Body Dysmorphia: Facing the Facts
Do you have a unhealthy body image?
The world puts unnecessary pressure on looks – especially for fitness enthusiasts across the globe. Whether you are an athlete, dancer, fitness competitor, fitness professional, aerobics instructor, crossfit gamer, gym member or life-long dieter, you may not see yourself as others see you. You may look in the mirror and see Fat, Thick and Out of Shape, while others see you as Fit, Trim and Healthy. In today’s blog I get super personal and tackle a sensitive topic of an unhealthy body image and Body Dysmorphia.
When I was in the doctor office earlier this week, I was talking to my girlfriend (Dr. Jennifer Stepanek) about my struggle with not being able to workout right after my vacation. Like I said in my last blog, there’s nothing like being off your diet and workout program, and then getting hurt and you can’t exercise. I confessed that I felt so fat. I honestly think I told her that because she was about to hold onto my body and manipulate my back, and the last time I saw her it was close to my competition and I was super lean. I honestly know that the last time I saw her I was too lean. Meaning, it wasn’t healthy lean – it was pre-competition lean, but it didn’t change the way I felt.
Her compassionate and concerning response was “you know that’s not right? That’s really a sign of body dysmorphia”. I was taken back a little. She followed with explaining how she dealt with that as a dancer, and watched many girls put excessive pressure on themselves for how they looked and what they weighed. She continued to encourage me and I continued to confess that this was an area I’m working on as I try to find balance in the crazy fitness world.
As a fitness professional, I probably have unreasonable expectations I put on myself to look, and live, the part. Steve warned me about this as I prepared to compete this year. He encouraged me to allow myself to gain some weight back and not freak out. I also now understand why we whines about feeling fat even after one big meal. There is something that happens to people who compete, or get really lean (like for modeling jobs, performances, competitions, TV, etc), that raises the bar too high – and it messes with your head.
While someone else’s “best” is closer to a normal healthier weight, my perceived “best” is not a healthy weight. That is why, when I weighed in on the inBody machine (our comprehensive body composition machine) close to competition, it said I needed to gain 11.7lbs of fat. I look at that and think that’s ridiculous, that’s a LOT of fat! But, that is what is considered a normal healthy weight for my age, my height and my muscle mass.
OK, so back to the day of that doctor’s visit. Later that day, Steve took this picture of me holding an Atkins frozen dinner for a campaign I’m working on. He snapped a few pics and I ate my meal and didn’t post the pic until later, after Steve left. I hadn’t even looked at the photos yet, but when I did, I was surprised. I looked thin. Not super-fit thin, or really lean or anything (remember, I have been off my diet for a bit), but I didn’t look as fat as I felt (and I REALLY had been feeling super fat). Please bear with me here. You maybe thinking this is ridiculous, or that I’m crazy, and I’m writing this to say “yes, it IS ridiculous and yes, I AM crazy”. lol That’s why I’m sharing this with you. Maybe someone else will benefit from my own struggle and discovery.
As I looked at that picture and reflected on what my friend said, I thought about the seriousness of not having a true concept of what I really look like. I waited until Steve came home and said “can I ask you a question?” Of course he said “yes” and I proceeded with opening my phone to that picture and asking “do I look like this?” He laughed (not understanding) and I explained “do I look heavier in person than I do in these pictures, because I feel like the pictures makes me look thinner than I actually am”. He responded with “no, you look much fatter in person” and then laughed (totally teasing me). He of course said that was what I looked like. That I was thin. That just baffled me!
I explained that I thought maybe I was dealing with body image issues. He said “duh, yes, you most definitely are dealing with dysmorphic issues. Most competitors do”. Hmmmm I thought. Dang it. I don’t want to be like ‘most people’. Ha! So I decided to do some research to learn more about this disorder.
I found an online test and took the test to see where I stood. I actually thought the results would show traces of BDD (Body Dysmorphia Disorder) – and was expecting the results to basically say “yes, you have some of the symptoms, but it’s just a mild case”(and I was even conservative with my answers!! haha – but instead, the results screamed ‘you gotta get this under control girlfriend!”. lol
CLICK HERE to view the questions or take the test (the answers will be emailed to you).
Spoiler Alert – you can skip the test and just use me as the guinea pig! lol Here is the “answer key”
* 1 to 3 test items checked: There is a low probability that you have BDD.
* 4 to 7 test items checked: There is a medium probability that you have BDD.
* More than 7 test items checked: There is a high probability that you have BDD. I checked 14 freakin’ lines! FOURTEEN! OMG! Ok, so I’m going to be so super honest here and share my thoughts on each symptom. Lord, I hope this helps someone because this is sorta embarrassing.
