Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Wish I Knew What I Looked Like: Body Image Issues Can Be Overwhelming

Image is Everything, and I Don't Have One

The other day, I talked about dressing by default, pretty much buying whatever clothing is left after I eliminate all the clothing styles I feel are wrong for me. Here are examples of my "problem areas."
  • My arms. They're chubby with little dimples on the elbow. I hate those dimples.
  • My legs. Chunky thighs. Don't like to wear dresses, shorts, skirts, jeans. I look lumpy.
  • Nothing with an empire waist, makes me look pregnant.
  • Nothing with a dropped waist, makes me look like a baked potato.
  • No waist of any kind, really. And I never tuck in. Why do some overweight people try to tuck in?
  • No turtlenecks, I need all the neck I can get.
  • No large patterns. (I look like a giant size world map.)
  • No stripes (On me they get wavy!)
  • No patterns at all, really, I like solids. Actually, I like black. 
Cut to the Chase!

Oh, good grief. What I'm trying to to say is I wear long or 3/4 sleeved black shirts and black stretch pants. That's about it. Some of them are cheap (Wal-Mart), and some of them are more expensive (Coldwater Creek, Chico's). But they all look pretty much the same. Black and stretchy. If the weather's hot, I wear light weight fabrics if I can find them. If not, heavy. As you can see, I could hardly limit myself more. And here's the funny thing. I have lots of overweight friends and they wear bright colors, and shorts and wacky patterns and empire waists and I always think they look so cute. I love that stuff on other people. But on me, no. And I've been dressing this way since I was about a size 12. I think its because I have never really known what I look like.

I've never seen a picture of myself where I wasn't shocked by how I looked. Whatever I thought I looked like when I got dressed that morning, that's not how I looked. It's so frustrating not to know what size you are, how old you look, or what you look like in profile. By the way, I am not blind. I have great vision. I just have body dysmorphic disorder.

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

I know it sounds like I have a bad dose of this disorder, but actually, it is very minor case. I don't have any social phobia, which is a hallmark of this syndrome. I'm not suicidal, another common symptom. I just don't know what I really look like, and that's been true since I was an adolescent. If you tend to obsess on some aspect of your appearance, or are shocked when you see a picture of yourself because you are either bigger or smaller than you thought you were, you might want to learn a little about this syndrome.

"Who is that fat person standing between my daughter and husband?" How many times have I thought that, before realizing it was me?

"I was never that skinny!" Pretty much what I think every time I look at a picture of myself at any weight that is lower than my current weight. (Get that?)

What the Hell is Going On?

Why am I this way? No one knows. This syndrome affects men and women equally. It's plagued me my entire adult life and it stinks. Now that I'm losing weight with my lap band (18 pounds so far) I have to ask other people if I look smaller. That really stinks! Right now I'm depending on my 7 year old daughter to tell me how I look. And she always says, "beautiful!" I love that kid, but its hardly a foolproof system.

I talked to my therapist about this, and she said "It's sad you couldn't enjoy how you looked when you looked great." Boy, is she right. I've mentioned before that I had a short run-in with anorexia. The way I cured myself of that disorder was I accidentally saw myself in a 3 way mirror in a Sears dressing room and thought,"Jeez, that girl looks awful. Way too skinny!" After a moment, I realized it was me. I went right home and started eating. It wasn't long before I was on the brink of a weight problem. Yes, I went from dangerously underweight to overweight in a few, dedicated weeks. Sheesh!

Getting Better

My plan for now is to educate myself more on body dysmorphia. I've included links to some books on the disorder at the end of this post. And I'm going to use clothing size and frequent picture-taking to let myself know how I'm doing. Oh, and I'll ask my daughter how I look every day. It can't hurt to hear, "beautiful!" a little more often.

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