pole dancer in dark setting

The Contradictions of Being a Pole Dancer With Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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OK, let’s start with the stereotypical image of a pole dancer: a tall, slight woman with the right curves in all the right places and amazing boobs. She’s able to rock huge heels and amazing hair while doing an awe-inspiring routine without looking like she’s broken a sweat.

Now let’s discuss body dysmorphia. The NHS defines it as an anxiety disorder that causes a person to have a distorted view of how he or she looks and to spend a lot of time worrying about his or her appearance. For example, a barely visible scar is a major flaw that everyone is staring at or, as it was for me, the person could be a of small build and tiny figure yet perceive herself as much bigger, seeing someone of a much greater size and weight when she sees a reflection or looks down at her own body.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is estimated to affect up to one in every 100 people in the U.K. The condition can affect all age groups, but usually starts when a person is a teenager or a young adult, when people are generally most sensitive about their appearances. It’s more common in people with a history of depression or social phobia. It often occurs alongside obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)or generalized anxiety disorder, and may also exist alongside an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Some of the most common behaviors of people with BDD include:

  • constantly comparing their looks to other people’s
  • spending a long time in front of a mirror, but at other times avoiding mirrors altogether
  • spending a long time concealing what they believe is a defect
  • becoming distressed by a particular area of their body (most commonly their face)
  • feeling anxious when around other people and avoiding social situations
  • being very secretive and reluctant to seek help because they believe others will see them as vain or self-obsessed
  • seeking medical treatment for the perceived defect – for example, they may have cosmetic surgery, which is unlikely to relieve their distress
  • excessively dieting and exercising

After all that, does it see plausible for someone with BDD to also be a pole dancer? To me, not really, but here I am proving myself wrong.

Let’s start with these characteristics:

Constantly comparing their looks to other people’s

Spending a long time in front of a mirror, but at other times avoiding mirrors altogether

A pole dance studio is usually the same as any dance studio, full of mirrors — floor-to ceiling-mirrors — so you can see how moves look and whether you’re straight or not. Not the ideal situation for those wanting to avoid their appearance at all costs. Also many pole dancers fit the expected norm of body type, so it’s easy to stare and criticize yourself.

Becoming distressed by a particular area of their body (most commonly their face)

Feeling anxious when around other people and avoid social situations 

Pole dancing typically requires as much “flesh” to be available as possible, leaving little to be hidden. It’s not exactly easy with a room full of people, mirrors and minimal clothing to exactly be at peace with the body area you want to hide. Also, pole dancing is a lot more popular than you might think! Classes filled to their max, along with full shows, isn’t exactly the quietest setting. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

By all logic, BDD and pole dancing just should not work, but they do! While I cringed at every reflection I saw and every pair of eyes on me in that room, as soon as I was on that pole, a freedom would come over me. It’s hard to explain how being in minimal clothing surrounded by people all staring at the things I hated gave me the most confidence I’d ever experienced.

While writing this I’ve questioned myself multiple times. How I’ve managed to get through those doors on a weekly basis and see my reflection everywhere I looked and still get on that pole like I’d never had a doubt in the world about myself is beyond me. All I know is the small time on the pole being confident and free is worth the agonizing time spent looking into or avoiding mirrors for the rest of the lesson.

Image via Thinkstock.

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How I Learned to Thrive – and Not Just Survive – With Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Hopelessness, disgust and fear act as chains preventing you from living your life. Body dysmorphic disorder is not just an obsession about a physical flaw, real or not. It is an inhibition of the soul. Your quality of life is diminished the moment you look in the mirror. You cannot face anyone. You cannot leave your house. You cannot function. So how do we survive, better yet, how do we thrive?

Come to terms with who you are and what you have. Like all mental disorders, you will not be able to remove it from your psyche. You can let it rip apart your quality of life, let it kill you or you can use it.

I was the baby who would not stop crying. I was taken to all sorts of doctors, even given enough drugs to knock out a small horse. Yet, my distress would not end. As I got older, I developed night terrors, severe depression, hallucinations, social anxiety, personality disorders and the list goes on. I had been taking prescribed antidepressants and antipsychotics for as long as I can remember. By the time I turned 16, my problems fine-tuned themselves into something more specific. I was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder. A year later, I was committed to an adult psychiatric hospital.

