Like many women (as well as men), I’ve suffered with body dysmorphia throughout my life. Not just unhappiness with the way my body looks, but preoccupation with that unhappiness, as well as a biased, almost “caricature” view of what my body actually looks like. This is my story.
I am 30 years old, and while I don’t weigh myself very often, I average around 150 pounds. I’m 5’7” and my measurements are 32” (bust) 27” (waist) 43” (hips). My inseam is a mere 29”, meaning I have short legs and a long torso. According to the fashion magazines I read when I was younger, this makes me pear shaped.
I’m considered both “skinny” by some and “plus-sized” by others. Regardless, what’s on top and what’s on the bottom are crudely jammed together like pieces from two different puzzles.
I wear a size 10 – 12 pants, depending on brand. I wear a size “small” shirt. I’ve always worn bikinis, in order to select tops and bottoms of different sizes. When I buy dresses, I have to find a size that fits in the hips and then alter the top on my sewing machine to fit. Frequently, dresses that are large enough to fit me in the hips have a scooping neckline to accommodate a woman with a much larger chest. Don’t get me started on trying to wear a strapless dress.
Kids Can Be So Cruel
I remember a kid on the playground making fun of my “big butt” in fourth grade. In middle school when the other girls developed, I remained “flat-chested.” I distinctly remember wanting to disappear as I heard snickers and taunts behind me in Middle School Gym class, as we ran laps to Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s ubiquitous hit. In high school, a girl told me that my “jeans [were] so tight, [she could] see my tampon string.” I don’t feel like I was a victim to bullying any more than most, but I’ve been out of high school for 13 years and I still have vivid recollections of these hurtful sentiments.
Looking back, I wonder if I became “the weird girl” to avoid being compared to other girls. When I started high school I was very interested in fashion — I remember phone calls to my best girlfriends discussing the latest trends — but by graduation I stuck to jeans and t-shirts, usually adding an extra layer of a hoodie or oversized army shirt on top.
My younger sister did not have the same body type. She was certainly never called “flat-chested,” to put it… mildly. My well-meaning mother once stated that I was “the smart one” and my sister “the pretty one.” My father, repeated this sentiment as he introduced me to someone just a few months ago. He assured me he was only joking. Horrified and humiliated by the implications, I meekly informed him that I’d rather be referred to as “the artist.”
I’ve been reduced to my body-type by men: both those I was in a relationship with and complete strangers. When I broke up with a boyfriend, his words were, “Goodbye, Corey’s ass.” I inferred that was the thing he’d miss the most about me. Even more debilitating was a boy who turned me down outright, with no pretenses, by telling me he only liked “curvy” girls with bigger breasts.
Starting in high school, I wrote zines and published blog posts about being anti-label, anti-fashion, anti-make up. Sometimes identifying with feminists and sometimes not, I rejected and rebelled against an idealized female body type, a crusade made easier since I was too broke to have a TV. My chosen uniform of t-shirts and jeans continued and was further cemented in college when I got into punk rock, first dyeing my hair hot pink, then bright blue.
Perhaps dying my hair was my subconscious request to the rest of the world: “Don’t judge me by your preconceived standards of beauty!” it shouted to whomever would listen. But louder still was the harsh inner critic that still lived within my head.
Years later, when I got married, and later became pregnant, I felt increasingly aware of my body — and in less control of it than ever, thanks to the adorable little parasite growing in my womb.
After my son was born, I was happy to lose the baby-weight fairly easily, and more or less returned to my pre-pregnancy size before his first birthday. Motherhood came with new things to dislike about my body (wider hips, stretch marks and a tummy, to name a few.) I felt more confident as an adult, but somehow I still didn’t like how I looked.
Over the last four years I have started to carry myself with more pride and even learned to “dress my body” better, (that is to say, to use fashion to “trick” the viewer’s eye into believing that I’m closer to the beauty standard) and yet, when it comes down to it, I’m no happier with this body than I was at 14.
I can place the blame on society, on the media, the status quo. I can cite examples of bullying both from mean girls in middle school and misguided ex-boyfriends. But placing that blame doesn’t earn me any self-respect. It doesn’t change what I see when I look in the mirror. Unfortunately, neither do the plentiful and sincere compliments from my incredible husband. As the popular Buddhist tenant goes, “Change comes from within.”
I welcome change. I’m working on that change. It’s hard. I first imagined this blog post over a year ago. As many of the craft and DIY blogs that I followed seemed to switch their focus to fashion, the part of me that had drafted so many ‘zine articles years before began to fidget uncomfortably once again.
Many of my friends and colleagues within the blogging world started featuring “What I Wore Today” blog posts, and deciding that I could represent an alternative style and body-type, I followed suit, telling myself I was sort of a “Punk Rock DIY Fashion Model.”
“If I’m wearing things from thrift stores,” I justified, “it’s OK.” My husband took an interest in the photography side of things and I found that I actually enjoyed posing and editing the photos. I actually felt a little bit like a fashion model, and the response from the small number of photos I posted made me feel great.
What made me feel less than great was looking through the failed shots that didn’t make the cut. Each photo shoot yields maybe 10% of usable photos. What had started as an exercise to improve my own self-confidence and represent an alternative to the media’s standard of beauty was, in actuality, making me focus even harder on my body’s flaws.
My inner critic screamed louder than ever.
And it’s still screaming as I write this. After posing for photos in my underpants today to illustrate this post, I was in tears when I previewed the images, in spite of the empowerment I felt at the start of the shoot. It’s very difficult for me to look at my hips and thighs and not utter the “F-word” (you know which one I mean.)
But it’s time to change the way I look at my body.
Today, I’m posting photos of myself in my underpants. Because it’s high time to shut that inner critic up. I presented this challenge to myself, as I said, over a year ago, and it’s taken me this long to build up the confi– no, let’s say willpower to actually go through with it.
I’m not seeking support or fishing for compliments. The goal of my personal challenge is self-acceptance and these photos are intended to represent a non-sexualized, non-edited view of my body as it actually looks. Today, I will scream to whomever will listen, “This is what I actually look like and I’m OK with that!” The point of this sudden burst of exhibitionism is not a decision to show off my body, but instead, a decision to NOT hide or camouflage it.
This is what I look like.
This body, the arbitrarily assigned flesh and bones determined by my genes is what I look like. It is not who I am.
Who I am, the person I am inside, is the book reading music lover who laughs too hard at cartoons and loves both code and poetry. Some of these traits may have been influenced by my genes, but ultimately they make me who I am because I have decided they do.
According to wikipedia, “In clinical psychology and positive psychology, self-acceptance is considered the prerequisite for change to occur. It can be achieved by stopping criticizing and solving the defects of one’s self, and then accepting them to be existing within one’s self. That is, tolerating oneself to be imperfect in some parts.”
Change comes from within.
I cried when I first looked at these photos, but the more that I looked at them, the more I began to recognize something truly unique: I began to recognize myself.