Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The Lady Thing I Won't Talk About. Even With Feminists.
By Gayle Force on May 06, 2010
BlogHer Original Post
So, I have been thinking (ahahaha, I know, right? Because we ladies, we NEVER do that too much. Sigh). And it was because of the Jezebel post about the MTV True Life episode, which I just watched, on Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
And, you know, it's MTV, so it's not the most tasteful or thoughtful show, but: I don't really want to talk about reality TV. I was thinking about how being feminist and being aware of privilege makes me really struggle with my own BDD.
I was diagnosed four years ago. It's definitely gotten worse as time as gone by, and exponentially worse after the rape. It's also not a disorder that stands alone; it ties in to my bipolar disorder, my anxiety problems. But also, really, what woman DOESN'T have BDD to some degree? Every woman I know dislikes something about herself, thinks she is too fat, hates her hair, despises her ankles. It's always something. And we ladies think, god, if we could just lose that weight, or fix this, or look like that, we would be fine. Or, at least that is how I think. I fantasize about being beautiful and imagine I would be that whole new person and have the courage to go out and feel pretty and meet people and find someone to date and get an "A" in every class and everything would be all fucking magical!
And, of course, I know I am full of shit, but I still partake in those fantasies. Like I bet an awful lot of women do. For many of us, this is just a fact of being female and moving through the world, sadly. And the fact that we ALL as women have to manage with these feelings of self-hate means that this is a symptom not of our own but of some larger cultural disease. That part is what's easy for me to intellectualize and understand.
But I still wouldn't go to the prom-y type thing my law school has, because I felt too fat to get in a dress. And even though I love to swim, I won't get in a bathing suit to go swimming at the gym. And I cannot go shopping without every single time, even when I am thinking I am compensating for my BDD, picking out clothes that are two sizes too large. And I won't wear tank tops, because my arms are too fat. And sometimes, I stop eating. Or I won't go out with people, especially to a party, because I will go and look at all the other women and feel like the ugliest thing that has ever walked the Earth and want to run back home and hide. Sometimes, I will feel so hideous I will not leave my house and cry. I hate and hate and hate on my body so much occasionally I have considered dying as an option, because then I could escape it. So I can intellectualize, but I can't get over it.
Good therapy has been essential to managing it (also, to hiding it, let's be real). I hear that voice in my head and think, "Gayle, SHUT UP NOW." I know my thoughts are not based in reality. I know it is a disorder. I remind myself that there are people starving on this earth and that I am one of the most privileged people on the planet, and I am not actually physically disabled or have any serious illnesses, and I need to fucking just get over myself already, JESUS. But I will still purposefully go all day long without looking at my face. Every time I go to the bathroom and wash my hands at the sink, I will never look up into the mirror.
The disorder is both bolstered by and bolsters my disassociative disorder (rape: the gift that keeps on giving). Basically, I cut my head off from my body. I believe I am a decently capable, smart individual, and I can walk into many situations thinking that I will be able to manage them, or be able to rock them even, based solely on the brain in my head. I think of it as being able to "head" through things. And if I don't look in the mirror all day, I can forget my body. I can forget I hate it. I can forget that I find myself so hideous that on some days, I won't walk out the door.
It also feels like the disorder of horrendous privilege and anti-feminism, too.
I mean, lookit. I am not actually fat. I'm not thin by any means, but I am not actually fat, not by any standard based on numbers and sizes. And even though I FEEL tremendously large and disgusting, and when I look in the mirror I think I am gargantuan, I don't get called names for being fat. I don't get disrespected by my doctor for being fat. People are not repulsed by my body. I never have to worry about flying and being charged for two seats.
And that is some serious privilege. Then there is my feminist shame, because it means that I have lost the war against the culture that tries to tell me I will always be too fat, I have failed to internalize any of the feminist rhetoric about new beauty standards or really embracing my body at any size. I will speak about my mental illness, my rape, ANYTHING, with other women, other feminists. But I will never speak about the BDD. Because it makes me feel like an asshole to even bring it up.
Especially because it means I wish to co-opt other women's illnesses and trivialize them, when I pray at night for the strength to have an eating disorder. Or devalue fat women's actual experiences when I read fat acceptance Web sites and books, trying to help myself accept the body I am in. And I look at other women and think horrible things and put them down or hate them, and how can I even claim to be a feminist when my disorder makes me so anti-woman? And when do I get to claim a right to a disorder, when many women suffer from this disordered thinking? God, Gayle, and there are still people starving in Haiti -- why don't I dedicate my energy to fixing things instead of just loathing myself?
It is such the asshole disorder, guys.
And so I hide it. I won't tell people the extent of it, how bad it is, why I can't go out that night, why I shy away from parties or clubs or dressing up or anywhere I could be judged by my appearance. And I won't tell people because they almost always respond, "But you're pretty" or some such compliment, and that makes me feel worse, but it also makes me think I can't trust that person, because they are so clearly lying to my face.
There are things I do to manage it (once again, a thank you to my psychotherapist). I will not insult myself in front of others anymore. I work on taking compliments. I try to say a nice thing in my head about every woman I see walking past, because if I am kind to them, I am hoping I will be kinder to myself. I never look at any magazines other than Harper's and the New Yorker and Bitch. I do not watch TV. I do not spend time discussing with women what we are putting in our mouths or how we shouldn't have dessert. I remind myself my food does not have any morality attached to it. I try to shut my roommate down when she talks a lot about her weight, and I beat it the fuck up the stairs when my roommates watch The Biggest Loser, which they do ALL THE TIME, that show must air like three times a day, I do not understand.
But, I struggle. And, it's hard. And BDD takes up a fuck-ton of my energy, while keeping me from doing things that I would love. It really came up today, again, when I started thinking about a future drinking date with a couple really brilliant ladies whom I have met through this blog, and I panicked. I had to talk myself through that, because even though they seem so amazing and it will be such a gift to be able to meet them, I wondered: What if they are all so much prettier than me? They will look down on me. I will feel bad around them. Maybe I should not even go.
And that? Is insane. I know it is insane. And I will go and meet them anyway, and they may want to throw something at me when they meet me (ladies, please don't throw something at me, ow), because there is probably nothing wrong with how I actually look, and I am being a egotistical fool. The asshole disorder strikes again!
And look! I just wrote a whole long post which boils down to a pity party about how hard it is in my head when I don't actually catch any flak for it in the real world! GAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! I am like the fucking Tina Fey of feminism, people, my LORD.
But, this was part of the reason I started the blog. I hoped I could drag all the monsters that haunted me out into the light, where I could see there wasn't really anything under my bed all along. And it was meant to be at first just about rape recovery, but I have come to understand that the BDD contributes a lot to the disassociative disorder and was really exacerbated by the rape, and in learning to feel OK in the body I am in again, I am going to have to tackle all of it. Even the stuff I am ashamed of. Even this disorder that makes me feel like I am a giant privileged douchebag for having it.
And that's really it. You will probably never get me to talk about this in person, because it is a disorder I am deeply ashamed of. But there it is. I wrote about it. I admitted it. I got it out. And maybe tonight, the monster under my bed? Will seem a little less scary.
"i was everywhere, in everything
you should have seen the skies."