Getting Personal: My BDD Test Revealed
Test questions are in light grey, and my answer and thoughts follow.
- I excessively worry about my physical appearance. YES. I didn’t think I did until I reeeeally thought about this hard. I ended up checking yes because, realistically, I do know I stress about how I look more than I should.
- I often check my appearance in mirrors or other reflecting objects (i.e., windows, car bumpers, spoons, etc). YES. I don’t typically have long gazes in the mirror or window as I walk by, and rarely do it if anyone is watching, but if no one is around – yes, I totally do. I just have the prudence (or pride) to hide it well because I see others do it in public at the gym and realize it looks self-centered and is unattractive.
- I frequently avoid mirrors and other reflecting objects. I checked NO. Ironically, I used to always be in the back of an aerobic class because I didn’t like to see myself in the mirror. I used to tease that I hated seeing my long limbs flying around and how awkward I looked. But other than that, I want to look in the mirror so I have a chance to improve a flaw (like messy hair, shiny nose, etc).
- I excessively perform basic grooming activities (i.e., washing skin, combing hair, brushing teeth) related to my perceived flaw. I said NO to this one. I don’t have any excessive grooming rituals. I mean, I do have a skin regimen I have to do or I’ll be one big walking zit, but I don’t think I desire to wash my face 15 times or brush my hair 100 strokes. I do have to wash my face really good to get all the pounds of make-up off it since I use so much make-up to cover my yucky skin from my teenage acne years. Who am I kidding?! I never stopped having acne! ha!
- I often use make-up or clothing (i.e., hats, scarves, long sleeve shirts, long pants, etc.) to camouflage my perceived flaw. A reluctant YES. I never leave the house without make-up. I’m a little better now. I sometimes do run without it, but most of the time I have SOMETHING on my face (foundation to smooth out my freckly uneven complexion). I also definitely change the way I dress depending on how fat or fit I feel. I think this is normal to some degree, but I definitely need to consider this as an issue I need to work on.
- I frequently attempt to hide my perceived flaw by using my hands, by sitting in certain positions, or by staying in places where I believe the flaw will be less noticeable by others (i.e., a dark corner in a theatre or restaurant). Another reluctant YES. No, I don’t hide in a dark corner when going out, but I do tend to try and hold myself in certain positions (especially on the beach or in tight fitting clothes) so fat rolls don’t show, etc. Again, probably somewhat normal, but borderline obsessive. I have been known to wear my hair a certain way to hide a blemish and I can’t just stand normal in a photo without wondering if I’m in a “fat position”. LIke anyone cares what I look like in the dang picture! lol
- I regularly scrutinize others’ appearance for comparison. NO. I might admire someone else, but I don’t scrutinize others. I’m too worried about my own flaws. lol
- I sometimes discuss my perceived flaw with others, or ask others to verify my perceived flaw. Well, I can’t say that I would have answered YES to this before, but after my talk with the doctor and Steve today, I couldn’t answer no. ha!
- I often seek reassurance from others about the appearance of my perceived flaw. I had to check YES on this one too. Although I don’t feel I seek reassurance from others, I do seek it from Steve. I may complain about being fat, but it’s not to hear “you aren’t fat” – it’s more of an admission or confession. As if I feel the other person is already thinking it, so I might as well say it. However, with Steve, I do seek his reassurance because he’s really the only one I care about.
- I often touch, pick, and/or measure my perceived flaw. OK, this is getting personal here but I am SUCH a picker!! I admit it! All the dermatologists and aestheticians in the world will hate this but I touch and pick at my skin a lot. I can’t STAND having a blemish. I want it OUT and fixed – and I’m no different with any flaw. I don’t have a lot of patience with flaws. If I notice a new flaw, I want to fix it right away, even if I have to cut it out, cut it off, dye it, exercise it off, glue it, paint it, cover it, medicate it – whatever the fix is, I almost can’t even work or do anything until I first deal with it. So YES was the answer to this one. I always thought that was my perfectionist side, but I now realize it’s more than that and I need to work on this more. I also weigh myself daily to “measure” how I am really doing with my weight/body.
- I diet and/or eat only specific foods related to my perceived flaw. YES. One of my percieved flaws is body fat. So, yes, I do diet and eat specific foods that would help that area. This would be OK if this was the only line I checked YES on, but considering I have a whole host of issues, this is just another area that could get out of control if I don’t learn to maintain balance.
- I excessively exercise and/or lift weights in an effort to alter my perceived flaw. YES. Duh! lol Oh boy. I don’t even need to explain my thoughts on this one. Again, whether this is healthy or not comes down to balance in all areas.
