trevor noah and woman in the airport

What I See When I Look at This Photo of Trevor Noah and Me at the Airport

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For my semester off from graduate school at NC State, I moved to Indiana to be with my family. I used to go back and visit North Carolina monthly, however, and without fail, would leave in tears every time. I would arrive at the airport with puffy eyes and a red nose and then search for privacy in crowded restrooms and terminals buzzing with travelers. I didn’t realize this until just this month, but I think this resulted into a fear of airports and planes.

I’m not afraid of the actual process of flying, but my memories of airports and planes are riddled with arguments, sobbing, and deep breathing to prevent panic attacks that were just around the corner. I would call friends, watch funny videos, and read inspirational quotes on Pinterest to get me through the trip. I always arrived home feeling exhausted and empty. My parents would ask how the trip went, but I had already spent the day trying to detach myself from the details of the pain I had brought with me back to Indiana and never wanted to relive it with them.

I’m still unable to shake the anxiety that comes with being in an airport. Understandably, it’s the worst when I’m traveling to or from North Carolina and when I am in an airport associated with those trips (Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh/Durham).

For that reason, I begged my parents to let me drive to N.C. this time around.

(Pause. Please ignore the fact that all of this appears so calm and dark. Yes, I met Trevor Noah, and yes, he is amazing and so nice and I’m shaking and sweating and can’t focus at all. All right, let’s continue).

My parents were hesitant but agreeable — until I had a severe back spasm at work two weeks prior. Some pain and stiffness remains even now and for that reason, my parents were not willing to budge — if I was going to North Carolina, I was going by plane. Even worse, they asked me to get to the airport three to four hours early to avoid any potential issues, as I’ve never flown through Nashville alone.

I will never argue with my parents again.

I got to the airport three and a half hours early, as advised. I thanked the TSA officer at the beginning of security and moved into a line to have my things checked. In front of me I saw what looked like a familiar back of someone’s head. I had to know. So, I got closer to see if he had an accent.

He did.

The host of “The Daily Show” was less than a foot away from me and on the phone talking about Trump and China and Turkey, and I couldn’t believe this was real life. He put his phone down into the security bin, and I figured this would be my one chance to say hello before he continued his call. “Excuse me.” He whipped his head around and looked surprised. “I’m a huge fan and…” “Sir, you can come through now.” The security lady had blown my chance.

He and I passed through security and retrieved our bags. He put his phone back to his ear and continued talking. (He’d put the phone through the security line without hanging up! It was awesome.) I figured that was it. He knew I had tried to say hello and did not turn around again, and I instantly felt badly for taking up any of his time.

But then, he turned around and smiled a huge smile and waved. Trevor Noah waved at me. I was shocked. Again. At this point, there was no turning back. I was going to interrupt his phone call. And so I did. And asked for a picture.

And he was so gracious.

He handed me his phone while he took mine. We then went through about a minute of trying to get my phone to cooperate and for the love of God just stay on the camera app. There are a million things I wish I’d said during that time, but I’m just so grateful that he was patient and stuck with it. “Your phone is really adamant about joining this network.”

I thanked Trevor (we’re on first name basis, of course), and he smiled and went on his way, once again continuing his conversation about whatever political mess I’ll be sad-laughing about tomorrow night as I watch his show.

Then, I looked at the picture.

I hate it.

Now, I will say, Trevor is no supermodel in the picture either (sorry, T). We’re both staring directly into the sun thanks to the wall-sized window across from us. We haven’t moved from our spots in the security line, and others are no doubt trying to maneuver around us. It took us a while to get the camera to work, so I never really put much time into my smile. Yes, I often have to remind myself how to smile in pictures to avoid looking… well, too much like myself, I guess.

I posted the picture on my Instagram page before I had the chance to second-guess myself. Because the second I looked at it, I started to make a mental list of my imperfections. My face looks larger in this picture than in so many others. I have a hat on and I was too worried about hat-hijab to take it off, so I turned my chin upward to keep the shadow off half my face — not my best angle. No makeup, tired eyes.

Genuine smile, though.