Every time I looked into a mirror, I saw a different type of monster. Every reflection, every shade of light gave me a horrifying sight. It became so distressing I was a danger to myself. Although, there was a strong part of me that still wanted to live a normal life.

While I was in the hospital, stepping out of my comfort zone was a daily affair. My psychologist trained me in behavior cognitive therapy techniques and “social experiments.” Anything I thought was impossible, she had an exaggerated version for me to attempt.

I already had plastic surgery once before I was hospitalized. You could imagine the amount of bullying and harassment I received as a child in the school yard. When I was released from hospital, I went to Melbourne to meet with Dr. David Castle, one of the world’s leading experts on BDD. His opinion of me would determine whether I could carry out my body transformation plan.

Plastic surgery is not recommended for a person with BDD. It can be very dangerous. If I was not happy with how I looked after the procedures, then it would be the end of me. Also, it does not fix the chemical imbalances or reactions to our perceptions. I was, however, given the green light, and the painful process began.

I continued my therapy as an outpatient after all of my surgery. My next step was to socialize. I had to face my fears around others or I wasn’t going to survive BDD. That fear resulted in action and I tried hard every day to expose myself to the outside world. Some days I failed. There were relapses, horrible ones.

Despite everything, I loved acting. I was successful in the art from a young age. So I used voluntary dissociation to blend in with others. My theory was if I pretended to enjoy myself, maybe it wouldn’t have to be an act forever. I was too busy trying to “beat” my disorder and be like everyone else that I missed the big picture.

I couldn’t change how my brain worked, only how I dealt with it. The negative voices that infected my life for so long were put to use. I used my negativity to help me decide what I should engage in and who I should trust. I became honest with people. The negativity inside us, when balanced, becomes productive.

The biggest challenge I ever had involved me completing tasks in front of big mirrors. Could you imagine someone who feared their own reflection having to face it? It was a gym. Exercising in front of a mirror was a vomit-inducing concept in the beginning.

I have now been working at the gym as a personal trainer for five years. I have built my own house. I am studying to get a degree. I see something different every time I look in the mirror. I didn’t beat a mental illness. I just thrived in spite of it.

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Ahmad Abojaradeh Wants Men to Talk About Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Ahmad Abojaradeh's The Mighty Spread

When Ahmad Abojaradeh thinks of his ideal body, he imagines a sculpture. However, as someone with body dysmorphic disorder, Abojaradeh soon realized no amount of working out or plastic surgery, would get him the sculpted body he so craved. “There have been times when I wanted all those things,” he said. “I wanted people to watch me walk by on the beach, to not be ashamed of the way I looked, to be able to take pictures with friends, and to be happy.”

Abojaradeh spent years chasing his “perfect” body. “I worked out for hours, did sit ups religiously – even when the depression was so intense I didn’t even bother with school,” he said. “I’ve looked at plastic surgery for years, and have always wanted nothing more than to have that kind of body.”

From the ages of 12 to 21, Abojaradeh struggled with what he calls his body’s “deformations.” “I have grown to love the deformations I believe I have by imagining them on others and realizing I would never treat anyone that looked the same way, the way I treated myself,” the 24-year-old explained. “I would never tell anyone to not go to the beach because of how they looked, or anything else. So why was I saying those things to myself?”

Today, Abojaradeh can enjoy going to the beach or the pool, whereas he couldn’t in the past. “As I’ve learned to understand my disorder, I can do those things. It’s not pleasant, or easy at first, but I do it anyways.”

Read More: This Is What It Looks Like When You Feature Disabled and Chronically Ill People in Magazines

Next: How Bipolar Disorder Shapes Tiana Duddleston’s Summer

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The Ugly Truth About Feeling Ugly: Living With Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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I look in the mirror as I begin to get ready for the day.

“Disgusting,” I think to myself.

I look at all of my flaws and criticize myself on my looks. I then proceed to spend an hour doing my makeup trying my best to cover those flaws. This is a typical morning for me living with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Most people have insecurities on their looks and would like to change certain things about their appearance, but BDD goes a lot deeper than feeling self-conscious. Those suffering with body dysmorphia are consumed with obsessive thoughts about a perceived defect of their appearance. The obsessive thoughts consume the sufferers’ mind for hours a day and lead to various compulsions to hide or fix the flaws. The obsessive thoughts can focus on things such as freckles, acne, too much or lack of facial hair, breast size or anything else someone perceives as a flaw on their body; these lead to compulsions such as skin picking, excessive grooming and constantly looking in the mirror, among others.

