Body dysmorphic disorder. I think I was about 28 years old when I first heard about this term. I was watching one of those make-over programmes that were really popular at the time. You know the ones I mean – when some experts take a person who has been having a tough time in life, downtrodden, not making the best of themselves, and over a course of weeks they are guided and counselled and transformed into a magical human butterfly. They are taught how to dress and wear clothes that were stylish and flattering to their body shape; taught how to apply make-up (if appropriate); their hair was restyled; most crucially though, they were taught to look at themselves and look for positives, instead of flaws.
These shows were my absolute guilty pleasure. I would love watching how the people were before because I couldn’t wait to see what they would look like after. I loved watching the change in their posture; I loved how suddenly their confidence soared; I’d watch them and within an hour of the TV programme, their whole aura would have changed – they would be meeting their friends and families with a ready break glow around them.
Body dysmorphic disorder. Sadly, so many of the women on the show suffered with this condition. One woman, who had been married to her husband for nearly 30 years, refused to let him see her naked, because her body had changed after having children. She found her own body so abhorrent, she felt undesirable – and worse still – unlovable. There was a teenage girl on, of medium build, who had been bullied all her life because of her weight, being bigger than the other teenage girls….she hated every inch of her body. The particular expert who was trying to give advice with style and clothing, eventually explained to this girl that she was really beautiful and healthy – however, what she saw in the mirror – a grotesque monster – was not reality, it was not what others saw. The hatred for her body was all in her head…and this was called body dysmorphic disorder.
Men suffer from this too, I know. I know it’s not a new problem but it is certainly something that is getting worse and worse. Before we only had magazines shoving down our throats, what the perfect image of men and women should be.
The trend at the moment it seems is that men should either be the width and shape of a super skinny cigarette; or a muscle-bound Adonis. Good luck with that men! Women, should either be so skeletal that they look like they’re an extra from The Walking Dead, only with stylish clothes and make up (minus the rotting flesh). OR, women should have huge breasts, huge backsides and miniscule waists. Good luck with that women!
Like I said before, a few years ago, everyone blamed (and still blame) magazines for photo-shopping images of models and celebrities to make them look more toned; slimmer; less wrinkled etc. And holding up these images as goals that we mere mortals should aspire to. The problem now is this, celebrities use social media accounts to stage photos and show how fabulous and amazing their lives are, and how incredible they look all the time, with ridiculous captions such as: ‘Chill day today’ …..Hmm, you are fully made up, your hair has been done, your house is immaculate; HOW THE HECK IS THAT A CHILL DAY? If I insta’d myself right now…I’m having a genuine chill day at the moment…..Here’s what you would see. My hair is a mess – all over the place; my eyes are bleary and smudgy – I haven’t removed my make-up from the night before; my pyjamas are lovely (I always make a point of wearing good pj’s! And my house….well, it definitely looks lived in. If you were thinking of visiting – I’d need a 30 minute warning! So definitely not aspirational – apart from my pj’s methinks!
The problem with this constant bombardment of perfection…body dysmorphic disorder can only be on the rise.
I know that I suffer from this. I won’t look at my body in the mirror. I hate trying on clothes in a changing room where you are in a mirror labyrinth, everywhere you turn, there is a full length mirror taunting you. I see the flaws first. I could list them to you – but I won’t. I try so hard not to think about them because of how self-hating it is – and I don’t want to do that to myself. When I feel those negative, self hating thoughts creeping in, I have to remind myself and consciously tell myself positive things. I have to remind myself that I have strong legs – I can walk for miles without tiring. I have strong arms – I can lift heavy things. I am healthy. I have a good brain. LIke a mantra, I have to repeat these positive affirmations to myself, otherwise the alternative…wallowing, self-pitying, feeling negative…it’s just unbearable.
The problem was, when I was younger, and all through my teens, people would often think that it was appropriate, and within their remit to comment on my physical appearance, I was a larger girl when I was little – and that just never changed as I grew older. The cute puppy fat I had as a toddler…not so cute when you’re a pre-teen and then adolescent. And the more that people comment on your appearance….the more you comfort eat because that’s the only thing that gives you any type of pleasure. What I learnt from society, at a very young age, was this…. Being fat equated to the following: you’re unattractive; you’re undesirable; you’re unlovable – you’re a failure.
I was probably 10 years old when I learnt this unhelpful lesson. It stuck with me. I’ve never lost it since. I manage it. Those demons that want to emerge and smite me with their cruel, mocking words – I manage them; the distorted images in the mirror that remind me of my perceived failings – I avoid them; those photographs that show that my body is far from perfect – I speak to myself kindly about them; those people who would advise me to lose some weight because I don’t look great and it’s not good to be at the weight that I am – I tell them to go fuck themselves.
My biggest challenge and the most important one, is to make my daughters love their bodies, and not be taught to hate themselves in the way that I was trained to. I am lucky that my husband is so supportive – he doesn’t see flaws first, he immediately sees what is good in people in the first instance. We encourage our daughters to make healthy choices when eating. We provide as many opportunities to exercise as we can. We tell them how beautiful and strong they are all the time. I love the fact that he always talks to them about building their muscles and being powerful. We make them climb trees, climb rocks, run and swim, make them understand that their bodies are extraordinary and amazing things that help them do so much in life.
Meanwhile – I’m grateful for every day that I am physically able to be a strong human being, who is more than just a two-dimensional image in a magazine, and is surrounded by some of the most positive people in the world!