I call it “falling into the mirror.”
It’s when I can’t stop checking my reflection. Not out of narcissism — actually, quite the opposite. I’m obsessively inspecting my flaws, including cellulite. Yeah, especially the cellulite.
In these instances, I can see the progress I’ve made and be proud… For literally about five seconds. Then all I can see is how much I have left to lose.
This might sound rational since I still have about 10 lbs to go until my healthy weight. But it doesn’t matter what the scale reads. I’m talking about losing sight of any positive hallmarks: a smaller waist, more defined abs, etc. They quickly disappear from my view, and then I can only see the progress yet to be made.
It was all in my head
It made even less sense when I was 21, which is when I was diagnosed with body dsymorphic disorder (BDD).
Looking back, I was in great shape. I was a size 8, sometimes a size 6. But I was convinced I had a tummy, a little bit of fat that I couldn’t quite get rid of.
The proof was that every time I sat down, skin overlapped the edge of my jeans. You know, the way skin does on any normal human being? Or how much my thighs spread out when I sat down. See, I never had a thigh gap. Now I know that I’m not built to, but at the time it distressed me that my thighs touched. That was yet more evidence that I still had weight to lose.
Even when I was able to accept that I was light enough on the scale, I thought my abs needed toning. I was constantly self-conscious about my stomach sticking out, so I checked the mirror obsessively to see if I was pooching out. And of course I was convinced that I was.
I even kept myself what must have been partially dehydrated — all because I noticed (due to my obsessively weighing myself multiple times a day) how much water weight I took on over the course of a day.
I also thought that a full bladder might make my stomach stick out more, so even when I didn’t feel like I had to pee, I went to the bathroom at least once every half hour to keep my bladder empty and, therefore, my stomach tucked in.
Then vs now
It was obviously pretty bad back then. It’s not as severe these days. But I do see some of these symptoms emerging again as I get closer to my goal weight. I go into the bathroom and lift up my shirt to inspect my tummy. All too quickly I’m focused on the roll that’s left instead of the better curves that I have now.
In having a discussion about dating/appearance, a friend recently told me that I was hot (#humblebrag) but a part of me can’t understand how that’s true when I still have 10 extra pounds on my body. How can that be attractive? Even as I (fleetingly) see the appeal at times.
Just typing all of this, I’m barely resisting the urge to jump up, run into the bathroom and check my stomach for progress.
It’s a strong desire — one that might seem laughable to an outsider — but it’s a serious compulsion. It’s hard to overcome and, frankly, the next time I have to use the bathroom, I can already feel that I’ll succumb. When I do, I’ll feel at least a fleeting sense of relief — until the need arises again.
A new age (and everything that brings)
I honestly hadn’t even really noticed the symptoms reemerging. Not until I was reminded about BDD in a fascinating article on a new phenomenon called selfie dysmorphia. People are coming to surgeons, not with photos of celebrities, but instead their filtered, enhanced selfies.
The ability to morph their appearance on a screen is kicking these people’s existing BDD into overdrive, inflating insecurities about existing “flaws” which could be something as small as a bump on the nose. But the people have focused in on the feature and can’t see past it, just as I can’t see past the cellulite.
They want to look more like the idealized versions of themselves that they’ve created on their phones, where they were able to fix that bump on their nose or make their eyes look bigger or their skin more airbrushed. They have become convinced that the current versions of themselves are (and should be) fixable, even as plastic surgeons patiently explain that they can’t enlarge eyes or make skin look poreless.
The problem is that they have fixated on some flaw that may not even exist or that is is so small that other people don’t even notice it. But people with BDD become obsessed. They also tend to consider themselves ugly and may even avoid social interaction to hide the “defect.”
If this is you
This is a mental illness just as much as depression. It actually shares characteristics of depression (the hyper self-criticism), eating disorders (the distorted view of the body) and obsessive compulsive disorder (the compulsion to repeatedly check or talk about the feature). In fact, some doctors treat BDD with antidepressants, and therapy is usually one of the main go-tos as well.
Whether for cellulite or some tiny perceived flaw if these symptoms ring true for you — if you feel helpless in the face of a compulsion to check the mirror or pick at some “defect” and if it’s eating into your self-confidence/ability to enjoy life — then I’d beg you to get help from a therapist. Because I promise you that a million friends and family members telling you you’re fine just won’t cut it.
If you can’t find a therapist or think you don’t have time for one, consider a telemental health site like BetterHelp, which allows video, phone or even text-based sessions that might make it easier for you to get the help you need.
Luckily, my own BDD symptoms are still in the early stages right now. I have a chance to deal with them before they get out of control again. Which is good because it seems to get worse the lighter I get.
Or perhaps it’s simply easier to know that I’m being irrational when there’s less weight to lose. Or maybe it is worse when I’m dieting/exercising, fueled by a sense of progress that I feel should exist. It’s hard to say for sure. All I know is that I’m not letting it take over my life again.
Have you ever struggled with BDD?