Body dysmorphia (TW: eating disorders)

So, body dysmorphia: what is it?

The NHS website says it’s “a mental health condition where you spend a lot of time
worrying about your appearance”. But it’s can be more than just ‘worrying’ – it can cause people to agonise over certain body parts or facial features. It can lead to depression, self harm, eating disorders and even suicidal thoughts. It can distort the way you see yourself when you look in the mirror or prevent you from looking at your reflection altogether. It can prevent you from taking part in family photos or hang out with your friends. It can completely take over your life.

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Mine was at its worst when my eating disorder was at its worst. I didn’t perceive myself as others did. I didn’t think I was underweight. I looked in the mirror and I saw a completely different reflection looking back at me. I was so confused by what everyone was telling me compared to what I saw. Nothing made sense. But, then again, my brain wasn’t getting the right nutrition to process things correctly. My mind was completely distorted (the brain uses around 20% of the body’s energy use – and it needs carbohydrates to function properly as glucose is much more readily available).

I’d looked into SO many surgeries and procedures to ‘improve’ myself; rhinoplasty (nose job), otoplasty (ears pinned back), veneers to hide teeth gaps, lip fillers to get plumper lips, certain laser techniques to get rid of body hair and get rid of any scars or marks on my skin. I had a whole list on my phone titled: ‘Things I Need To Get Done In Order To Look Perfect’. I used to think: “My hair is too thin. My skin is too spotty. My hands are too big. My chin sticks out. My thighs are too big. My stomach isn’t flat. My toes are too fat. My shoulders are too broad.”… the list goes on. I picked at my skin in an attempt to make it smooth (also known as dermatillomania). I almost killed myself trying to get the ‘perfect’ body as I became obsessed with being perfect (a common trait of those with anorexia nervosa is being a perfectionist). I just wanted to look like the Barbie dolls that I grew up with. I was sick of hating my image and crying every time I looked in the mirror. I would see all these seemingly ‘perfect’ girls on social media and I so longed to be one of them; I so longed to be as perfect as I could.

Funnily enough, it was only after I had my stoma surgery and after I was able to eat again (after a year of a liquid diet) that I embraced my body and how I looked. It was only after I actually truly let go of my eating disorder and started to eat what I wanted that my body dysmorphia began to fade – of course, this and a lot of talking and therapy as well. CBT is something that can really help process and manage your thoughts and feelings, as well as something that can help you change the way you think – there are various CBT services available, either on the NHS or privately, and there are even some online CBT services (like this one) which may be more convenient for some.

The things I’ve learned after all these years? Trust in your body. Talk it out rather than bottle it up. And don’t punish yourself for looking like you – we aren’t all meant to look the same! There is no right or wrong way to look; the world would be a much more boring place if we were all the same! Your differences are unique. You are beautiful, just the way you are.

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