That’s sort of a big, confusing looking word.
Body dysmorphia, also called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD for short), refers to an individual’s inability to perceive their body as it actually is, and is one of the predominant culprits behind eating disorders.
I remember the first time someone explained the concept of BDD to me. It was when I was most recently in residential treatment, and my case manager asked me if I knew anything about it. I wasn’t sure what it was, so she explained it to me and told me that we could demonstrate just how powerful of an effect it was having on my body image.
I shook my head, unable to keep a smile of slight derision from creeping its way on my face. She was so, totally, unbelievably wrong. Of course what I was seeing was real. Of course I believed my own eyes. Duh.
So we walked out into the lobby of the facility where I was staying and laid a giant piece of paper long enough for me to lay down on across the floor. She then offered me a selection of markers; I picked one and then, following her instructions and attempting to draw on some of my artistic ability, sketched the outline of where I saw my body when I looked in the mirror. The resultant figure was noticeably bloated, with a lot of distention around her stomach, which has always been the focal point of discomfort for me.
Then she told me to lie down sideways on the paper and began to trace my outline like I used to do with my friends and a piece of chalk when we were little, playing with shadows and making all kinds of funny poses. After she was done, I stood up, and we looked at the results.
This was not the only time we did this; I repeated it several more times over the course of my treatment, because it turned out to be the most powerful way of demonstrating to me that what I was seeing really wasn’t real.
Here is one of the tracings we did.
The red line is the line I drew and the green is the line she traced around me. You can see that there are certain areas where I wasn’t lying exactly straight, so it’s not a perfect demonstration of this concept. But the different is most notably obvious around the abdomen of the two sketches on the paper. You can see that the green figure is very obviously a fair degree thinner than the red one.
I was astonished to see this. I’ve always gone through life never doubting that what I was seeing was real. After all, if I couldn’t trust my own eyes, what and whom could I trust?
As it turns out, I could trust anyone who was supporting me, be they a professional or a friend, because they could see the real me in a way that I couldn’t. I’ve described it as if you’re wearing a pair of funny, obnoxious goggles. You’re the only one wearing them, and whenever you look at yourself through them, you see something completely different than what actually is right in front of you. And these goggles have unfortunately been fused to your face (ouch) so you can never truly see what everyone else is perceiving.
On Tuesday I met with my dietitian for my weekly appointment. We got to talking about how I was experiencing serious desires to go back to restricting and overexercising. Lately I’ve been dealing with extremely augmented urges to give in and use these two behaviors. There were even a couple of times where I wasn’t able to keep myself from doing so.
I sighed and said, “I know I see myself differently than everyone else sees me. I know that I’m not a very big person, but to me, it feels like I’m the biggest person in the room.”
She nodded her head, indicating for me to continue. “My mom sent me a picture the other day of me that she took,” I told her. “And when I looked at it, I was really surprised to see how different the girl in the picture looks than what I see every time I look in the mirror. She is very small. That can’t be how I really look.”
She looked at me curiously. “You know you’re a very, very thin person, right?”
I couldn’t help but make a small noise of incredulous disbelief. She smiled understandingly and repeated herself.
Small. The nature of BDD means that you feel like the literal elephant in the room, surrounded by a bunch of ants or something else comparatively tiny. You have those stupid goggles on that allow you to see everyone crystal clear, but when it comes time to recognize what you truly look like, you see a serious distortion of reality.
I was shocked and a little taken aback to hear her say what she did. It played back in my head like a song stuck on repeat. “You know you’re a very, very thin person, right?”
Nope. Not even close. I constantly feel like the most gargantuan person ever to exist on the face of planet Earth. This is a big part of what makes recovery so difficult. The weight you gain seems to realize your worst fears. You feel like you’re overcompensating and that the weight gain will never stop; it’s already too much. And you have to have this blind faith that the people are you really do have your best interests in mind, and that you’re doing what is right and healthy and good.
The girl I see in the mirror is not real. Rationally and logically, I know that. But eating disorders are very irrational things. They work hard to convince you that their horrible twist on reality is what’s actually true.
If you’re dealing with anorexia like I am, I highly advise you to try this body tracing activity. For me, it was tangible proof that I couldn’t refute. It was one thing to have people telling me that what I was seeing wasn’t real. It was another, way more powerful thing, to have an actual physical demonstration of this fact.
Stay strong, beautiful girl. You are going through the hardest thing to be asked of you. It’s going to be uncomfortable beyond your wildest beliefs. It’s going to be something that makes you want to give up nine times out of ten. It’s that time that you choose to fight that counts. Never give up on yourself. Your eating disorder is a liar. The reality is that you are beautiful, amazing, and perfectly unique just the way you are.