I can genuinely say that I feel really grateful for my appearance and body. I feel more confident in myself than I ever have and I don’t let BDD dictate what I do or don’t do anymore.
My first memory of BDD symptoms was when I was out shopping with my Mum and I noticed people looking at me as they walked past. I remember telling my Mum constantly that, “Everyone is staring at me” and I wanted to leave. This happened every time I was in large social settings and it became a huge effort to go out. My Mum would always tell me that it was possible they were admiring me or my outfit and that everyone who meets me tells her how beautiful I am. These were comments I constantly brushed off as classic ‘Mum talk’.
I don’t remember a time when I ever felt content or happy about my body and appearance. During my High School years, I was bullied about my weight, my appearance and, later, my intellect. Comments were made like: “No amount of makeup will fix your ugly face”; “It’s actually disgusting how fat she is”; “She’s so dumb she actually doesn’t deserve to be here” and jokes about me doing further Maths. These were, unfortunately, things I heard daily. Those comments, on top of the pressures every normal teenager faces, were enough to cause me to enter a very damaging spiral.
“I would go home and try to find ways that I could look more like them because, in my mind, they looked so much better than me.”
My focus completely shifted to my physical appearance because that seemed to be everyone else’s focus on me. I began purging. I thought if I lost heaps of weight, I wouldn’t get bullied anymore and I would be happy and skinny like everyone else. That was my mentality and I stuck to it for a very long time. One of my best traits is that I’m extremely self-motivated and one of the my worst is that I can be extremely stubborn – if I want to do something, I’ll do it and I’ll do it until I’ve pushed myself to my absolute limit. I lasted about a month or two of skipping lunches at school and heading to the bathroom after dinner before I realised that nothing had changed; I was physically and emotionally wrecked. I then looked for the next fix and began to spend hours every single night Googling ways to lose weight fast including diets, pills, surgeries… anything I could find. I would spend hours looking at myself in the mirror thinking of things I could get done and changes I could make from head to toe. At school, I was constantly jealous of other girls and friends of mine, which caused me to become incredibly introverted. I would go home and try to find ways that I could look more like them because, in my mind, they looked so much better than me.
University came around and that brought on a slew of more insecurities. These insecurities were in the form of dating, boys and social gatherings. Social situations were always very difficult for me. I was very good at putting on a front and saving face (a bit too good) and going from the dancefloor, into a taxi, then into bed and crying myself to sleep; this became an all-too-familiar weekend routine. Pool parties, beach days, and beach houses were a no-go zone for me and even the clothes I wore became incredibly limited. This was all so I didn’t risk friends looking at me and thinking I was fat.
“My preparation was extreme dieting and exercising and a mirror analysis most nights”
When beach days or pool parties came around I would always go into a panic. I hated events that weren’t planned weeks in advance because I needed time to prepare. My preparation was extreme dieting and exercising and a mirror analysis most nights. One of the biggest turning points for me was a friend’s birthday party in Cape Schanck. It was a Hawaiian themed party and everyone was going, including the guy I liked. I got the invite weeks in advance and started preparing my diet and exercise routine. I exercised for 1-2 hours a day and ate very few calories every day, often causing me to feel faint or to pass out mid-workout. For the first time ever, I felt like I could go to the event, be in a bikini and look somewhat okay next to everyone else. It was a huge deal for me to reach that point and I worked myself to the bone those two weeks for it. The night before I had my best friend’s 21st birthday and we were all leaving in the morning, so I had my bags pre-packed. I was doing my makeup when I got hit with the comment, “Exercises every day and still looks that fat”. After weeks of putting myself through hell, that broke me. I wiped away my tears, finished my makeup and went to the 21st with a happy face on and pretended that work had called me in to cover shifts and I couldn’t come to the weekend away anymore. The reality was that I spent that whole weekend in bed crying. I was looking at photos of my friends having fun, becoming extremely jealous of their mentality, pretending I was at work and then crying. I never knew what it felt like to just be able to go to someone’s beach house on a whim and to have fun and I had come so close to experiencing that. I think I out-cried myself that weekend. Two days later I promised myself I would never allow myself to feel like that ever again.
