When I was a size 8, I saw myself as a size 10. When I was a size 10, I saw myself as a size 12. And finally, when I was a size 12, I saw myself as a size 14. In pictures, I was bigger.
I live with body dysmorphia. I have done for as long as I can remember.
Body dysmorphic disorder is an anxiety disorder. It basically means I have a distorted view of how I look compared to how people see me, and I spend a lot of time worrying about my appearance.
For me, my main worry has always been my legs. When I was younger, I was told they looked like ‘tree trunks’. Granted, I was fifteen and in the midst of puberty, therefore I had puppy fat and yes, my legs were on the bigger side.
But those comments stuck with me and have made me conscious of my legs to this day.
I see my legs as much bigger than they are. Even at my lowest weight, I saw them as the biggest part of my body.
When I look down, I see large thighs, curvy calf muscles, and thick ankles. I look at other people’s legs and I wish mine were shaped like theirs. There’s nothing worse than searching the #legs hashtag on Instagram and seeing long, slender calves and thighs (yes, I really do that).
Not even photos can convince me I’m seeing myself with a distorted view. When I do look slimmer in pictures, I blame it on a ‘good angle’.
When I tell people I’m conscious of my legs – for instance, when they suggest I wear a new skirt (without tights is the worst case scenario) and I decline in disgust – they tell me I’m being stupid.
And being called stupid makes me feel stupid. It isn’t helpful.
What also isn’t helpful is people becoming annoyed with me because of my distorted view of my body.
There have been so many times when someone has told me off for moaning about my legs. They’ve made out that I’m being offensive to those who actually are larger, that I ‘don’t know how it feels’ and that I have ‘nothing to complain about’.
I wish that were true. I wish I could look in the mirror and see my body for what it is. Not just to ease my fears, but because that way I’d have a realistic view on what changes I could and couldn’t make.
The worst partis being made to feel like an attention seeker. Being accused of ‘fishing for compliments’ when you talk about how uncomfortable you are with your body.
I understand that for anyone who doesn’t understand body dysmorphia, it can be difficult to digest.
It’s hard to see how anyone could see their body for anything other than it is. It’s hard to watch someone who’s slim call themselves fat.
But what’s really hard is living with the disorder – and worrying that if I talk about what I’m going through, I’ll be labelled ‘attention seeking’ or ‘offensive to those who really are overweight’.
I didn’t want to upset anyone, and so I started keeping things to myself.
Comments like these prevented me confronting my body dysmorphia. I was so used to being called stupid that I started refusing to talk about how I felt about myself. That meant that I’d hold off on thinking about it until I was alone – which left me feeling isolated.
I was sure that people were getting frustrated because they were tired of me talking about feeling body conscious, not because they didn’t see what I saw. Maybe they were just trying to shut me up. Maybe they did see what I could and they just wouldn’t admit it.
Regardless of what they saw, the way I saw myself remained – and it wasn’t until a friend actually sat me down and dissected my weight that I realised I had a problem.
Instead of getting angry with me, one friend discussed my body with me.
They were annoyed or dismissive. They were insistent on actually helping me.
I asked them if it’d be possible to describe what they saw when they looked at me. I told them to be brutally honest. It was what I needed to hear.
What they described was nothing like what I saw. Even my body shape on a whole was different to what they described.
For once, I felt at ease. I wasn’t being attacked for the way I felt about myself. There was no judgement, just understanding.
And finally, I believed what someone was saying about my body. The way they spoke to me was frank but kind. They were so convincing – and though I found it a struggle to comprehend that maybe my body really was different to what I saw in the mirror, it was a relief.
I felt less conflicted. I didn’t worry that I was being told something to make me feel better about myself. I realised that I really did have an issue.
I still live with body dysmorphia. I look through my Instagram photos over the years, and I find that as my weight’s fluctuated, the distorted view I have of my body has too.
I believe I’ll always be someone who wishes they were as big as the first time they thought they were big. But things have got a lot better.
Instead of focusing on what I see in the mirror, I focus on how my clothes fit me. Beforehand, I’d always bought clothes that were larger, convinced my actual size wouldn’t fit. Now, I try things on in store, and I always buy a size smaller than what I think I am, and the clothes always seem to fit.
This has been helpful in confronting and challenging the way I see myself. The more I challenge that view, the more I start to understand that I do see myself differently to how everyone else sees me.
It’s got easier over time, and my view of my body has got better. I have a long way to go before I start seeing myself the same as everyone else – but with the right support and my own encouragement, I’m pretty sure I’ll get there in the end.
How to get help for body dysmorphia