This week is mental health awareness week, and the focus this year is on body image. I’ve never really talked about my issues with body image before, and I think the reason for that is mainly because I felt ashamed. I was worried that people would think I was vain, or that I was just attention seeking. But now, I’m ready to talk, to open up about what it really feels like to have body dysmorphia. Obviously everyone’s experience is different, but I’m going to explain what it was like for me. So to do this, here are two versions of exactly the same story…
I woke up one morning and carried out my usual routine of getting up, getting dressed, and then going downstairs for breakfast. But on my way down, I refused to look at the figure in the mirror at the bottom of the stairs. I couldn’t face it on that occasion. I was scared of what I would see. So I had breakfast and set off to school. While I was walking past a shop window, I caught a glimpse of a figure. I recognised it instantly. Hideous, ugly. Yep, that was me. I didn’t want to carry on with my journey. I didn’t want other people to see me. Every window I walked past, I saw the same figure. Hour after hour, all I could think about was what other people were thinking when they saw me. I didn’t blame them if they didn’t want to come and talk to me – who would? When evening came, I was glad to be back in my house and out of sight. I was relieved that nobody had to see me, and I was relieved when it was time to close my eyes and go to sleep. The next day, I woke up and again, carried out my usual routine. This time though, I did look in the mirror at the bottom of the stairs. Actually, I looked ‘ok’. It looked completely different to the figure I had previously seen. I had breakfast, and walked out of the door, my head a little higher than the day before. On my way to school, I saw the reflection in the shop windows but today, I didn’t see an ugly, hideous figure. Today, it was just ‘ok’. I still wondered what people thought when they saw me, but I didn’t hold the same fear as I had previously done. When I got home, I was relieved that I still looked ‘ok’, but apprehensive of how my body would look the next day.
I woke up one morning and carried out my usual routine of getting up, getting dressed and then going downstairs for breakfast. I wasn’t feeling great that day. I was upset because I hadn’t done very well on one of my exams, and I was really missing someone close to me who I had lost a few years before. But I had breakfast, and set off to school. All the way, I still had these feelings of failure, of grief, and of pain. I was anxious to go to school in case someone asked me about my grade. I didn’t feel like speaking to anyone that day, and I just wanted to go home. So when evening came, I went to my room and had a little cry. I was relieved when it was time to close my eyes and go to sleep. The next day, I woke up to a lovely message from one of my friends. As I got dressed, I remembered that today I had 2 hours of my favourite subject at school. I also remembered that It was a Thursday, which meant going to my favourite orchestra after school. I was feeling better about the day and was looking forward to what was ahead. At times, I was still a little anxious, but I was feeling mostly positive. When I got home, I was relieved to still be feeling happy and relaxed, but also apprehensive about what would happen the next after.
Written down, it seems so obvious. Somehow, on days where I felt more stressed, my perception of my body was so much more distorted. It was as if I was looking into the mirror of feelings. But for a long time, I didn’t actually realise that these two things were linked. I genuinely believed that one day, I could look ugly and hideous, and the next, I could actually look ‘ok’. Nowadays, there are still times when I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. But instead of panicking, instead of doing my hardest to not be seen, I ask myself how I’m really feeling, and what it is that’s going on in my life that I may be stressed or worried about. Equally, if I look in the mirror and I’m happy with what I see, I ask what things are going on in my life that are making me feel happy, settled and positive. Who would have thought that body image actually allows me to understand my feelings more? It does seem strange, but the way I feel about my body really does seem to reflect my emotions at the time!