Even though I spend most of my time thinking about more productive things, I do waste some of my time and brainpower contemplating what I look like. It’s not my fault and I’m not going to be mad at myself for valuing my appearance. When you’re told constantly that you’re supposed to be pretty over anything else, you might internalize that message and place a disproportionate value on aesthetics. As a privileged young woman in this era of human civilization, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) practically unavoidable.
The Mayo Clinic defines Body Dysmophic Disorder like so:
Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone.
When you have body dysmorphic disorder, you intensely obsess over your appearance and body image, often for many hours a day. Your perceived flaw causes you significant distress, and your obsession impacts your ability to function in your daily life. You may seek out numerous cosmetic procedures or excessively exercise to try to “fix” your perceived flaw, but you’re never satisfied. Body dysmorphic disorder is also known as dysmorphophobia, the fear of having a deformity.
When I was in college, I took an Abnormal Psych class and learned that people with body dysmorphic disorder have trouble seeing the gestalt of their own faces; rather than seeing a whole face, the disordered person will see individual features to scrutinize without context. We also learned that there might be some grain of truth to some of the fixations of body dysmorphic disorder. For instance, if someone with BDD thinks that their nose is so disfiguringly large that they should wear a mask, they potentially could have a legitimately large nose–the issue isn’t the size of the nose, but the importance they place on it.
Finding out that people with BDD might be a little bit right about the way they look confirmed what I already knew: I am a disgusting creature and everyone is too nice to say anything about it. Before incorrectly interpreting that little anecdote from one part of one lesson in a college 101 seminar for idiots and armchair psychologists, I had been under the impression that I perceived all these flaws in my form, but they were mostly imaginary so whatever. Boy was I wrong and whatever semblance of hope I had for reconciling with the ugly bitch in the mirror was shattered. I knew “the truth”: maybe I exaggerate how horrible my minotaur-legs are, but they are minotaur-legs nonetheless and everybody’s noticed.
Rationally, I know that I am at least passably average looking; sometimes I’m even able to believe that I’m pretty. I know that I’m young and petite with shiny hair and big boobs–no open sores to speak of. Yet, whenever someone says they think I’m pretty, I feel like I’ve tricked them into it; like I’m actually hideous, but with my impeccable grooming I can pass as a pretty girl. It’s completely deranged. I’m working on it.
Until I either figure out what I truly look like or decidedly stop giving a fuck about being pretty, in moments of temporary clarity I can laugh at just how outrageously cruel some of my thoughts about myself are. I think heinously abusive things to myself. Typically the thoughts are formulated as if I am talking to someone else–someone who doesn’t deserve any kindness or respect, someone I’d like to see cry. I would never ever direct such gruesome barbs at another person, so why do I relentlessly give myself such a hard time? Rational brain says: “You have a problem and so does society,” but BDD brain says: “You really are the ugliest girl in the world.”
The following is a list of 10 things (Honestly, whittling the list down to just 10 examples was sort of challenging) I actually thought to myself. Seeing them typed out is alarming–I never even say anything like this out loud.
Here are 10 of the horrible and abusive things I thought to myself about my body:
- I should be arrested for wearing this tank top. What was I thinking? I thought this when I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a building on my way to work. In my mind, my upper arms looked so fat that I should be locked up in jail for exposing them.
- Never eat again. Even if I did need to lose weight, this would be an unreasonable way of going about it.
- Exfoliate better, you dumb bitch. My right elbow felt a little dry and I guess dry elbows are for dumb bitches. I just rubbed my elbows again and they feel pretty smooth.
- Your ex-boyfriends deserve trophies for stomaching your naked body. All of my exes are nice dudes, but they shouldn’t be rewarded for having sex me.
- My office chair is buckling under my weight. Wholly imagined. My BMI isn’t even 21, so the problem would be with whoever designed the chair and not with me.
- You look uncannily like Frankenstein’s monster as painted by Picasso. Not my most creative insult, honestly.
- The polite thing to do would be to get a veil like an old time widow. Oh, now I’m giving myself lessons in etiquette. Who do I think I am: the Emily Post of uggos?
- I want hoop earrings, but my earlobes are so floppy. Who even thinks about their earlobes?
- Such a grim face. Then I smiled at myself and recoiled because I interpreted my bared jaws as a threat.
- Shroud yourself in burlap, cloak yourself in darkness. Apparently angry villagers are going to attack me with pitchforks if I don’t cover my deformities.
I’m trying to keep in mind that maybe I’m wrong about what I look like, but even if I’m not wrong and I really am super hideous, there are worse things to be than ugly. Beauty fades, is only skin deep, is in the eye of the beholder and ultimately is worthless.
Do you get weirdly specific and personal when you insult yourself too? Or do you have rad body image and if so, what do you do to keep it up?