1. Wearing really baggy clothes.
Wearing an XXL is my prerogative when I reach for clothes in my wardrobe. When I buy new things, I almost always wear over-sized stuff – ‘smock dress’ is always my most recent search on ASOS. I struggle with looking at the clothes hanging on the rail, and then looking at them on my body – they don’t look like the same items. Reaching for a baggy jumper dress that looks baggy on the hanger looks over-sized on my body as well, and this makes me feel less anxious. I struggle with fabrics touching my skin; I like the fabric to drape off me. I don’t have to think about my body so much if my clothes aren’t tight-fitting.
2. Wearing only certain clothes.
At the moment, I absolutely cannot wear jeans at all. Jeans panic me; I can’t stand my thighs, and so a shorter dress which covers my thighs makes me feel much more comfortable – although, ironically, there might be less fabric on me than if I were wearing jeans and a baggy jumper. My thighs are peppered with stretch marks; so the dress cannot be too short. Fit and flare dresses are sometimes okay; depending on where the “fit” is. Bodycon is an absolute no-go. Bardot dresses aren’t something I wear; I prefer a turtle-neck, or something close fitting to my neck. I feel I have folds of fat on my skin, which need to be kept in place. It shows the complete irrationality of body dysmorphia; the turtle-neck needs to be tight fitting, but my dresses are super baggy. It doesn’t really make any logical sense, and I know that it doesn’t make any logical sense, but it feels like it’s true.
3. Watching yourself in shop windows.
Every time I go past a shop window, a reflective surface, I check my reflection to see how I look – if I look too big, how my legs look, how my arms look. This might look like vanity from an outsider’s perspective. But while I am checking to see what I am looking like, I’m not doing it because I am looking for imperfections. I’m doing it because I am looking for flaws. I’m looking for the flabbiness of my arms and my thighs, I’m looking for perceived flaws. I can’t help doing it. I try to avoid seeing myself in full-length mirrors, and when I do see my reflection I become confused and disorientated – the picture before me doesn’t look like the one I have in my head.
4. Not being able to eat in front of others.
There are only a selective few people I feel able to eat in front of. I eat in front of my boyfriend, and that’s pretty much it. Going out to eat is terrifying; I choose where I sit in relation to how many people are near me – I don’t want to sit near the window incase people see me as they are walking by. I can eat around others if I have to, but it causes me a lot of anger, and I often find myself reeling off what I have eaten to my boyfriend, later on that day, to check if it is too little or too much, if it’s the “right” things or not. I much prefer eating completely alone, and this is the only time when I feel somewhat relaxed when I am eating. Much of this is to do with body dysmorphia; I feel people will judge me for eating in public, because I feel too “big” to eat – I feel people are watching me and judging me.
I have all sorts of little nervous habits to calm me down when I feel like my image of my body, the one that I have in my head, doesn’t fit the one I see before me in the mirror. One of the things I do is I slowly move my finger along my collarbones, or I grip my thighs, and sometimes I touch the curve of my tummy. I do these things obsessively, and they are often accompanied by a nervous shake. I struggle to reconcile the body I live in, I experience life in, with the image inside my head. Feeling my collarbones helps me to ground myself, to allow the image I see in my head to co-exist with the body I feel before me, even though they don’t match up exactly.
6. Changing your appearance.
I dyed my blonde hair black for three years because I thought my face was too fat for blonde hair. I thought my natural hair colour accentuated my face – I thought it highlighted pockets of fat, I thought it made my face appear even more circular than it did in the mirror. I was fixated on how my hair appeared; I wanted it to hide my face. I would only ever have it down, all at the front. I panicked about the way my hair would sit around my face – I worried about the parting. Now, I am back to blonde. It took hours in the hairdressers, but I am back to my natural colour. I still panic about the way it looks, about whether my face looks too big, about whether it highlights the circular shape of my face.
7. Missing out on events.
I’ve missed out on so many things because I’ve felt like I was too uncomfortable in my body to attend – I’ve felt too scared of how I will look. I’ve tried on party dress after party dress, and ended up in a heap on the floor with the clothes beside me. I would pick up the clothes, stuff them in the back of the wardrobe, and then put on a baggy nightie and cried myself to sleep. Countless nights out began like this; big parties, small parties, evening balls and formal events at university.
8. Having a range of clothing in different sizes.
I have so many clothes in my closet, but they’re all different sizes – partly because I fluctuate so much, but partly because I struggle to know what fits me, I struggle to see my body as it actually is – which results in lots more crying and throwing clothes on a heap in the floor. More often than not I’m wearing something that I feel comfortable in, something baggy, one of my smock dresses – not because I want to, but because it is the only thing I feel comfortable in.