Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Apparently, I have no idea what I look like. I’ve known for a while that I’ve had some issues with distorted body image, but I’ve recently realized that my problems are more than just not liking my own body… I really have no idea what it looks like. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) causes sufferers to perceive (often imagined) flaws as disfiguring. They can look at others normally, but will notice even the smallest blemishes on their own bodies. Another common manifestation of BDD (one which I am very familiar with) is excessive “grooming” (ie: plucking hairs, picking blemishes, etc).

To give you an idea of how bizarre BDD really is: Once I was looking at a picture of a group. I noticed that one woman’s body was very attractive and remarked “wow, she’s hot”. I was mortified when I looked at her face and realized that the “hot” woman was actually me. Had I seen my face before the rest of my body, I would have been disgusted with what I saw.

Every once in a while, I look in the mirror, forget who I’m looking at, and actually like what I see. But as soon as I remember who I’m looking at, I suddenly feel much heavier. Though I know my weight, I imagine myself as looking much larger than I am. When I see someone who I think looks about my size, I usually find that they are 25-150 lbs heavier than I am. On a good day, my guess is within 25 lbs… on an average day, I’m about 75 lbs off… and on a bad day, I apparently think I look morbidly obese.

By doctors’ standards, I am overweight. I am overweight by about 15 lbs… but I often wonder how much of that is my hair (I have 3 feet of hair) and my larger-than-average breasts (neither of which contribute to weight that I should worry about). I also have reason to think that a good amount of my weight is muscle. But either way, I’m at least somewhat overweight.

That being said, I am going to stop referring to myself as “fat”. I used to think it was okay to do so, since I’m technically overweight… but using the term “fat” hasn’t helped out my psyche in the least bit. The term “fat”, to me, has always been a comparison to others. I’ve always felt like the “fattest” person in my friend group, even when I was underweight. I thought I was being honest with myself, but constantly (subconsciously) comparing myself to others only makes my disconnect with my body worse.

“Fat” has also become a term of aesthetic judgement. I know for a fact that there are plenty of beautiful people who would be beautiful at almost any weight. But even taking “fat” merely as a term to describe a general build, I have issues with it. Given my problems with BDD, I may never know what I actually look like… so I’m really not at a place to judge whether or not I’m “fat”. My battle with weight should be about health, which is something I can judge, and not about looks. (Edit: Weight doesn’t always equal health (plenty of overweight people are much healthier than normal weight people), but my weight problems are exacerbating some health issues.) So, since my concerns are about my health, I’m going to stick to the term “overweight” and stop calling myself “fat”.

17 thoughts on “Body Dysmorphic Disorder

  1. I think that is a good start, but I think you should go further and leave off the overweight bit, too. You said that “technically” you’re overweight, but you then gave three reasons – two neutral and one healthy – why your weight might be what it is. The important thing for everyone is to participate in a healthy lifestyle, totally regardless of weight. Eating foods that make your body happy and moving your body are what are important, not a number that may or may not be right for your fat distribution, muscle mass, metabolism, bone density and so on.

    I’m overweight. I’d need to lose at least 13lbs to be at the very top of the “healthy” category. Does that bother me? Not at all. My weight is a number. I happen to know that I’ve become less active recently (not good) so that “over” weight isn’t muscle, but if it was and I was only going by the number, I could be unhappy with a beautifully active, healthy body simply because my muscle mass put me over a “healthy” weight.

    To use a potentially terrible analogy, I think of weight like cup size for bras. If somebody says “I’m a C cup” you say “no such thing as *a C cup*”, because it’s dependent on band size! If I say I’m 5’1″ and weigh 143lbs, then anyone who comments on my health gets a kick in the face, because without knowledge of my eating habits, my fitness level, my family’s history of disease, my own susceptibility to disease and many more things, nobody is capable of knowing how healthy I am (or not).

    Whew! Slightly long comment there, but it makes me sad to see anyone equate a number on a scale with health – and even more importantly – worth.

    Also, you are totally hot :)

    1. You’re totally right, weight =/= health. I should probably specify that the reason I connect the two for myself is that I have an unusual accumulation of fat around my abdomen that seems to be pressing on organs (eww). It’s probably more the location of my fat than the amount of it that is a health issue, though. The other thing is that it’s clear, for various reasons, that this isn’t a natural weight for my body.

      But again, health =/= weight. Though I currently weigh much more than I did a few years ago (while I was anorexic), I both look and feel much healthier, since a) I’m giving my body nutrients and b) I’m dealing with my hypothyroidism, which just makes me sick in general.

      1. I’m glad to see you’re aware of your body’s needs. Probably much more aware than I am. I avoid doctors, ’cause they cost money. I think it’s so important for people to discuss stuff like this, even if we’re just reassuring each other that we are trying to look after ourselves <3

  2. A friend of mine uses the term fat for herself because she is determined to reclaim it as a non-hurtful word. One of her cats is…I don’t know the medical term for cats, but this cat is 15 pounds on a tiny frame. She calls her cat fat and loves her cat (and her cat’s fat), so why should she no be cute and lovable and fat as well?

    For me, ‘fat’ means ‘at risk for diabetes’, which is a useless term to most others, and is personal to me. When I was medically overweight to the point where it was causing insulin problems, I associated fat with ‘unfit’. It’s a problematic term for most people, and I am never sure which to use when talking to others.

    Apologies for any tonguetwisters?

    1. I was also sort of trying to reclaim the word… but after reading bits of skinnygossip (don’t read it if you aren’t expecting some terrifyingly intense “thinspiration”), I realized that I was also bothered by the term “thin”. Neither is a precise term, which makes me think that “fat” and “thin” are relatively useless terms. For example, some of the thinnest people I know think that they are fat.