Dating was a whole other situation. I always went in pretty confident with dating until it got to the intimate point and I would freak out. I thought that once they saw my body they would think, ‘Woah, she’s actually so fat and ugly’, which caused me to often try to leave my clothes on during sex. I wanted so badly to be confident and to express myself but I had been scared into not exposing my body and I couldn’t shake it off with anyone. Add one extremely toxic situation with a guy for five-six years into the mix and the spiral just got deeper. I started studying and comparing other girls he liked as though it was my job. Every single girl was a supermodel in my eyes and I got uglier and uglier with each comparison of each girl. I didn’t realise how bad it had become until mid-argument when this ex had to tell me to, “Stand up for yourself”. Things took an interesting turn when I began to get consistently slut-shamed. I had one ‘friend’ tell me that I “get around a lot” quite recently and that I “have nothing important to say” while another made a tree of people in our group who had hooked up and placed me in the centre, accompanied with judgmental comments and gossiping. Being slut-shamed by people I thought were my friends made me see myself as an object. I believe you are treated the way you allow others to treat you and I began to allow a lot of people to treat me like an object; I went along with a lot that I wasn’t okay with at the time.
“I had days when I really liked the way I looked but when you hear something enough you start to believe it.”
Although I always thought I was uglier than the average person and felt incredibly damaged from other people’s perceptions of me, I never wanted to change my physical appearance. I had days when I really liked the way I looked but when you hear something enough you start to believe it. I began to see everything I saw in the mirror in a negative light and assumed the role of someone that had zero self-esteem. That was the biggest mind twist for me. My mind shifted into being unhappy with myself because of other people, when in reality I feel like I’m the strongest and most confident person I know. Confidence to me has never been about being loud or being the centre of attention; it’s about being sure of who you are, your intentions, believing in yourself and backing that. I always knew deep down that I had something to offer and was going to get through the bullying and BDD and come out of it much stronger.
I haven’t got over BDD. I don’t think it never really goes away. I go through phases when I’m booking surgical consultations and cancelling them the next day and phases when I’m over-exercising and being too hard on myself. But then I go through phases when I’m wearing clothing that I never had the guts to wear before and feeling myself. Just the other day I was shopping with friends and as we were discussing what sizes we would be. The sales assistant came up to me and said, “You’re definitely an extra small, you’re tiny”. While many people might find that complimentary, I was about to reach for the medium size and was very taken aback that she looked at me and saw me as an extra small and labelled me as tiny. I became extremely nervous about trying the clothing on because I knew it wouldn’t fit me in the slightest. In actual fact, it was probably a bit too big and I had a moment in which I had to shift my mindset to be a bit kinder to myself.
I feel extremely proud of where I’m at today but it wasn’t easy and has taken me years of self-work and a shifting of priorities to get to the more relaxed mindset about physical appearance I have now. I skipped a lot of social events that made me uncomfortable. I don’t subscribe to influencers or brands that flaunt unrealistic bikini bodies on social media. I completely cut negative people who evaluate success as having an amazing job, boyfriend and being skinny from my circle. I have come to just focus on being single and finding my own limits and happiness without being influenced. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is just to be kind. You never know what people are going through; some people are just more vocal than others. Still, to this day, there are friends and people I’ve dated that would read this and have no idea I even remotely felt this way about myself or was going through BDD. I’ve also learned a hard lesson that – you are who you surround yourself with. The way you feel about life, yourself, your future is completely influenced by your conversations and experiences and, therefore, it’s so important to be around people who push the good sides of you. I’m extremely lucky to have a strong and supportive family and friendship base but I never take that for granted and I work to maintain those bond constantly.
Today, I live a very healthy lifestyle but I do that because I grew up in a healthy and active household. I have two doctor parents and was raised to take care of myself; not in order to look skinnier, but in order to live a stress-free life. I can genuinely say that I feel really grateful for my appearance and body. I feel more confident in myself than I ever have and I don’t let BDD dictate what I do or don’t do anymore. At the risk of sounding cliché, life really is too short to watch everyone else enjoy themselves. Oh and I also swam in that Cape Schanck pool for the first time a few months ago with no worries and it felt damn good!