It’s kind of amazing. I’d been working a shift at the hospital that I wasn’t originally planning on being available for. It was my last patient before my lunch break. I could have just tried to come back to her later. I’d worked with the patient anyway. I didn’t bother to lift her bed to protect my back and had a terrible spasm as a result. I’d almost canceled the entire trip but understood I was coming for a friend, not for myself, and could not cancel. This led to booking a flight. That flight. Out of an airport three hours from my house. I’d felt insecure at the local mall and come to the airport hours early. I’d never been that early for a flight. I chose one security line and then changed my mind and went for another — even though it had more people. I think for weeks God had been setting me up to meet someone whose face greets me every night through my TV and brings me laughs on days good and bad.

And yet, I choose to focus on the fact that I think I look “terrible” in the picture. I’ve looked at it quite a few times now and keep forgetting that Trevor Noah (Trevor Noah) is even in it. All I can focus on is my face and how it could be different. Slimmer, brighter, whatever.

I wish I could say this taught me some grand lesson about accepting yourself and focusing on the good things that are happening. Moments like these frustrate me because they could be so much more enjoyable if I do achieve recovery (I almost wrote that they would be more enjoyable if I were skinnier or worked out harder — I almost believe that too).

But…

I am going to try to see the blessing in this moment. Maybe this is to show me where I am in my recovery right now. Maybe this is a test to see how I react and if I can do so with patience. And then, the lesson will come. I have faith in that fact and I refuse to waver.

“We’ll be right back.”

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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6 Techniques I Use to Challenge My Body Dysmorphic Thoughts

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Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is considered “a persistent preoccupation with at least one perceived defect or flaw in a person’s physical appearance, which may not be observable to others, or appears only in slight.” It can also be met with what are called body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRB) or mental acts that can include excessively checking mirrors and reassurance-seeking from others.

So what does that really mean? Sounds pretty normal, right? Lots of people are self-conscious or at least have something they’d change about their appearance.

The most common reactions I’d get when caught either compulsively checking mirrors or asking for reassurance were accusations of vanity or compliment fishing. The distinguishing problem in my experience with BDD wasn’t simply wanting people to call me pretty or expecting to feel super hot all the time. The intensity and frequency of thoughts made it difficult to function.

From what I understand of my disorder, when I felt rejected or out of place or not enough, my brain took the information presented to me both in the media and from the mouths of people I knew and decided the only way to be worthy of love was to be stunningly beautiful. This was a standard so high for me, I could not conceive of a way I could look where I would be worthy of love. And as time went on, it escalated from feeling unworthy of love to feeling unworthy of life.

If you can imagine a rule book in your head saying you are too ugly to be alive, you can imagine (or maybe have experienced) the overwhelming pain and anxiety that come along with BDD.

Like I mentioned, for me, it most often manifested to other people as compulsive mirror checking and asking “Do I look OK?” or “Do I look ugly?” There have been many nights and even days when I’ve decided I could not leave my room because I was too ugly to be seen. I’ve opted out of many events — especially in the summertime — because the thoughts were too overpowering.

First of all, I want to say I still have these thoughts sometimes. Not as often or as powerful as they once were, but they have not completely disappeared. So what has helped me cope? The most helpful things I have learned are a combination of what I’ve gathered in therapy and yoga:

1. Acknowledge the pain is something real I am experiencing in that moment.

2. Notice anything stressful or related to trauma that might have happened to bring up these feelings. Is there an underlying fear of something seemingly unrelated that is bringing up these thoughts?

3. Remember that just because these patterns of thoughts are there does not mean they have any validity or basis in reality.

4. Think about what I would say to someone else. It’s an absolutely absurd thing to say someone is too ugly to be worthy of love or life. I would never ever feel that way about someone else.

5. Remind myself the feelings will pass and I do not have to do something drastic or unhealthy to escape them.

6. Sometimes, I just stay in. If I feel like it’s going to be too intense or make me feel worse, I cut myself a break and just let myself hang out. I can always try again later or tomorrow.

BDD is challenging in that it can feel embarrassing to share with others because people might not understand the degree of distress you’re experiencing. But over time with help and support it can get better.

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 nathings.

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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.

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

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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Girl (9-11) in park hand on hip, looking down, boys in background

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.

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Image by Digital Vision

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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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