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What It's Really Like to Live With Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a body image disorder where individuals have constant thoughts about real or perceived flaws in their appearance. These individuals may have persistent negative thoughts towards their body image, which can cause severe emotional distress and interfere with their daily lives.

To find out what it’s really like to have BDD, we asked people in our Project HEAL community to describe what it’s like.

Here’s what they said:

1. “It feels like looking in a funhouse mirror and everything is wrong, but everyone tells you you’re wrong. But you just can’t see what they do and it makes it so much harder to believe them.” – Riannon M.

2. “It feels like everyone is lying about how they see you.” – Lucile D.

3. “It tells me what I see is true. It tells me I am not what society tells me I am.” – Lieba B.

4.  “It’s like seeing a stranger half the time and liking myself the other half [of the time] but I don’t know which to believe.” – Caroline L.

5. “It’s like looking into a carnival funhouse mirror every day. Each image is more distorted than the next.” – Krys K.

6. “You are forced to struggle with the idea of allowing and even encouraging yourself to believe the people around you more than you believe yourself. This, for me, is the scariest, hardest part.” — Alexandra L.

7. “It’s praying the facade would fall away and you could just see your soul instead.” — Karina R.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

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The Exhausting Inner Battle of Body Dysmorphia

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My perception of my weight has been an issue I’ve carried with me since I was in elementary school. My first memory of body dissatisfaction was in third grade. My class was doing an activity, and we were all asked to all weigh ourselves. There was more to the activity, and it had nothing to do with our weight per se. However, weighing ourselves was a part of it.

I was in line and saw the weight of the girl in front of me. I can’t remember the number. Yet, I do remember the feeling I had after I stepped on the scale and saw my number was bigger. As a child who was 8 or 9 at the time, I had my first “I’m fat” moment. I have a hard time recalling where that thought would have come from because I have no recollection of ever being told I was overweight.

When I told a friend I was going to write an article about body issues, she mentioned that I could write a series on my body issues. She wasn’t being mean, but accurate. For as long as she and my core group of friends have known me, I have talked about my weight and what my body looked like. I never looked good enough, thin enough or “model-esque” enough. My body was never enough.

Body dysmorphia is exhausting. Throughout the years, I’ve tried everything from trying to make myself throw up, to diet teas, to fad diets, to all kinds of diet pills, to counting calories, to colon cleanses, to excessive daily workouts, to drinking numerous glasses of hot water with lemon a day. I weighed myself two, three, four times a day. I’ve always been obsessed.

I can’t control the negative thoughts. I don’t believe people who tell me I look fine. I’d think: They’re just being nice. They don’t want to hurt my feelings. They don’t see what I see though. They don’t see my body literally morph in front of my eyes.

At one point, I got my weight down, and I felt great! I looked great! I loved seeing the size tag in my pants. I felt sexy and beautiful. My friends and family, though, were not as pleased as I was and saw there was a problem. They’d tell me my body wasn’t built for such a low weight. They’d tell me I was beautiful, and there was nothing wrong with my body. They’d ask me to stop. My rational mind knew they were right, but my body-obsessed mind had a hard time believing them.

With time, I gained the weight back, and I was right back to where I was: feeling insecure and not good enough. My fluctuations are hard for me to handle, and my relationship with my scale is toxic. To this day, getting rid of my scale increases my anxiety, and I can’t let it go.

My husband has always told me I am beautiful and that he loves my body the way it was. Yet, I always suspect he is lying. I have no idea why he would lie about it, but my mind tells me he is just being nice. He stood by me through my ups and downs and is still here, reminding me that I look great and telling me to get off the scale.

However, he doesn’t see what I see in the mirror. He doesn’t see the tricks my mind plays on me. I could think I look good in the morning, but by the afternoon, I can’t wait to go home and hide. My mind is always changing, and it’s frustrating. It’s scary.

In 2013, in preparation for getting pregnant, I changed my eating habits. For once, it was based entirely on having a healthy body for a child and not for myself. What a change in mindset! When I got pregnant, I worked out and ate well. It wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the baby. This baby changed something inside me, and I knew I had to be strong for him. Unfortunately, I went back to my old mind-frame months after his birth.

My son is 2 and a half now, and the last thing I want is for him to grow up with an insecure mother who cares too much about how her body looks. I don’t want him growing up thinking this kind of thought is normal. I don’t want him barging into my room, catching me staring at myself in the mirror while holding my rolls, which he has done. I want him to have a mother who is secure in herself, who takes pride in herself and who works on herself. I need to be more conscious when I stare at my body in the mirror and when I step on the scale. I need to focus on positive and healthy behaviors, ones he can follow.

While my obsession has gotten better these past few years, the thoughts still manage to squeeze through, and there’s an internal battle. It’s been five years since I’ve drank a weight-loss tea, popped a weight-loss pill or done any kind of cleanse. I’m proud of that. However, while I pride myself in not taking supplements, I still occasionally count my calories and obsess over my workouts. I still stare at myself in the mirror, pointing out all my flaws and think of ways to get rid of the excess weight. I still compare myself to magazines, friends and random people I see on the streets.

Having a child, however, has changed a lot. My son keeps me from getting back to most of my old, bad habits. I feel like I can take this on because he gives me strength.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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To the Boys Who Bullied Me in Middle School: I'm Finding My Worth

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The reason it took me so long to write this is because it is very personal, and I was afraid of being judged, but it something I wish to share because I know I am not the only person who has been bullied. Many people are bullied in their lifetime, some more intensely than others. The way I was bullied wasn’t extremely blatant to me at the time. I didn’t label it as bullying. The things said to me were blunt and rude but always done in a joking way. It wasn’t until I sat through several therapy sessions that I realized I was bullied and it had had a significant impact on my body image and self-esteem. Writing has been a way for me to say things I could never say in person. It is time for me to let this go. I will never forget it, but I need to forgive them. So, these are the words I want to say.

To the Boys Who Bullied Me in Middle School,

Yes, I still think about the things you said, even though you probably didn’t give your words a second thought. They have haunted me for a long time. I would have never called you a bully at age 12 because you were boys. You were people I was taught to impress. You called me fat. You called me ugly. You made fun of how slow I ran. It wasn’t creative, but it didn’t have to be. I equated all of those words with worthlessness.

Society taught me to try to be pretty and thin to attract the male gaze. Just becoming a teenager, I began to find boys attractive. At the time, I may have thought some of you were cute and wanted your approval. A smile. A compliment. You called me names. All I could think was, I want to pretty and thin like the other girls so boys would like me. I would finally feel worth something. It never ended.

In high school, I received some taunts from you still when we crossed paths, but they slowly faded away as I faded too. I became nothing in hopes of impressing you and every other boy I knew.

You probably matured and realized your stupidity, however, I thought your taunts stopped because I was now thin, and thin was beautiful. I went into treatment for my eating disorder and realized the only person I need approval from is myself. I have to love the person looking back at me in the mirror. The things you said to me didn’t mean anything. You probably weren’t even thinking when you said what you said. You were ignorant middle school boys. No one taught you to hold your tongue.

I hope you realize now that what you did when you were young significantly affected me. Teach your children not to say mean things to others because words actually can hurt. Your words still affect me today.

Now in college, I now stand next to boys preoccupied with the idea that they disapprove of the way I look. No, this isn’t the sole reason why my self-hatred developed along with my body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorder, but my middle school days definitely play a part. It will take me a long time to fully internalize that I have to love myself. I can’t wait for the day I feel comfortable in who I am and no longer seek validation from others, especially men.

Thank you for making me stronger. I have come a long way since my self-loathing middle-school self, and one day I will be where I want to be.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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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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