories, and we shouldn't talk about it because people are in real pain out there and every time we talk about our self-indulgent self-proclaimed self-hate, we're marginalizing the real problems and wasting time that might otherwise be spent solving them, or making our lives better and more fulfilling so we aren't self-indulgent assholes who worry about ourselves all the time. 

Today I'm going to take a stand in the opposite direction: I am genuinely unhappy in my own skin. Regardless of what that says about me as a person, it's the truth, and it's awful. I know the vast majority of the problems in this world are far worse, and that millions of people would love to have this be the worst problem they deal with. But to me this is a big problem, and for myself, I won't let it be marginalized. 

I'm hoping that if more of us talk about disordered eating and unhealthy body image, we'll start to feel better. It doesn't need to be sensational to hurt. Every time I walk down the street behind a thinner woman and find myself searching for a physical flaw on her, just one thing I can claim to "beat" her at, it hurts. She's probably a lovely girl who has important things that matter and she's not preoccupied with the fact that maybe her legs could be slightly more muscular because she's a good person who has better more meaningful things to fill her time with. She doesn't deserve my critique, silent or not. Every time I think back to this mythical time when I was thin with despair -- which is even stupider because I know that at that time I was just as unhappy as I was now, despite being much lighter and fitter -- it hurts. Every time I see someone eat just one portion of something indulgent and I remember gorging myself on Doritos in second grade because even then I couldn't moderate ANYTHING -- it hurts. It hurts to realize you've spent your whole life failing at something. It hurts to admit all of this. It may not be poverty, hunger or abuse, but it hurts, and it's real, and you can judge me all you want for writing about it in such excessive detail, but I need to do something. 

I have battled eating disorders, body dysmorphia, negative body image for most of my life and it feels as if it's eating me alive. I need help. And I'm going to talk about it. 

What about you? 


  1. Thank you so much for writing this brave post. I can certainly relate, but I have yet to express it as thoroughly and poigniantly as you do here. I, tool, analyze and compare myself to every woman I see, telling me that I am prettier than her in order to compensate for the fact that her hips, thighs, arms, are better than mine.

    I think the real poison is how we as women have been conditioned to think that our sole value is in our appearance. Yes, we can be wives, mothers, employees, etc, but what matters most is how fuckable we are. Patriarchy intends to keep us feeling powerless about ourselves, distracted by our "inadequacies." What really must be done is to start pushing back, to say I am more than my hotness. Appreciate me for my qualities that don't need a mirror to reflect, but rather a hammer to build a new platform of women's empowerment and self-acceptance.

  2. Thank you for saying it was poignant and thorough... It could use a lot of editing. And I mean a lot. But I just wanted to get it out of my head as soon as possible.

    I know how you feel. In my opinion, it's not that we've been conditioned to think that our sole value is in our appearance, it's that we've been conditioned to think that our most important value is our appearance. I think caring a little is not a bad thing... But maybe I have no right to comment, because I've never cared a little. And I hate it.