      (And I love tonguetwisters.)

      1. There are also people who are underweight and overfat, medically- I know a few ladies who don’t weigh much (and look skinny, and acknowledge this) but a disproportionate amount of that weight is body fat (over 40%). So the terminology just gets more confusing the more I think about it. Aie!

  3. This is a great post. I think as women we all to some extent cannot see our body how others see it. I’m not saying that we all have BDD, but we all have some issues seeing though the eye’s of others. Being pregnant I’m not feeling the most attractive. Last night I was stretched out over the loveseat and my husband tells me that my legs look absolutely amazing and that pregnancy has not changed how beautiful I am at all. I am at the highest I’ve weight ever, and he says that to me. Sometimes just listening to those around us should give us more of an idea then our own thoughts. Not always, but sometimes.

    I think maybe you should consider other sources then fat and overweight. Obviously you’ve got a medical issue you are working on balancing, that is the most important. I firmly believe that medical help can work if used right. Take the chance to try and get a referral to a dietitian (my dream job). Or set health goals instead of weight goals. The ability to complete a task easily (walk X distance, lift weights, run a mile). Often times a small set of goals will put you farther in your quest for health then one large goal. And really, you are already doing it by changing your eating habits and walking extra. Just like with medical help, I think that you can easily help yourself. I don’t think you are suffering from true BDD (psych degree coming out here), but I do think you are pushing yourself through a major life transition. It won’t be easy, but it will be an amazing process. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    BTW- I’m jealous of your hair. I keep mine short because it is too thick and curled and I needed to for the military. I’d love to grow it out, I just can’t do it.

    1. I’m sure being uncomfortable doesn’t help the way you’re feeling about your body. Have you managed to find bras yet? Judging just from the post about non-maternity maternity clothes, I can safely say that you look great. :)

      Trying to focus on health/feeling well (rather than appearance) has been helpful to me. In the past, I used to force myself to exercise (too much) to “justify” the fact that I had eaten. I actually really enjoy walking (and other things) and it’s really nice to do it because I enjoy doing it, rather than because I feel I must. The same thing goes with eating. I’m trying to eat what I feel like eating… which is usually fruits and vegetables, but occasionally a slice of pizza.

      I did simplify this post mostly to my preoccupation with weight, but there are a whole host of other ways it manifests itself for me. I believe that my general weight preoccupation would have fallen under anorexia (or EDNOS, but I hate it when EDNOS is used to describe anorexia in a non-underweight person. If the behaviours and thoughts are the same, it’s the same ED… but I digress) when I was suffering from eating disorders… and a lot of those thoughts still linger. But beyond general weight, the things I’m really paranoid about are abdominal fat, skin, stretch marks, body odour, and hair… and also face shape. For example, I used to be unable to go out in public without insane amounts of makeup on… now, I can go out, but I feel really paranoid that people notice that I look awful.

      Anyway, as with any horribly irrational thing, I’m attempting to combat this with reason. But it is really difficult to transfer the rational thoughts to the mirror.

      BTW- I’m jealous of your hair… I’ve always wanted mine to be thick and curly!

  4. I really admire you for writing this post. It seems like you’re working hard to retrain your brain out of some unhealthy patterns as much as your body, which in and of itself is a healthy approach. I hope you continue to feel good about the next steps of your journey, and I’m glad it sounds like your medical issues are being resolved, as I know that until they are it’s easy to feel a little powerless. Thinking good thoughts for you!

  5. I love that you wrote this post! I recently wrote about lingerie blogging and fat, so this is a pretty close subject to that. I’m going to spread this post on Twitter!

    I think you wrote three excellent reasons why you could be concidered a tiny bit overweight. They (especially the muscle perspective) are a good reason why BMI doesn’t often work. I also think that as you seem to be very hourglassy, you carry your weight where it isn’t clinically dangerous. Some flesh around a woman’s hips is actually concidered healthy in most studies.

    I suggest you try to accept that BMI doesn’t describe you as a person. It doesn’t do a good hob at describing your body neither as you have big breasts and have a lot muscle and you’re very slim from your mid section and have curves elsewhere like a typical hourglass. BMI also doesn’t work well when talking about small amounts of too much weight. It works better on very overweight or underweight people.

    By looking at your pictures I’d say you’re definately not overweight. And I’m not comparing myself (very overweight) to you, but saying this as objectively as I can. I hope you’ll someday think of yourself like that hot woman even if you see your face first. :-)

    1. Confession: while I don’t photoshop, I do take like 50 pictures and choose the most flattering one. I also generally avoid showing my stomach.

      But you’re right about thinking about where the fat is. My hourglassy shape is one of the main reasons why I think BMI can’t really guide me. I do have an unhealthy accumulation of fat on my abdomen, but that doesn’t account for how far beyond the “healthy” range I was at one point.

      1. I’d also like to point out that “having fat” and “being fat” are two completely different things. Many slim (and normal weight) women have some fat on various places around their body, I think that even though you may have some fat accumulation (which doesn’t even show in any of your pictures) that really doesn’t make you fat. :-)

        1. That is another really good point. Something about the phrase “I am fat” bothers me. Everyone has fat, just to differing degrees. Having fat is healthy and normal, and having too little or too much can be unhealthy.

    1. Vielen Dank! Es macht kein Spaß, den Körper zu hassen. Ich hoffe, dass Sie gesund und glücklich sind (oder werden).

      (Ich will Deutsch üben… ich habe viel vergessen. Ich hoffe, dass meine Sätze lesbar sind!)

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