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Body Dysmorphia — Or Not

on March 22, 2012

I’ve been reading up on Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  I’d not heard the term before, but then ran across it in a magazine and it caught my interest.  I’ve spoken before about how I have “fat eyes”.  I always see myself as obese — okay, I have always been obese — but more to the point, I see myself heavier than I am, even when I lose weight.  I’ve lost over 55 pounds recently and everyone I work with tells me that they see the difference.  I still don’t.  Whether I look in the mirror or look at a picture, I still only see an obese, misshapen body.

Even with the caveat that I am still greatly overweight, I should be able to see some degree of difference with a 55 pound weight loss.  I can feel it — in my ability to move and walk, in my clothes, in the fact that I no longer struggle to put on my car seat belt.  I just don’t see it.

So, I wanted to research if this is just part of having always been overweight or if I actually have a disorder that requires treatment.   I started investigating the issue online.  I found a site that described and defined BDD.  It seemed to focus on people who focus on one aspect of their appearance that they perceive as horribly flawed or ugly and it completely wrecks their social interactions, drives them to seek out excessive plastic surgery, burdens them with shame, etc.  That site also separated BDD from people who have eating disorders and are overweight.  It didn’t seem to consider an image of perpetually heaviness as a qualification of BDD.

“Okay,” I thought.  “I do not have BDD.”

However, I do have a continuing negative self-image.  I can’t remember a time when I had a good body image.  Over Christmas, I was looking through my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding album.  I was darned slender for me!  My face, body, legs.  I even had a waistline!  I was surprised.  I clearly did not remember being that shape almost 30 years ago.

So, I started researching body image.  I took a self test and scored very high, which prompted this explanation:

You are suffering from a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) which is translated as body hatred. This is not a reflection of how you actually look or how other people see you, because there are very many people who have physical handicap, or, who look different from the norm. But they do not feel this badly about themselves. Similarly there are people who look very normal in reality but they experience this sense of deep hostility toward the way they look. BDD and a damaged sense of self-esteem go hand in hand.                           

People with BDD are at high risk of developing a variety of serious emotional problems such as social phobias, depression and eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia for example, are examples of BDD, but BDD shows itself in many ways, some people develop an obsession with weighing themselves, seeking cosmetic surgery or engaging in punishing exercise regimes.     

So, I have this site telling me that I do have BDD and by reading this, I could start to believe that maybe the BDD lead to the eating disorder eons ago.

You know what?  I’m not convinced — not when there are conflicting opinions.   Maybe it’s a chicken and the egg kind of thing.  I’ve had an eating disorder, so I’ve always been obese and most obese people don’t like their bodies and that’s why I have this negative body image.  Or, maybe because I was chubby as a kid, I developed lousy body image and self-esteem and that’s caused me to always eat about it, descend into an eating disorder and just fuel the problem physically and emotionally.  Damned if I know.  I suppose the smart thing would be to consult a therapist about it and sift through the opinions to get to the real decision.

In the meantime, I’m trying to change my attitude.  I have seen the weight loss in my hands, of all places.  I can feel it in my clothes, like I said before.  I said I was going to take an updated picture and do a side-by-side comparison.  I didn’t because I hated still seeing myself in a way I considered to be obese and gross.  Looks like I need to bite the bullet and do it for real.

My intention is to improve my negative self-image and embrace my new self as I’m emerging.  Where I am today is still not great, but it’s surely better than I was two months ago.  Two months from now, it will be better still.

Hating my body and berating myself over it are not positive attitudes.  They do not belong in my every changing, ever-improving life!

4 responses to “Body Dysmorphia — Or Not

  1. londonmabel says:

    I totally agree with taking photos, great idea. Do it in the same place, and maybe wear something similar each time, or the same thing. 🙂

  2. pinkpelican says:

    I have pictures of myself & my husband before we started this journey. We are down, respectively, 145 pounds in the past year and 170+ in the past year. I have the pictures in my screen saver, & they pop up randomly. I saw this one picture of my husband with a bunch of his friends. He was happy, smiling, and beautiful. But he was HUGE. His facial features were almost hidden in the fat. I never saw that when we were both big, I just saw the man I loved. Through this process, I have become accustomed to his much leaner face, his gorgeous eyes that are big and dominate his face, and it was such a shock to see the old picture and really SEE the difference.

    He’s always been and will always be beautiful, but having those pictures as reference to past, present and future are incredibly valuable.

    It took me a long time to start seeing the changes in myself. I do, now. I look in the mirror, or catch reflections of myself in plate glass windows & glass doors, and I see how much smaller I am, how much better my proportions work now. The old random pictures of me before pop up and again, I am astonished at the change.

    Even with that, though, I’ll have days when I see the reflections or a candid picture from an unflattering angle and think, “Damn, I’m still big.” Other times, I see the reflections or a picture and think, “WOW. I’m TINY! Okay, not TINY tiny, but comparatively, I’m TINY.”

    The good part is, I have more of the “tiny” days than the “huge” days.

    Of course, my experiences and yours are different, so your path will be different. I’m hoping that as you progress, you’ll see the changes in the rest of your body and revel in them like I do. There are still things I’m not happy about (oh, for 20-year-old skin with the elasticity of shrink wrap hooked up to a jet engine powered suction hose …), but so many things are better in both how the body looks and ESPECIALLY how the body feels.

    All that being said, like the other commenters, I think some before and after pictures are going to be incredibly valuable for you. And I don’t know if this would work as a reward for you or not, but you might consider having milestone photos taken professionally with good lighting and a photographer who will be able to catch you at your very best. (As opposed to candids or cell phone self shots which always seem to feature crappy lighting & my bad side, snicker.)

    I don’t find myself to be particularly photogenic, but I like myself in photos better as I get smaller. I’m always hunting for a really GOOD picture, that is both realistic AND flattering.

    Professional photography is not cheap, but if you hold it out as an “official treat”, maybe every 50 to 75 pounds, you will hopefully have lovely pictures that show your progression in a way that you can see it AND appreciate it …

  3. julie says:

    Start taking photos of yourself, weekly, daily, monthly, with your weighins- and take body shots from front & back, and face shots. That might be the only way you will see the differences!

  4. Marti says:

    We were watching The Biggest Loser last night and I don’t really notice any difference in the people from week to week. At the end, however, when they show the Before pic… The difference is incredible! I think taking a photo once a month is a great idea and it would help you gain perspective. It’s hard to see the changes in your own appearance when they happen gradually.

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