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What I Mean When I Say I Have Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Body dysmorphia — what does that even mean? It can be described as someone who has an obsessive preoccupation with an aspect of their appearance that they feel is flawed, and they might take measures to hide or fix it.

So, what does a person with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) look like?

Maybe like this:

Or this:

Or even like this:

Contrary to what I have found to be popular belief, those with body dysmorphic disorder do not always hide from the world, avoid social media platforms, avoid taking pictures of themselves or stay in their houses. I am sure that there are some cases where that is a reality, but that has never been my reality, and it certainly does not mean that I don’t suffer greatly from body dysmorphia.

I could tell you the story behind the three pictures I’ve shown you. I could tell you the countless times I took them and the steps that I took to hide some part of myself. Having body dysmorphic disorder does not mean that I don’t take pictures — quite the contrary. It means I take pictures over and over and over again. It means I am always scrutinizing how I look in those pictures and trying to hide some part of my body or face. It means that I use pictures as a means to “check” how I look. It means that, when the rare occasion happens that I am feeling OK about how I look that day, I take more pictures of myself, and those are the ones that I post on social media. It means that I hide behind Snapchat filters in almost every picture on my Instagram because they conceal all of the things that I think are wrong with the way I look.

Sometimes, I avoid the camera like the plague because I am so horrified by how I look that day and I do not want those pictures to confirm my reality. Other days, I spend hours taking pictures “just checking,” or because I want to capture the rare moment when I actually like some part of my appearance. It takes up a lot of time. It wastes a lot of time. And don’t even get me started on the mirror.

Sometimes, I think the mirror is the worst invention in the history of inventions. The mirror and I have a love-hate relationship. I spend so much time in front of the mirror, checking to see what I look like, doing and redoing my hair, and examining my skin. It is like reflective surfaces are a magnet for me and I cannot seem to pull myself away.

There are some days where I want to hide, where I cancel plans and avoid going places just because I do not want anyone to see me. There are some days where I change my outfit like crazy throughout the day, trying to get it to look “just right.” There are some days where I cry in bed after spending what seems like forever in front of the mirror because I can’t seem to get my hair right, my skin looks terrible and I don’t like my face for whatever reason. I dread other people taking pictures of me. It is one thing for me to take pictures of myself because I have control over the camera and how it is angled and what it shows, but when other people take my picture, I am filled with intense fear.

I want to say that body dysmorphic disorder is different than an eating disorder. Just because you have an eating disorder (ED), might not necessarily mean that you have BDD. And just because you have BDD, does not necessarily mean you have an eating disorder. In fact, for some people with BDD, it is not about weight. In my opinion, that is the distinguishing feature between the two. Eating disorders often manifest through obsessions surrounding weight and body size, while body dysmorphic disorder often manifests through dissatisfaction with a body part or parts and isn’t always weight related.

As someone with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, I see the difference between the two. The eating disorder, though somewhat about looks, was for me, more about a sense of control. Body dysmorphia makes me despise parts of my body. It makes me feel ugly. It makes me feel alone and envious of the people around me — how can they all be so pretty while I look like this?

As you can see, there is overlap between BDD and ED, but they can sometimes present differently and sometimes look very different.

Body dysmorphic disorder is more than just a bad body image day. It is an illness that can distorts how you see yourself. It is an illness that can make you forget what is really important in life. Because I know that looks aren’t everything, but when you are looking in the mirror and feel disgusted with what you see, it can easily become your world.

So, this is my truth. The reality behind my body dysmorphia. Mirrors, cameras and beauty products become your best friend, and maybe even your worst enemy.

But there is hope. You can get better from body dysmorphia. It takes a lot of hard work. I am currently in the process of working on tackling my own issues with body dysmorphia. It is no easy task, but I know I can get better from BDD. And I hold onto that hope because I am maintaining recovery from my eating disorder. If I can overcome my ED and get to a place that I never in a million years thought I would get to, you can do this too.

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 MarinaZg

Originally published: August 24, 2017
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