Every morning I look in the mirror and hate what I see.

While I have many insecurities, my biggest issue stems from blemishes on my face. I go through great lengths to cover my blemishes, spending about an hour applying makeup — usually two coats of foundation and a ton of covering with a cover-up stick. Each time I leave the house throughout the day, I have to redo
my makeup, typically about three or four times. I often fear people may think I’m shallow for how much makeup I wear and because I can never leave the house without wearing it. In reality, the reason I wear so much is because I cannot stand how I look without it. I struggle immensely with a compulsion of skin picking, causing bright red spots which eventually cause terrible scarring.

When my breakouts are at their worst and my excessive skin picking causes many red, sore blotches, I don’t want to face the world. There are times I pass up on social invitations because I am so ashamed of my looks and do not want others to look at me. When I have to work, I try to keep my head titled down when speaking to customers to shield them from my ugliness. The thoughts about my flaws are constantly badgering me, I am continuously wondering how awful I look. Whenever I am speaking with someone I keep telling myself they are staring at my flaws and must be thinking to themselves how they are disgusted by me. I constantly look at myself in the mirror to analyze my skin, and every time I hear myself saying, “See, you are so hideous.” There is an ongoing struggle with self-hate in my mind.

They say you are your own biggest critic. When you suffer from body dysmorphia, there is nothing closer to the truth. It is possible to conquer this disorder with forms of therapy. Knowing you deal with this and being able to put a name to the obsessive thoughts will help in your recovery.

I have been fighting the monsters of depression and anxiety for years, and I am embarking on my journey to beat this disorder and achieve self-love.

While many mental illnesses are more commonly being brought into the public eye and more openly spoken about, BDD is not quite at that point. The main reason for this is likely that the disorder is just simply not well known. It goes undiagnosed in many cases, which can be due to a person not being comfortable enough to talk about their disgust in their flaws, downplaying the seriousness of their obsessive thoughts or even being misdiagnosed by a psychologist as having a form of OCD or depression, as the symptoms of these are usually directly correlated with symptoms of body dysmorphia. BDD is also extremely similar to eating disorders in the aspect of the obsessions and compulsions, but it is important to know BDD is the obsession of a specific part of the body or characteristics of the body.

Body dysmorphia is definitely something that needs to be paid more attention to and treated as any other mental disorder. The affect it can have on a person is detrimental to their mental well-being; some may continuously get plastic surgery to fix their perceived flaws, and some may even turn to suicide. If you are suffering from BDD, I urge you to seek treatment. Everyone should feel beautiful and be able to love themselves.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Surviving Mental Health Month

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May is the month of Mother’s Day. It’s the month to celebrate the most important person in our lives — to give her flowers, show how much we appreciate her love, for raising us and teaching us the hard lessons, as well as the smaller ones, like how to bake the world’s best cookies.

May is also the month of my mother’s birthday. She would be 55 this year. Twelve years after her death, I can barely remember the last birthday we celebrated together. I don’t remember the gift I gave her or if we ate cake. All I remember is that we went to see “Shrek II” together, she fell asleep and cleaned out her jewelry box when we got home.

May is the month my mother died by suicide.

May is tough.

There seem to be reminders of my mom everywhere this month. Some reminders are welcomed, while others I wish would just disappear. But the thing about losing someone to suicide is that these little reminders don’t disappear. They are there, etched in my mind forever. Thankfully, it is true what they say: that time heals all wounds. No, it doesn’t heal wounds completely, but they do partially heal, becoming instead scars that have helped shape who I am today.

It’s still painful to think about, but my perspective has shifted over the years. Once angry and ashamed, I am now accepting and empathetic. My mom didn’t choose to die. She chose to end her suffering. Her depression was an illness. I used to blame myself, and I thought I could have somehow saved her. Now I know I couldn’t have saved her any more than I could have saved someone with terminal cancer.

May is also Mental Health Month.

Mental illness is just that, an illness, but we often don’t treat it as such. There is a stigma for seeking mental health treatment, which is damaging on a surface level. People don’t want to go to a counselor because it might mean they’re labeled as “crazy” or “weak,” but it goes much deeper than that.

