It's Not Vanity: My Struggle With Body Dysmorphic Disorder

I’m trying to finally let go of the irrationally obsessed moments wasted, all the self-hatred and wishing I was someone else.
Publish date:
February 5, 2014
self esteem, psychology, anorexia, body dysmorphic disorder, confidence, eating disorders

This article uses the words “myself” and “I” a lot. The word count feature on my computer couldn’t process it.

This is about my insecurity. I have body dysmorphic disorder, and only recently did I really realize what it was doing to my life. (Ruining it.) BDD is a form of OCD where you’re uncontrollably fixated on some aspect of your physical appearance to the point where it inhibits your daily functioning and makes you an all-around pretty miserable person deep down.

For me, what I obsess about changes from day to day. It’s a major pain and totally embarrassing to constantly feel the need to check something or change something or be someone else entirely. My form of BDD primarily affects my face/head/hair. I think I’m balding. I think I’m a beast. I think I look like a man. I think my face looks 55 years old. I need to check constantly. See if it got worse. See if it got better. The interruptions kill my productivity, but I do it anyway.

You can get a distorted view of yourself in a number of ways, and your eyes will conveniently zoom in on your perceived flaws. I never understood the expression about seeing the forest for the trees, but I think it’s applicable to BDD because you don’t look at the whole picture; you fixate and obsess, usually about one thing at a time.

The media is my biggest trigger, specifically the internet. There are so many pictures of “perfect” women; I can’t even read the news without a beautiful celebrity lurking in the sidebar to remind me of my perceived inferiority.

I was hospitalized for anorexia and still didn’t think I had a problem at 87 pounds. I honestly don’t even remember how I got there. I never wanted to lose weight or thought I was fat. I thought I looked really good at the time. I wasn’t depriving myself of anything in my mind. Body image had nothing to do with it, or so I thought.

I’m trying to finally let go of the irrationally obsessed moments wasted, all the self-hatred and wishing I was someone else, so I thought it would be therapeutic to talk about what happens when your brain dances the line where healthy vanity meets insanity.

I have such a ridiculously major complex about my appearance, and I’ve been like this since I was five years old, looking at my reflection in the rear view mirror of my mom’s Honda (this was back when parents put small children in the front seat). I remember thinking to myself, “I hope I’m pretty someday.” And I still feel that way.

For some reason, I have never had great self-esteem. What I did have was a great imagination, and boy did I let it go wild. I was brought up Catholic, so every Sunday we went to church. I couldn’t sit still, so to pass the time I would play a little game in my head--I like to call it “the hair game.” Basically, I would examine everyone in a room and pick whose hair I’d rather have. At 10AM Mass, it’s mostly elderly people, so the game actually can get challenging.

I haven’t been to church in ages, but I have been in public. I have ridden subways. I have watched television. I have read magazines. I follow Rihanna on Instagram. I see plenty of people I want to swap features with, or be.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve ruined myself because I’ve never met my goal of feeling content with myself. I feel prettiest when I think everything’s perfect, and I usually don’t realize it until three months later, when I’ve made some rash decision to change my appearance. Usually for me, it was by dyeing or cutting my hair, something I’ve never been able to stop doing.

My bangs were awesome when I first cut them, but now that they’re growing out, I've started to spend about three hours a night walking back and forth from my bathroom mirror to my bedroom mirror, trying to see myself without distortion and horror so I can feel content. It usually just makes it worse and I give up.

I feel really stupid admitting this because I know how ridiculous it sounds. People are actually sick, and I’m pacing back and forth because of a piece of hair. Deep down I know that I’m not a terribly unattractive person, but seeing yourself as one wears on your psyche over time, and suddenly I’ll find myself sleeping through an entire weekend because my hair has never bothered me in my deep, dreamless sleep.

In addition to being a hair-obsessed weirdo Catholic child, I always had access to tabloids, and I loved them. My mom’s mainstay was Star magazine. Her reason for liking Star so much was because it made her feel as if celebrities are regular people, but I kind of think Star made me obsessed with the glossy illusion of celebrity perfection.

I am way more into celebrities than a healthy person. I know I’m not one, but I wish I was. I feel like fame would suit my delusional nature better. I didn’t know how brainwashed by pop culture I was. Even though my brain knows that magazines use Photoshop, I still struggle with reality.

My hair is not the only thing that drives me crazy. I see my face in such a distorted way sometimes; I don’t even want to leave the house. I’ll catch glances in windows that make me cringe. It puts pressure on me to either not look, or make sure I feel as secure as possible with my looks before I leave the house. I freak out when I take my makeup off at the end of the day.

I wish I knew how to get better, but I think first acknowledging the amount of time and money spent having sick thoughts over a certain feature for no reason will help. I’ve been making an effort to look in the mirror less, and stop comparing myself with others.

I need to remind myself that I’m OK, to accept what I can’t change, and most importantly, find what it means to love myself. I have an inkling it’s from the inside out.