I don’t particularly remember when it started, or when, in fact, I started to notice my body in the mirror becoming wider in places and narrower in others.
Whenever I’ve spoken to therapists, there is that same question: ‘Do you remember a start point?’ I must say that no, I didn’t. I would look around the room, avoiding everything but his or her eyes and pretend as though I was really, truly racking my brains, but I knew that I had no idea of the point which I became a body dysmorphic. It just happened.
Body Dysmorphia is one of those diseases that sounds as though someone made it up. It’s like ADHD. Is it real? There was that whole debate ten or twelve years ago. ADHD: Is it lazy parenting or is it truly a mental disorder? Well, body dysmorphia is the same thing.
Whenever I feel as though I might want to let somebody know that I’m a dysmorphic, they look at me as if to say: ‘Oh… Isn’t that just in your head?’ Well, yes. It is. It’s in my head. And it’s in my heart. And in every inch of my reflection that doesn’t look perfect anymore. It is everywhere, especially for me.
Throughout my later teenage years, I would combat this newfound problem by obsessively buying new clothes. It sounds so ridiculous, saying it aloud or writing it on paper, but I would buy hundreds and hundreds of pounds worth of clothes every single week, because the old clothes I had made my body look tired and fat.
I would sit in front of the mirror in new clothes, bought with my parents’ money whom I nearly bankrupted in the process, and I would analyse every inch of myself. This new garment or pair of shoes would be replaced two or three days later with a new one. I was never happy for more than that amount of time. So although it might sound as though the disease is made up by some doctor who needed to put a name to the state of ever growing bodily conscious men and women in this century, but the consequences of suffering from body dysmorphia are truly and terribly real, and both my family and I knew it.
So when I finally fell in love with someone at the grand old age of twenty one, it was always going to be difficult. People tell you that you can’t love anyone else until you can love yourself; well that’s bullshit. Of course you can. I fell in love hard and fast within a month of meeting that somebody on Tinder.
My pictures were, of course, only of my face, and this made it harder. If this person and I were ever going to meet up, wouldn’t he see what I see? A face that takes good photos but a body that is too large, too wide, too tall. A double chin when I laugh and a stomach that protrudes when I’m not obsessively sucking it in.
We exchanged more photos, of each other’s bodies. For me, this was a way of easing him into this. The perfectly angled and elongated pictures of my naked body and the compliments that followed were a perfect ego boost, so that when we did meet up, and decide to make a go of things, it was good to know that from at least some angles he would find me attractive.
But I am paranoid. All of the time. My own thoughts about my very own body are projected on to him, and I am constantly aware that he might one day turn around to me and say: ‘Look, you’re fat and you’re ugly, and I can do so much better than you.’ For the first five months I was almost waiting for it.
I will watch him as a slender, attractive woman walks past on the street, to see if he looks. He does not. He never has. I avoid all celebrity culture when I am around him – because God forbid he leaves me for one of the Kardashians. I cannot stand knowing that he finds someone else attractive, because in my head, they are so much more wonderful than I am and if you stood us next to each other I would feel nothing but pure, and utter sorrow. I daren’t dress in front of him on particularly ‘bad’ days, because if I don’t look as I think I should, I’ll cry and I’ll argue with him and he will sit there and wait for it to pass.
And yet, throughout all this, there is an overriding fear that I am about to lose him. Never mind that he will leave me for someone else, what if he leaves me because I am pushing him away? These two extremes are constantly fighting for space in my head.
Some days, I am good. I am fine. I don’t look in the mirror and I am happy just to be with him and to spend my day tucked up in the nook under his arm; to drink beer in old pubs and to walk around London not knowing where we are going.
And then there are ‘bad’ days. Days where I daren’t look at myself in the mirror because if I do, I will just sit there and I will cry. I will cry because I am so big, and I am not what I should be. My clothes don’t look right – they are tight around my hips and my backside but so loose around my waist. I am not in proportion. My face isn’t right. My hair is too flat. And because of all of this I cry, and I lose myself and he sits there and comforts me. He wipes away all of the salty tears that made their way down to my chin and he tells me that I am ridiculous. And then I am fine.
I’m not living for the praise and for the compliments and the love of another human being. That’s not what I’m here for. That is a short term solution for the problems that come with body dysmorphia. For someone to say ‘stop it, you’re lovely’ might bat down any feelings of self-hatred for a minute or two, but then they have returned and you realise that it is something so deep rooted that it might never, ever leave.
But love is helping. Being loved by someone who fell in love with you when I was suffering from this means that they couldn’t love you without. They will love you as much as they ever did no matter how long you spend crying over your body – no matter how long you stand in front of a reflective surface judging yourself. This is important for you to remember – What they see, is something totally different to what you see.
Let yourself be loved by someone. Let them make up their own mind. Don’t poison what they see with your own thoughts. Open up. Don’t argue back when they say you are beautiful. Take the compliment. Love them back. Love them especially more for putting up with your shit. I have been with him for almost a year now. I still have bad days, he knows what to do. But they are few and far between. I let him in. He accepts me. He is someone that will love me unconditionally no matter what. You need to find that person. You are lucky. Because when you do, I promise you, things will get better.