Do I have body dysmorphia or am I just fat?
©Vivek / Adobe Stock
Do I have body dysmorphia or am I just fat?
When I look in the mirror, I see… A shape. I can’t clearly define this shape for you because it is always shifting, sometimes by the day, and sometimes by the hour. The only consistent detail is that I am always repulsed by it. I see shoulders blades large enough to land planes on. I see a back that is wider than the Sargasso Sea. I see myself standing before the image you find in a funhouse mirror; except this time, the mirror is not built that way. I am built that way.
The first time I noticed the size of my body I was 9 years old. I was at the very beginning of a competitive swimming career that would bring me as much joy as it brought me pain. I stood on the poolside amongst the other swimmers and realized that their stomachs did not have the same bulge as mine. They did not have tree trunks in place of thighs, and their arms were not more meat than bone. I took a deep breath and sucked in my stomach as much as physically possible. I have continued to suck in my stomach around others every time I have worn a swimming costume or fitted clothing ever since. That is 13 years of sucking in. 13 years I have been ashamed of the body I inhabit.
I was not diagnosed with Body Dysmorphia until the end of my teenage years. One day, amid a conversation about my insecurities, my therapist asked me what description the Police would share if I were to go missing. “5’4, white, obese, with no distinguishing marks.” She paused for a moment and asked, “And you really think you would match that description?” I nodded my head without missing a beat because I was not blind to the fact that others could see how much space I occupied.
She proceeded to tell me a version of what many friends, family members, boyfriends, and girlfriends have said to me over the years. “I do not see what you see.” “You are not fat, Jodie.” I swept the comment to the side as I have so many others. Of course, your loved ones will not tell you that you are fat in a world where fat equals bad. And as for my therapist, she knew more intimately than anyone else what self-destruction I was capable of when I felt ashamed or insulted. Why would she take the risk and tell me the truth? I was, and still, am, fat.
I am hesitant to admit that I have body dysmorphia. I can’t fathom how anyone could see anything other than what I see. I am almost certain that the Doctors that diagnosed me did so in a plan to humiliate me by attempting to make me believe I’m not fat so that they and everyone else can laugh in secret about me being delusional and stupid.
I’m aware that this belief is also delusional and irrational, but that doesn’t make it disappear. Every time I try to pull back the veil that traps my thoughts about my body, I hear an echo of the boys in my Year 10 PE class who named me ‘The Beast.’ And I was much skinnier when that label came into being.
I have spent many hours thinking about taking a pair of scissors to my stomach and cutting out the flesh I don’t want. I have declined many invitations to see loved ones because I have not been able to leave the house and bare the shame I feel when others look at me. I have angered and bored partners with the excessive force of my self-hatred. I have spent years in the throes of disordered eating and bulimia, years I won’t ever get back. The most insane part is that even now, 4 years after diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I still can’t tell if the Doctors just assigned me Body Dysmorphia Disorder to make me feel better about being fat. Do I have body dysmorphia or am I just fat? I am very, very fat, aren’t I?
“Body dysmorphia doesn’t obey logic”
I know that ‘obese’ is a word doctors use to demonize fat people and that the thoughts that I have surrounding my body reek of internalized fatphobia. I know that these thoughts do not reflect my belief that every human has the right to exist in the body of their choosing. I understand that this comes from being put on a no-carb diet at the age of 14 because my swim coach believed I carried more weight than I should. I know that it also comes from being weighed by this coach every Friday evening and being reprimanded when the number increased.
I have spent a lot of time in therapy trying to unlearn these prejudices, trying to remember that I do not perceive fat as a negative in other bodies and I need to award myself that same respect.
I know logically that I am very privileged to exist in this body, despite what I think about it. I know logically that I have not faced the same discrimination and accessibility issues as others. But body dysmorphia doesn’t obey logic.
Jodie Hare is a postgraduate student currently working towards an MA in Modern Languages, Literature, and Culture at King’s College London.