Body dysmorphia. It is very real. The “professional” definition is obsession over appearance and body image and it is classified as a mental disorder. Perceived flaws can cause us to unnecessarily stress and can keep us from enjoying life to the fullest. Some people have extreme cases of it that manifests as anorexia. While others of us have mild cases that are as a result of weight loss that we just haven’t adjusted to.
Some causes of body dysmorphia are introversion (ha – introvert I am not), perfectionism (ha- I try), or a more extreme cause of childhood abuse or neglect. That is not the type of body dysmorphia I am talking about. I am talking about the most common form which those of us who have lost weight experience. We have viewed ourselves one way for years and it is hard to accept the new view.
Basically, what happens is our brain likes to take shortcuts because it is busy doing lots of stuff at once and needs a way to save time and energy. I looked in the mirror for 18 years and my brain saw the fat girl over and over. So, after a while the brain registers that and doesn’t need to look so closely because, hey, nothing has changed. Until it does. Then stuff gets confusing.
It’s like pattern recognition – you know those memes that leave all the vowels out but we can still read what it says? Our brain knows what we look like so it takes the shortcut and shows us what we have always seen. But what happens when reality changes? We start seeing a combination of the old us and the new us and we have trouble making the connection.
I have lost 105 pounds. I went from a Size 20W to a size 4 and I look in the mirror some days and see something I don’t like or just feel I am still big or that everything looks thick. I pick up clothes off the rack and think they won’t fit because they look so small, yet in the dressing room they go right on. I look in the dressing room mirror and I see my flab and I see myself wearing the size 4 or 6 and then I think to myself, “This brand must run big.” I know that is ridiculous, but that is what I am dealing with lately.
I literally need to speak out loud to myself when I am having fat days, and I have to say, “Mary! You lost 105 pounds, you are not huge anymore!” Then, for real, I go in my closet and I look at the tags on the clothes hanging in there to SEE the sizes. Then I go back to the mirror and try to see myself the way I am now. Don’t get me wrong this is not a daily thing. Most days I can see the drastic difference in myself and I am proud of how far I have come, but some days there is just a little nagging voice that gets to me.
People tell me things like, “Wow! Every time I see you, you are just tinier and tinier!” Listen, in 18+ years I was NEVER called “tiny” – I have always been the opposite of tiny. My husband will walk up to me and hug me and say something like, “You’re just a little thing now.” Ha! It’s not like I am petite, but compared to where I came from, I can begin to accept that he really sees that.
My brain is registering all these things and to help it along I take pictures. I know some people detest selfies, but for me, I need to take them. I need to make the side by sides so I can SEE the new image that the mirror doesn’t let me see 100% all the time. The more I look at pictures of the old me and the new me, the more I recognize my new size, the chance of seeing my self as I really am improves. Taking pictures and measurements is a great way to train the brain and getting it to recognize the new image.
My hope is that one day I will look in the mirror and all I see is the new me. And if I want to remember the old me, I will need to look at a picture.