- I avoid certain places and/or activities (i.e., parties, dating, swimming, restaurants, theatres, etc.) because I don’t want others to see my perceived flaw. I answered NO on this one. However, I will try my darnedest to stay home if I feel ugly, and I most definitely won’t put on a bathing suit if I feel fat – but I typically don’t let it keep me from going places and having fun.
- I generally avoid having my picture taken. NO. I’m learning to be OK with ugly selfies. I have to take pics for brands. I used to take a million pictures to get just one OK one, but this is actually an area I’ve improved on. I’m more OK with less than perfect photos. #workinprogress
- I have undergone cosmetic procedures to correct my perceived flaw (i.e., plastic surgery, hair replacement, skin bleaching, etc.). Let’s just say I used to work for a plastic surgeon’s office when I was in my twenties and I had every skin peel there was to improve my skin, I’ve had various un-invasive treatments to improve skin texture and color, and used bleaching creams to improve acne scars – and STILL use 3 different medicated treatments from Vein Therapies (Dr. Beckett’s office) to help my skin. It definitely did give me more confidence and improved my skin greatly. I also have permanent make-up because I couldn’t stand the way I looked without eyeliner. My face just disappeared. I have to admit, that was WAY worth it and definitely helped me feel better about myself since I loved the water and sport, etc. Obsessive? I don’t think so, but the answer still is YES.
- I am dissatisfied with the outcome of these cosmetic procedures. Well, I had realistic expectations of each procedure so I can’t say I was dissatisfied. Do I wish my skin was even smoother and clearer? Yes, but I answered NO on this one because my skin has definitely improved.
- I am planning or hoping to have cosmetic procedures to alter my perceived flaw in the future. I would LOVE to have laser on my face and go on acutane. I always thought I’d grow out of acne, but it never happened. I have pores so large you can swim in them and acne scars that have destroyed the texture of my skin – and now I have wrinkles too! ha! It’s always been a dream of mine to get laser to improve my skin. It’s a pretty big procedure (lot of down time and painful from what I understand) but I’ve seen how baby smooth it is after it’s done. Someday! I answered YES, because if I had the time and money, I’d do it in a heartbeat – complete with a blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery to fix my old wrinkly eyes).
- I am often anxious or depressed thinking about my perceived flaw. YES. Sadly, I worry about my weight way too much. I get really depressed when I gain even 5lbs. It’s not right, I don’t condone that, but I’m just being honest. I know it’s not healthy and it’s unnecessary.
- I am often late for activities due to performing behaviors related to my perceived flaw. I am much quicker to get ready now, but I have a hard time “stopping” the perfecting process. I’m always running late because I change my clothes 5 more times in search for something that looks better. Or I curl a few more chunks of hair, as if that will make all the difference. I fix, fix, fix and re-fix, when I should just say goodbye to the mirror and be OK with everything the way it is – even if it’s less than desirable to me. Lately, I’ve been working on this. Even though I have a bad attitude about it, I will say “forget it. that’s just as good as it gets” and will flip the light off and walk away. It’s a step. The next step is smiling and being OK with it. So, YES.
- I often believe others notice my perceived flaw and/or are thinking negative thoughts about my perceived flaw. This is a big one for me. YES. I totally think people look at me and think “boy, she’s gotten fat”. Sadly, people have said stupid stuff like “you don’t look like your pictures now do you?” I never forget my mailman pointed to a poster of me and said “you don’t have those abs now do you?” It crushed me. I was like “No, it’s freakin Christmas and I’m not training for anything. I’m trying to enjoy my life, but thanks for reminding me of how fit I was a few months ago. So, yes, I do fear people whisper about me if they feel like I’m not as thin or muscular as I can be. I wonder if my enemies enjoy seeing me a little fuller or if people judge me. I don’t know why I even care, but maybe it’s just being a fitness leader. I want to practice what I preach and I desire to be a good example. I don’t like letting people down. Another unnecessary pressure I put on myself. I know. Another big one to work on.
- I am significantly distressed about my perceived flaw. YES. I rarely am free from this, unless I’m really lean and have been dieting hard for something. I stress out way too much about this. I can even realize that there are obese people who would love to be my weight, even at my heaviest. However, it still doesn’t change the way I feel in my own skin.
- I often believe others are discussing or commenting on my perceived flaw. This goes with the earlier question about feeling like others think negatively about your perceived flaw. YES, sadly, I think there are catty women who love to see you at your worst. I think people enjoy putting others down in order to be lifted up. Shute, there are some people who look down on us BECAUSE we workout and because I have muscle (because they perceive that to be unattractive, un-womanly, self-centered or showy). I always think people see my flaws more than my strengths, but I don’t feel that way about the people I truly love and who truly love me.
- My concerns about my perceived flaw are interfering with my relationships and/or with my academic or professional functioning. NO. I think they probably take up too much time, thought and emotion, but no, I don’t let them interfere with my life for the most part.
