i think that’s what they call body dysmorphism

I complain that I have no idea what my body looks like, that I have no idea what size I am, or what body type I have or how I look and how I’m supposed to dress, and you say, yeah, yeah, whatever, that’s weird, and how is that possible? How can you really be so completely distanced, so remote from your body that you don’t know what you look like? Is it really possible to be that blind–I mean, you’ve got eyes and a mirror, don’t you, woman? Eyes and a mirror kind of failed me, and I’m still not sure what to think, exactly.

On Saturday, after E kicked me out of the house to get some sun and ice cream and ride around, because I was getting grumpy and hunkering bear-like in my cave. I pedaled around town, read my book in the sun with a cone of burnt almond mocha fudge awesomeness, and then toodled by the giant thrift store not too far from home. I skidded into the parking lot, locked up my bike and went to browse. I ended up browsing for hours and hours, and filled up an entire cart full of stuff.



It took me 45 minutes to try everything on, five items at a
time, and I found so many things–a ton of floaty tops and a bunch of
jackets and a raincoat and a crazy ’70s dress and a skirt and pink
Capri pants and everything was two dollars or four dollars, so I took
it all. I think the most expensive thing was eight dollars, and it was
exactly like a motherlode. I stuffed all my bags into my baskets and
pedaled home, excited to have so many new things.

I threw my bags on the couch and J came over to look at what I had got.
Each thing I pulled out, he cringed at, and called awful, cheap,
handmade, synthetic, terrible, gigantic. None of this would fit me, he
said. And it made him mad, that I wasted all my money on so much crap.
I argued. He yelled me. I got mad. He yelled at me again–don’t I think
I’m worth more than this? Aren’t I worth better than polyester crap and
home ec projects? I should be buying good clothes, that fit me. They
fit me fine, I argued. Okay, he said. Go put on outfits. Go put these
clothes on, and we’re going to take pictures.

Fine! I said. I came out for picture after picture, changing into
things I remember really liking in the changing room. And he’d take the
picture, and then he’d grab the fabric at my waist and say look at this!
Look how this thing is swimming on you! Look how much room you’ve got
in here! Why are you wearing this when you’re so tiny? Why are you
making yourself look like this? And I shrugged at him and went to put
on the next shirt. We made it through my piles of bags, and then he
handed me the camera and said, Look.

In picture after picture, I was floating in clothes that were too big
for me, that stopped at the wrong place at my hips, that gave me
saddlebags and made me look short, or flat-chested, or weird or like a
meth addict. I must have looked shell-shocked, because he said, “Look. I
know why you picked this stuff out. It’s kind of quirky stuff, and it
suits your personality to wear quirky stuff, I get that. But it doesn’t
fit your body. It doesn’t suit you. You don’t need to dress all
wacky. You can do so much better than this.”

In so many of those pictures, I look uncomfortable and stiff, and part
of it, of course, was because it is odd to pose for photos, but a lot
of it–I can see that it’s the clothes. In every outfit, I was tugging
at them and yanking on them and fiddling with them, and I am mad at
him, for being right. I am angry that I spent so much money, and angry
at–I don’t know, a blind uncaring universe, I guess–that this is so
continuously, continually hard, and that I feel so, so stupid every
time it slaps me in the face. Every time I think I have a handle on
things, my body or my shape or dressing, it turns out that I have no
idea what’s going on, what I look like, what I look like to other
people. Now I’m kind of terrified of what I look like to other people.
I feel so ridiculous for not knowing.

“Did I dress okay when I was fat?” I said. “I mean, have I always”–“You
dressed great,” J said. “You looked good. But you’re not fat any more.
Your body’s completely different.”

Oh. Right. It is a little bit irritating, how I am so exquisitely and constantly aware of that every single day, and yet completely oblivious.

I wish I was brave enough to upload these photos to show you. I keep looking at them, trying to figure out if I recognize
myself in them. One shirt, it fit me well, hugged my waist, skimmed my
hips, looked good. That’s a good shirt, J said. I keep coming back to
this picture, where I am standing tall, with my arms at my sides. The
body language is strong and the shirt fits me well, but I am not sure
if my body fits me. Or if I fit into my body. My shoulders look so
wide, and my hips look kind of narrow, and my thighs are big and I
can’t tell if I have stubby little legs or not. Is it the photo, or is
it my body, or is it me? I’m guessing it’s me. I’m so sick of
guessing.

