I went through puberty very late and extremely quickly. Until the age of sixteen, I was underweight, very short, and completely flat chested. I was regularly misgendered and already knew that others perceived me as ugly. I was convinced by that point that I was going to have the body of a little boy for the rest of my life. It took me by surprise when I shot up six inches over a year and grew in bra size so quickly that I was constantly wearing the wrong fit. My adult body was thrust upon me so suddenly and unexpectedly that I never felt like I had time to grow into it. From this came an unrealistic view of my body, and since then I’ve had to learn how to cope with body dysmorphia.
I see images of my body in the mirror that don’t actually exist. As soon as I started putting on weight during puberty, I became convinced that I was obese. I could see my stomach jutting out like a pregnant woman and I imagined cellulite and stretch marks all over my thighs. I quickly became convinced that I was unforgivably fat and that everyone was lying to me about what my body looked like. This was all when I weighed less than 60kg. I was also highly obsessive about my acne and convinced that it covered my entire face. I refused to turn on the bathroom light and got ready in the dark for an entire year. I still feel uncomfortable today when I can see my face in fluorescent lighting.
My perception of my body swings wildly between believing I am very overweight, and worrying that I still look completely androgynous. Some days I obsess that I look overly masculine, and I am worried about tying my hair up in case it makes me look like a boy. On the contrary, I regularly buy clothes that are a size too big for me because that’s what my body looks like in my mind’s eye. I can lose weight and not notice for weeks because I still see the same image of my body in the mirror.
Body dysmorphia ruled my life for too long and prevented me from going to the beach in a bikini, leaving the house without makeup on, being seen in any clothes that were tight around my midriff, or looking at my face in any shopping mall bathroom. It pushed me to restricting calories, binge eating, and an extremely uncomfortable relationship with food. It drove me to tears almost every day, and slowly I have had to learn how to cope with body dysmorphia. These are the methods I have used to lessen the feelings of self hatred.
Hide the scales and avoid the mirror when you are feeling insecure.
I used to obsessively weigh myself every day, if not several times a day. It got to the point that my ex-boyfriend had to hide the scales in my house to stop me. The numbers on a scale can really creep into your brain when you have body dysmorphia and convince you that you look fatter than you do. Weighing yourself every day is also not an accurate depiction of your weight gain because weight naturally fluctuates day-to-day. Give yourself some peace of mind and get someone else to hide the scales.
It’s also easy to spend unnecessary amounts of time in front of the mirror, mentally pointing out all your flaws and perceived ugliness. My body dysmorphia hits me a lot harder when I am already feeling down, and I will start to take fault with things that usually might not bother me. A negative mood breeds more negativity, which your brain will apply to the body in front of you. Do yourself a favour and avoid the mirror when you are already in a bad mood.
Avoid wearing makeup every day.
I used to obsessively cover my face with (poorly matched) foundation and was terrified of my ‘horrible’ skin being seen without it. The problem is that it made me stress even more. I worried about if my makeup was fully covering my skin, and would obsessively check my face in mirrors. It actually brings me more peace to not wear it and acquaint myself with my natural face more. Makeup brings some people confidence, but for me it always felt like I was trying to (unsuccessfully) hide all of my imperfections.
The idea of not wearing makeup might seem terrifying if you are used to wearing it whenever you are out of the house, but I recommend practising it. You don’t need to give it up completely, but purposely going without it and making peace with your naked face is a positive step towards learning how to cope with body dysmorphia.
Cope with body dysmorphia by travelling.
I wrote more comprehensively about how backpacking reduces body dysmorphia, but travel in general helps you to get outside of your head. When you are travelling, you are often focused on the sights around you and less on your physical appearance. Backpackers are also dirty and messy by reputation, so you don’t feel the need to look perfect all the time. Navigating the world of travel also comes with a sense of accomplishment that can increase your confidence.
Travel won’t cure your illness, but it can help you to cope with body dysmorphia and feel more comfortable in your physical and mental self.
Give yourself some perspective.
When you are struggling to cope with body dysmorphia, it’s easy to lose perspective on your situation and assume that you are hideous and unlike everyone else. You need to be mindful of the media that you are consuming and how unrealistic the images are. Celebrities are an obvious example of unrealistic body types, because of the hours of preparation that they undergo, plus extensive Photoshop for photographs. A less obvious negative media source is Instagram, where images of more relatable people are doctored and filtered to perfection, leaving you feeling like you just don’t measure up. You need to keep in mind that these people have their own imperfections that aren’t shown in photos.
I also like to look back at old photos of myself and am always pleasantly surprised that I look nothing like the hideous, obese ogre that I thought I was at the time. It reminds me that my body dysmorphia is a mental illness, and that how I see myself now is probably also not an accurate depiction of reality. Time allows you to get space from your mindset and see your appearance for what it actually is.
You can learn to cope with body dysmorphia.
Body dysmorphia is a difficult condition to live with because it erodes your self-esteem and makes you believe that you are completely unattractive and worthless. It is also frustrating when you know that your image of yourself is warped, but you can’t stop yourself from focusing on the flaws. With time and practising getting out of your own head, you can eventually learn to better cope with body dysmorphia.
Do you struggle with body dysmorphia or low self-esteem? What methods do you use to cope?