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Wellness > Mental Health

I Have Body Dysmorphia: Here’s How I Cope

Content warning: This story mentions body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and discussions of weight.

Like most girls, growing up, I always wanted to be skinny.

I never had a “modelesque body,” though. For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked at myself in the mirror unhappy with my physique, a feeling I know is all too familiar among my friends and role models. I grew up idolizing the thin, flat-chested celebrities and models I saw on Disney Channel, in J14 Magazine, and later on social media. Despite not having to face the volume of body discrimination plus-sized individuals do, I’ve still spent my life with a magnifying glass on my weight.

Paired with my extreme type-A personality and habit of pushing myself down, it’s no surprise I ended up with body issues. The fact is, society doesn’t exactly make it easy for women to love themselves, or even view their own bodies accurately. But like many other women, I wasn’t even aware of the term “body dysmorphia” until I was a teen — and at that point, it seemed too serious of a condition to label myself with. 

For those who aren’t totally sure what body dysmorphia means, it sounds more complex and specific than it really is. Body dysmorphic disorder, or body dysmorphia, can describe anyone who places an extreme focus on their body in a negative way, affecting their daily actions, emotions, and social behaviors. This includes constantly noticing changes in your body, whether they actually exist or not, and believing your “flaws” make you ugly and decrease your value as a human being. It’s about more than just disliking your body — body dysmorphia takes this hatred to a deeper, more personal level.

Now, I’ve always been insecure about my body, but my worries grew to new heights during (yep, you guessed it) the pandemic. When the world shut down, so did the constant buzz of my daily life. Like countless other young women, I became obsessed with my weight because, amongst all the uncertainty, it was a plan I could control. I started appreciating my “morning skinny,” tried out new eating regimens, and stuck to a daily workout plan, ensuring to look down at my tummy whenever I needed the motivation to keep going. 

I was convinced I’d suddenly become an uglier version of myself from 2020 — too big to be beautiful — when in reality, my weight gain didn’t affect my worth in the slightest and wasn’t even that noticeable or important to begin with.

Although my insecurities have plagued me for my entire life, that first COVID summer was the turning point, converting my body issues into a serious mental health problem that I wasn’t aware of. And unfortunately, when I look back at photos of myself from that summer, I initially forget how dissatisfied and obsessed I was — instead, my first thought is always, “Wow, I looked amazing. I wish I still looked like that now.”

My body dysmorphia calmed down during my freshman year of college, and didn’t spike again until the following summer, when I gained weight from starting birth control. Suddenly, I could no longer fit into my favorite bras, clothes, and bathing suits, and I returned to the same level of obsession as the previous summer. I was convinced I’d suddenly become an uglier version of myself from 2020 — too big to be beautiful — when in reality, my weight gain didn’t affect my worth in the slightest and wasn’t even that noticeable or important to begin with. And yes, my budding new relationship helped me regain confidence. But this time, my body issues lingered as a consistent state of dissatisfaction, as opposed to a boredom-induced, momentary fixation.

Believe it or not, I still had no clue I was experiencing body dysmorphia at this point — even when I once again became committed to filling my Apple Watch workout rings every day, in an effort to shrink my body back to its state in high school. My moderate-level body dysmorphia stayed consistent for a year as a permanent thought in the back of my head — but it wasn’t until I embarked on a semester abroad a few months ago that I realized I truly had a problem.

In my four months of traveling Europe, I ate each country’s cuisine no matter how unhealthy it was, and paid less attention to working out, all in an effort to soak up the unique experience. But as I noticed my daily meals degrading in nutrition, a tidal wave of body dysmorphia returned. When my sister came to visit me, my first question for her wasn’t “How are you?” — it was “Have I gained weight?” 

And despite her reassuring me, when I got home, I announced to my mom point-blank that I’d gained weight in order to prepare her for my worsened appearance. But to my surprise, she responded, “Actually, I think you lost weight.”

Above all, what matters is that I’m surrounding myself with love, and reminding myself how lucky I am to have a well-functioning body that remains in good health. 

That small interaction was the turning point for me — my lightbulb moment, my “eureka.” I have body dysmorphia. There’s no hiding from it now. For the past three years, my body issues have risen and fallen like a wave, but no matter what, they always lingered. 

I’d like to tell you I’m all better now, and that this realization has made me love my body more than ever before — a happy ending of sorts. But that’s not what happened. 

To this day, I still take every opportunity to overanalyze my body, and feel immense guilt whenever I eat something unhealthy or neglect to work out for a day. I cringe when I see my tummy in virtually every photo of me, and I do all this whilst maintaining a confident exterior. I still want to be “skinny,” and have to actively remind myself that while I may have looked my best in that 2020 summer, I certainly didn’t feel that way. 

But I only gained awareness of my issues recently, and acknowledgement is the first step. I’m continuing to fight those negative voices in my head by talking about my problems, breaking down the facade of confidence that was holding me back from complete honesty. I’ve started initiating conversations about body issues with my closest friends, consequently discovering that I’m not alone in the slightest. I’m reflecting by writing articles like these, expressing gratitude, and opening up in therapy. Plus, I’ve begun pursuing activities I enjoy, things that make me feel beautiful and confident — like dance and spin classes.

My relationship with food is still rough, but every journey to overcome an issue involves some setbacks — especially when the problem has been as long-lasting and all-consuming as this one. Above all, what matters is that I’m surrounding myself with love, and reminding myself how lucky I am to have a well-functioning body that remains in good health. 

For anyone struggling with body dysmorphia, I’m right there with you, along with many others around the world. But it’s time we silence the devil on our shoulders. Acceptance can only begin through reflection on our issues, reaching out to receive support, and most importantly, remaining thankful for the body we have.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.

Abby is a National Writer for Her Campus and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at Waterloo. As part of the Wellness team, she covers topics related to mental health and relationships, but also frequently writes about digital trends, career advice, current events, and more. In her articles, she loves solving online debates, connecting with experts, and reflecting on her own experiences. She is also passionate about spreading the word about important cultural issues such as climate change and women’s rights; these are topics she frequently discusses in her articles. Abby began producing digital content at BuzzFeed, where she now has over 300 posts and 60 million overall views. Since then, she has also written for various online publications such as Thought Catalog, Collective World, and Unpacked. In addition to writing, Abby is also a UX and content designer; she most frequently spends her days building innovative, creative digital experiences. She has other professional experiences ranging from marketing to graphic design. When she’s not writing, Abby can be found reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza. She’s also been a dancer since she was four years old, and has most recently become obsessed with taking spin classes.