  8 comments for “i think that’s what they call body dysmorphism

  1. anon
    June 9, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I could have written this, except I never had that photo experience with a friend. What a great opportunity, I’d think, truly eye-opening, eh? It takes time, Anne, so much time, so much more time than you’d think, to adjust your eyes and especially your brain to your new body. Think how many years you looked like that, and now think how long you’ve looked like this. It hasn’t been that long, right? Be patient. And maybe take a friend next time you go clothes shopping ;)

  2. June 9, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Wow, your post really touched me. I have the same problem and also in reverse, I *think* I look great, then hubby takes a picture and all I can do is see how crappy something seems. Yesterday I wore a new outfit, he took my picture and I said, please don’t show it to me because if I see what I really think I look like I won’t leave the house now.
    sigh, will it ever get better (i’m down 128 pounds so far and i’m not sure i like my body either, but i do admit i like my better health)

  3. M.
    June 9, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    (It sounds like puberty, part 2.)
    But really, it’s you. At the very least it’s simply a healthier version thereof that will be around longer, or at least have a higher quality of life for a greater period of time, or help you weather stress better. You’re giving your major organ systems a break, is all. :) And you can always change it back, but from what you write, it doesn’t sound like you want to.
    I think what your sig. other is saying is that people should notice you not because you look like a weirdo bag lady (although you’d be a weirdo bag lady on a kickass bike), but because you look beautiful (on a kickass bike).
    Maybe instead of beating yourself up over the fact that you don’t know what size you are, go to a store with very helpful associates, try on at least 4 sizes of tailored pants/skirts, button down shirts, and blazer jackets. And try all different brands, because they use different fit models. You have to find who cuts clothes to your body type. (For instance, I can’t wear Esprit. They cut clothes for miniature people without quadriceps.) Ask them what looks right. Do some research. Take notes if it helps you. Approach it like a science project (because, really, it is). Once you know what you “should” be wearing and how it ought to look, then go to town in the funky secondhand garment department.
    (And seriously! Watch What Not to Wear on TLC!)

  4. June 9, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Oh my god….you too? I just bought a book called the BDD handbook, on you guessed it…body dysmorphism. But I am not completely sure it is necessary. I have lost 125 pounds on my own, and I have no real clue what I look like.I know my measurements, but I have no clue what I look like in comparison to other women. I ask friends..”do I look like her?” “is she bigger than me?” because I honestly don’t know what I look like. I look back at photos of myself at 300lbs and I look swollen, and I don’t recognize myself…but this, I recognize my face again, but I don’t know my body at all. Clothing shopping is a nightmare too as the loose skin (and yes some fat still) is just a reminder of the previous extra 125….I just hope I can get to a place where I can feel like myself and feel “normal”.
    I wish I had a good friend to help me like J helps you!

  5. Beth
    June 9, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I can’t even imagine this kind of experience. But I think that it would really help, as corny as this sounds, if when you looked in the mirror you repeated this mantra to yourself “I love myself”
    The thing is, if you don’t love you best of all. Who will? At the end of the day, all a person has is themselves. You have to love you best.
    I might also look into finding a life coach or pastor or therapist. So that you have someone to talk to, who can give you better advice than just people on a blog comment page. As much as we care.

  6. Dale
    June 9, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I recently went through a session with someone I hired to do “closet therapy” She started by measuring me, then commented that I had a great figure – why was I hiding it… Some of the stuff that was too small in my head turned out to be perfect.
    We threw out probably 70% of my clothes. And she told me to go for fitted clothes, and to try a size smaller than I think I need.
    Who knew? It was worth the price to get a neutral perspective from someone who wasn’t trying to sell me something.

  7. Rivkeh
    June 10, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    What an amazingly GOOD FRIEND to do this for you. :-)

  8. audrey
    October 16, 2008 at 12:02 am

    i have stubby legs and a medium size stomach but my face is pretty even though people hate on u just forget them and move on

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