My mom did seek help. She went to her counseling sessions, she took her antidepressant medication and exercised. She seemed to do everything right. I think where the truly damaging part of the stigma affected her was in her belief that she shouldn’t need this type of help. If she needed it, it must mean she couldn’t handle life on her own, and that, as many of us know, is frowned upon in our society.

Of course, I can’t be sure this was her thinking at the time, and perhaps I am trying to rationalize something that is inherently irrational. Suicide is never rational. I can only speculate, and this is the hard part about being a survivor of suicide. I try to put the pieces of the puzzle together, knowing I only had fragments to work with at the time.

May isn’t easy, and the painful memories are still there, but I have turned it into a time to heal, reflect and help shatter the stigma associated with mental health treatment. The wounds may never fully heal, but I have learned to ask for help when I need it, reach out to the mental health community and turn my story into something that will help others. I have learned to turn the month of May into an outlet for my grief, hopefully giving others permission to do the same.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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The Spectrum of My Emotional Rainbow as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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It’s of nature but not a seemingly natural progression. It’s my nature — and one that cannot inherently be changed; sometimes muted, sometimes controlled, it is still always present, always has been and always will be.

My blue, indigo and violet days are heavy. I feel full of wet sand. Staying awake just to spend my days staring into space is difficult enough; how am I expected to eat, shower or answer my phone? I curse my bodily functions that require me to find the strength to go to the bathroom. I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that I am doing my best, just by staying awake and staring into space. Then I realize it’s time to call my doctor.

I stare into space for hours at a time, telling myself over and over that I have to find the strength to call my doctor. Unwillingness floods my entire being: if I call my doctor, I’ll have to talk to her. Days and weeks pass by, and all I can find within myself is unwillingness. Then I find a spark.

Sparks are red, orange, and yellow: fiery. Aggressive, dissatisfied sparks tell me that spending all my time staring into space, feeling full of wet sand, isn’t good enough. My blues tell me it’s all I can manage, and I spin into a turmoil of hopelessness – wanting to be able to do anything other than what I am able to do. The spark insists I find a way, demanding action of a different course. Dark murmurings speak of suicide. I close my eyes, picture myself feeling green and balanced, and start rehearsing what I will tell my doctor.

The darkness begins screaming its demands of death. I write down what I need to tell my doctor. It makes it easier to concentrate, and I know this way I won’t leave anything out that she needs to know.

I take a shower for the first time in two weeks. Violet shame fills my tears that fall into the dirty water.

Do you need to go into the hospital?”

No,” I whisper. “I’ll go if it gets to that point.”

My doctor and I exchange pieces of paper. I give her one filled with my pain. She gives me four filled with drugs and instructions.

I take the drugs and follow the instructions. One day, I wake up and my smile feels warm, instead of the cold, saggy mask it had been. Today is an orange day. There must be some secret pink to this day too, because I clean and cook and sing and dance! I make plans for the next four months with 13 different people. I begin three art projects, but not one of them seems quite right, so I put in a movie about an art forger. It’s a brilliant movie. Why should my husband have to go to work? I could do this. My research begins.

I already noticed the sparks of yellow and red; they’re beautiful! I know they mean I’m supposed to do something, but they’re so beautiful I don’t care to try to remember what. I should go to the art supply store so I can practice the skills I’ll need. Need… oh. I need to call my doctor.

I call my doctor, and she can tell I’m really feeling the beautiful yet destructive fire. She gives me instructions. I follow the instructions because I’m awesome like that. Changing around the drug cocktail. Change is beautiful. Cocktails are better. I tell her this, and she tells me no cocktails. What a party pooper. I write it down though. It’s difficult to concentrate because of the auditory hallucinations, but I tell myself I can listen to the music after I take my new drug cocktail. I follow my instructions and let go of the fire.

Green is my favorite color. Vibrant yet peaceful, I truly live when I’m filled to my toes with green. I’m balanced. No calls to the doctor are needed. However, in case you didn’t notice, my life isn’t as orderly as a rainbow. It’s more like a tie-dyed T-shirt. Colors bleed, jump and dance through my emotions. Sometimes I can’t think of anything else other than what I’m feeling.

I never said it was easy to live life with a rainbow in my head.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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