Growing up with body Dysmorphia

A pre warning that this post has talk about eating disorders and problems with body image. It is my own personal journey that is in a constant state of being worked on and is not meant to be be taken as medical or mental health advice. If you are suffering, please reach out to a professional.

Growing up with an eating disorder is hard. The truth is that most of us have done it regardless of if we know it or not. Even teen magazines promoted these kinds of things when I was a kid in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But body dysmorphia effects our lives in ways that we dont even think about. It tells us that we are not worthy unless we meet a goal and it sets that goal for us, making us think that we set it ourselves. It is the other side of the coin from the hustle culture; making us constantly work for a goal that is not only mostly unachievable, but also destructive and unnecessary. Growing up was….weird for me. When I was young we moved to Germany and, as we weren’t military, I went to a school with all other kinds of people. One of my best friends there was an english girl. She was Beautiful….like really beautiful. Skinny. Blond. Gorgeous. Talented. I sang back up for her in talent shows. We took the tram and had non alcoholic cocktails together at this dingy little shop where the booths were like boxes we would sit in after ballet and point class. We started taking Diet Pills together. We were 13. I knew that people treated me well because I was with her and because she was her. I wanted to be like that. My parents even thought that this would be good for me. Maybe they wanted me to fit in. Maybe they just wanted me to look like all of my friends and cousins.

I found out after we reconnected a decade later that she had been suffering the same thing and had gone to treatment for an eating disorder. The sick part is that my first thought was that she even did that better than me. Because even you killing yourself becomes a goal when those thoughts are engrained.

It didn’t stop there. Even when I moved back to the states at 16 I was constantly trying to shrink myself down. My mothers body had started to change and she was freaking out about it. We were constantly on diets…like it was some kind of bonding. Like somehow a 45 year olds body was supposed to look like a 20 year olds body before she had had children. When I started experimenting with Drugs I remember someone telling me just how skinny I had gotten in delight. Not that I was using. Just that I looked good. That faded though when I got to college and recovered from my breif period of rebellion. Something else set in then. The school gym. Where I would spend hours a day on tread mills and on weights and doing classes. Yes it was better for me but at the time I also decided to cut a lot of stuff out of my diet. I found out I was lactose intolerant and stopped eating dairy. Then I got into animal rights which was wonderful! But Veganism also became a way for me to restrict myself and make food rules. It was just a more ethical excuse for me.

These cycles kept going out of school and though I love to cook and ended up going to culinary school, I was also constantly in a state of restricting myself. Saying that I would just taste it but not eat it. I remember being in school and when we tasted the dishes I would spit them out. When I got into my late 20’s though, I was depressed and decided to combat this with goals and excersize. By this time the yo yo dieting had caught up with me and I was having more weight problems. It was “To get fit” but also, secretly, I longed for the days that I was hopped up on drugs and was skinny and therefore “At my best”.

I wish I could say I wised up after that but the truth is that when my divorce rolled around, I actually made myself worse. It wasn’t out of some misplaced “I’m going to make him regret it” either. It was beating the crap out of myself. I was average 35-40 miles a week on almost no food. I was constantly moving so that I didn’t deal with my own thoughts. I didn’t want to ‘ruin’ my work out with food. Again, even this was supported by society and by my parents who I had moved back in with. I “Looked great” even though I was dying inside, leading myself to a brutal knee injury on a race that a year before had been the best experience of my life. After the injury I was scared to death of gaining weight, which I did not only because I was not running as fast but actually in a good relationship with a man that likes food and to eat. Because I was happy. Still though, and this is the real trick on growing up with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, I was SURE that if I gained weight, he wouldn’t want me even though I know thats not true.

Thats the real trick of all of these problems and growing up in a society that holds these kinds of pressures over women. Even though you are smart, funny, talented and capable; even though you know better, you will always have that nagging thought taking up energy in the back of your heard. You will always want to get back to that Ideal even if it was too long ago or wasn’t even healthy at the time. This is the true curse. Knowing this and still constantly fighting them with two different parts of your mind.

Even now, when I write about these things, I still feel them. I still get defensive and explain myself when my father asks me as a 33 year old if I’m really going to eat that. Knowing really is only half the battle. It is truly understanding that these thoughts are yours and not yours at the same time, that you can know but still feel guilty, that you can talk about it while still going through the experience that will make you stronger. That being said there are things that I feel like are important to know when dealing with eating issues.

Diet Culture and “hustle” culture make us think that we constantly need to be working. We live in a culture of Hustle. Most of all in my generation and lower. When our parents and grandparents were our ages, they normally had houses, kids and were settled into a career that they would keep until they retired by now (Ha! Retirement that’s funny). We on the other hand have been taught that not only should we have our jobs and our families but we should also have a side hustle. This constant culture of projects has expended into how we treat our bodies- as a project. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. I love a new work out challenge and I am positively addicted to my new balance board, but when those projects become a constant push for the ideal, you have a problem. You do not always have to push. You do not always have to write a goal and get to it. Your body is not part of your side hustle.

