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My Struggles with Body Dysmorphia and How I’m Learning to Combat It

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault & Body Dysmorphia

When I was seventeen, I used to work out daily to gain the “perfect body,” I would spend each day running in the morning and then spend the evenings working out aggressively in the gym. No matter how hard I tried, I could not gain a bigger butt or more muscular arms. I began to feel weak, squeamish, and lethargic at all times. I could not understand why I felt so low until my doctor told me that I had been rapidly losing weight. The reason: I was barely eating anything. 

I had started a ‘vegan diet’ to be healthier, and I found myself physically starving myself by eating tiny meals full of sparse vegetables that lacked substance. I was not hungry and felt incredibly in control each time I limited my food intake. At the time, my life was flowing in and out of chaos, and I could not find a stable and trusting spot to relax. Therefore, I was obsessed with control. In my head, I believed that if I had power, I would be able to combat any new battle or unexpected trauma. However, that proved to be incredibly untrue when my physical health began to deplete as the days went on.

As my doctor communicated that I had lost about seven pounds within seven months, I had to face myself and own up to the truth: I was starving. Soon after, I dropped my vegan diet and stopped working out altogether. However, I did not deal with the problem firsthand; I merely bandaged it with a brave face. I had no idea how deep the wound truly went.

As I walked into my previous college’s freshman year, I found myself wanting to give up my feminine traits. I did not want to wear makeup, style my hair, or even dress femininely. I did not consciously make these decisions, but instead subconsciously made them as a coping mechanism. Similar to Lady Macbeth, I wanted the universe to ‘unsex me.’ I tried to find a place where I was powerful, without the ‘weakness’ of being feminine. I found myself ceasing to make close connections with anyone and kept myself at a distance. I embodied a cold exterior and felt potent when I wore large hoodies and big sneakers. 

woman leaning on door looking out onto the city
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz from Unsplash

When I was a sophomore in college, art imitated life, and I experienced a miscarriage. As my cold exterior broke into a thousand little pieces, I began to realize why I had given up my femininity in the first place—or tried to. 

I was raped when I was seventeen years old. 

It was something I had hid and suppressed for three years. I tried to communicate my confusion to my friends, but they expressed that ‘I wanted it.’ Therefore, I buried it and begged whatever God was above me to take those parts out of me. I hated my body and truly felt that each piece of it was ugly.

I also came to discover that, over time, I had developed body dysmorphic disorder.

Throughout my self-reflection period, I decided that a way to overcome my body dysmorphia would be to fully face what happened to me. I was so ashamed of myself for ‘putting up with it’ and felt that my purity was something I could never regain. I realized I had a long way to go before I could sincerely love myself; these demons needed to be faced.

How did I do it? I dove back into the past. I crawled my way into the scenes of my early life when I was dressed up by my mother as a Barbie doll. I found myself analyzing the times I was placed on a stage with several other pageant participants; eyelashes were glued on my face for every performance. I pushed into the periods of my rejections from every man I liked, correlated it with my recurring name-calling. They called me a ‘monkey.’

My self-love had depleted at a very young age, and I was twenty years old when I realized that. I found myself striving to be loved by everybody, and when my virginity was ripped from my hands, I decided that it would be better to not be loved by anybody.

As I discovered each hidden ghost in the cemetery of my brain, I mourned them. Each childhood pain, all the shame, and guilt I carried, and the time I felt that I lost the thing most near and dear to my heart. I stopped pretending they didn’t exist, and I realized that to move on, I had to accept the ‘ugly.’ 


This article does not consist entirely of self-care tips because I genuinely believe that sexual assault goes much deeper than that. 

As I began to speak out about my truth, certain women around me unearthed that they had suppressed similar experiences as well. We began to have meaningful conversations, which prompted us to achieve the proper help that we needed. 

The second part of overcoming my body dysmorphia was heavily communicating my emotions. I would discuss the subject with my therapist, friends, and I even began writing about it. As I found myself validating my feelings on my own, I stopped blaming myself for the incident. Knowing that I wasn’t alone helped me realize that I can get through this. I began to awaken my inner power: the fiery beginning of my self-love.

I am still on my journey to loving myself and my body. However, certain daily rituals aid me in embedding self-care frequently. 

I make sure that I either workout or run daily. As I have grown this past summer, I have realized exercising is a healthy outlet for me to generate self-love, without trying to impress anyone else. Exercising helps me remember that my body belongs to me and that nobody can take it from me ever again. 

I also utilize journaling as a form of self-reflection and mirror meditations. While staring at my body in the mirror, I realize it is merely a vessel that I carry my beautiful soul in. It does not have to be perfect. How can I expect my skin to be flawless when I am continually transforming on the inside? 

I have slowly begun experimenting with makeup again and observing how I feel with each foundation smear. 

I am excited to continue shedding skin and finding imaginative ways to regain a robust relationship with myself. The truth is that there is no “right” way to love yourself, but facing your inner darkness is an essential first step to take. 

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Hi, I'm Serena! I am an English major, and love theatre very much as well! I am writing for this magazine as a personal therapeutic outlet, but also to help others! Feel free to message me if my writing touches you or helps you in any way!
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