Your Body is Supposed to change. Over time. Over different seasons. Different hormonal cycles. A woman that is in her 40s does not need to have no body fat and think that she should look like someone on a tv show in their 20’s. Your body ages, changes, and adapts. All of the people that you see on tv are different. Someone saying that someone “Looks good for their age,” Typically means they look younger because that is what we idealize. It does not mean that its normal and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is actually healthy. After you have a child you can not and should not expect your body to go back. Yet for some reason there is an entire market dedicated to this completely natural and normal change.

It is totally fine and normal to think about food. Specifically without thinking about how we are going to deprive ourselves. Evolutionarily, this is how we survived! We were always thinking about our next meal, what it was going to be and where it was going to come from. It is more than okay to like food. We are hardwired to like it and have cravings. Those are the things that were hard for us to find for thousands of years. You can’t break evolution in 100 years. And it is unreasonable to try to.

Making yourself “Small”. find this very interesting from a female prospective, though this obviously effects men as well. When we are taught to make ourselves small physically, we are taught to make our voices and our very essence smaller. I personally think that women are given these things as a distraction. We spend so much time on our looks and how we appear because it takes our time away from other things. Things that would make us united and strong. How are we supposed to fight for our rights and see ourselves as equal to men if we are constantly being told that there needs to be improvement. Yes this happens to men as well but there is a completely different level when it comes to women. There has been the stereotype that women are taught to judge other women but we are taught to judge ourselves so much more, which is going to make anyone feel inferior!

Exercise is not a cure for eating. This is something that I struggled with for a long time and something that I still have to remind myself of at least once a week. Exercise is to make you strong. It is not to make you thin. It has no space for “removing” weight. Yes that is a by product of it sometimes but you can not exercise your way out of a body type. You should not exercise because you ate. Food might be fuel but it so not something to be burnt away with exercise.

Understand what got you to where you are…but know that its your job to move past it. This is one of the biggest lessons I have had to learn over the years. Often times I’m racked with guilt over saying really where my negative thoughts, bad relationship with food and exercise came from. It feels like I’m blaming my parents for how they raised me and not taking my own responsibility for the choices that I made. This is unfair to both myself and my parents. It puts all the blame on them and makes me into a sniveling, lacking will by-standard. But that is not that I am and thats certainly not what they set out to do. For years I struggled with these two sides of the same coin until I realized that yes, it is their fault. And they are their parents fault and so on and so forth. They projected their own values on me, which is exactly what parents are expected to do. It is my choice though to be the same or to confront these issues, take them as they are and fight tooth and nail to change my own behavior so that I don’t continue this cycle of self hatred.

With all of this it is still hard to remember just what eating disorders are not only because of how we are raised and socialized but also because of the greater construct of diet culture around us. Diet culture is something that can sometimes be as obvious as the headlines on the cover of magazines: Summer Body in 14 days! Walk the pounds off! Abs like {insert celebrity}. But it is also little constant reminders that we unconsciously tell ourselves because they are so built into our normal talk that we don’t even notice it as diet talk anymore. We constantly comment on peoples weight, their appearance as if it is a huge part of their personality.

I would encourage people to really look at the phrases below and think about how many times they have said them, who they have said them to (themselves or others) And think about the effects of them and where they came from without judgement of yourself. Of course so many of these things are well intentioned. I like to think that people have good intentions in general, but it doesn’t mean what comes out is not damaging. Sometimes they can even seem like we are taking care of ourselves but when we examine where they come from and either we really mean them for ours or others health or what we perceive as the ideal. Really think about these before you say them and it becomes obvious just how much these comments are unintentional said and how diet culture permeates our lives:

  • You look Great! Have you lost weight?
  • Are you really going to eat that?
  • I feel bloated. I shouldn’t have eaten that.
  • I’ll buy that when I fit into a size 4.
  • I ate too much. I need to go to the gym/ I’m eating tonight. I should go to the gym first.
  • I can’t eat that. So and sos wedding is coming up.
  • I need to get back to 110 pounds like I was in high school.
  • I need to lay off the carbs/sugar/dairy/whatever

Body Dysmphia is something that we have not because of how we are born looking at ourselves but because we are taught that there is a homogouness sort of beauty that we all need to conform to. Even when we look at race in the beauty industry we see what we consider beautiful in a eurocentric culture. Thin, small noses, thin lips, smooth skin. All of these things are white characteristics that we have determined are what we consider beautiful. Plus sized models are still held back from much of fashion. Curvy models….forget it. African, Native or Prolonizen traits are submerged under this wave of idealized, perception of beauty.

All of these things, all of these engrained behaviors are something that we are taught over time, things that we are bombarded with every day, especially as women, even more and woman of color and even as males. We are endoctronated into this world and taught that it is just the way that the world is, but thats not true. People do find other things beautiful culturally and as individiduals.

What we must remember is that these thoughts are in our head, but they are not ours. There are multiple voices that have influenced our own thoughts. This is something that I tell everyone that I talk to about eating disorders and body dysmorphia. We have to know that they are in our heads…always. That they are something that we have to fight against every day and remind ourselves of in spite of the fact that those around us are still screaming these messages into out heads.

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