So there you have it – an up close and personal peak at my warped brain! 😉 Now on to making a change!
Disorder or Dis-Order?
disorder /dis·or·der/ (dis-or´der)
Medical Definition: a derangement or abnormality of function; a morbid physical or mental state.
Regular Definition: lack of order or regular arrangement; confusion:
While I’m sure many psychiatrists would disagree with this statement, I still will say it. I will not label myself as having BDD just because I scored poorly on this test. (Granted, if you have severe depression or suicidal thoughts related to these symptoms, I do recommend seeing a professional please!) But, in my case, I will address each concern and work on it.
I will not use it as a crutch or an excuse to continue BDD behavior. This test simply made me aware of areas I need to work on. Whether you or I are clinical or not, it doesn’t matter to me. I can improve and so can you! In many ways, I have improved (like with my skin). I might be worse temporarily with my body after experiencing competition weight, but I’m not going to settle for this emotional state – and, if you struggle with this too, you should not either.
I look at it this way. I can either say this is a disorder, or I can realize these symptoms are a result of dis-order meaning things (life) out of order (not in premium working condition). As I attempt to put my life in the right order – putting God first, Steve/family next, others next, etc. my focus will slowly shift off myself and onto others and more important things than the way I look.
The OCD Center of Los Angles says “From a mindfulness perspective, much of our psychological distress is the result of trying to control and eliminate the discomfort of unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. In other words, our discomfort is not the problem – our attempt to control and eliminate our discomfort is the problem. For an individual with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, the ultimate goal of mindfulness is to develop the ability to more willingly experience their uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, without responding with compulsions, avoidance behaviors, reassurance seeking, and/or mental rituals.”
So, if I want to improve in this area, I need to purposefully allow myself to experience the “perceived flaw” without always frantically responding to it. This means, I should start running without makeup more so I get used to being out in public with no make-up. No one in my neighborhood cares or notices anyway! I used to think I just did this to make myself feel better (and I do believe that is the main reason), but maybe I am fueling the fire and creating a habit that is hard for me to break. So, as a result of this test, I plan on “exercising” this area of my life.
Another thing I have already started “practicing’ is wearing loose clothing. Why not be more comfortable right? I always think of loose clothing as sloppy and making me look fat, but it is more comfortable, and it takes my eyes and mind (as well as others’) off my body. This is especially important to me when I’m close to a competition. Many people get skimpier and skimpier the leaner they are (to show off their progress or just because they are more comfortable exposing skin). I was convicted earlier this year, I should do the opposite. It’s one thing to wear fitting clothes to the gym, but when I’m out and about (at church, shopping, etc), I should really dress more conservatively and cover up more. It’s less pressure on me, and is better for me to take the focus off my body and more on other important things.
Practice Makes Better
You might have heard the saying, “the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem”? Well, I do believe the first step is admitting you have things to work on. Now it’s up to me to WORK on them. I will not suddenly be OK with my body or skin, but I absolutely can practice changing my mindset. I can take less time getting ready. I can refuse to change clothes 10 times on fat days, and just shoot for 1 or 2 times. I can wear less make-up when it doesn’t matter and I can walk the beach in a bikini on my fat days and remind myself that no one cares if I am 5lbs heavier than I want to be. I can choose to smile and not complain about how I feel. That is a choice, not a reaction. I have full control. i just have to practice more control.
The fact of the matter is that I know I am being unrealistic, so I can let a lot of this go – BUT, it will be a daily dying to self (not letting my body rule me, Romans 8:13) and practicing a healthier ORDER to my life. How does God see me? Righteous and redeemed! (1 Corinthians 1:30)
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Learning a Healthy Balance:
#1 Do not worry – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Matthew 6:25 How often do we worry about things that have nothing to do with eternity or to do with anything that TRULY matters. It’s a waste of time and energy. We must practice NOT worrying.
#2 Focus on what is most important – I need to realize being fit has some value, but it falls below godliness. I should spend way more time on working on my heart, than my physique.
“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
#3 Actively work to re-prioritize your life. The world can knock our priorities out of order. Work may require us to work later, and miss time with family. Stress may force our eyes of other important things. We don’t set priorities and call it a day. We set them, and then spend the rest of our lives re-prioritizing them – putting the important things back in the right order and pushing other stuff out of the way. A life without purposefully reordering our life, is a life completely out of order. This is how the world conforms us if we let it. It is only by being proactive with our thoughts, relationships and priorities will we be transformed by the renewal of our mind like this scripture says.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
We can’t let our thoughts go wild. We have control over our mind or God would never tell you to “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) because He’d never tell us to do something we couldn’t do. God is telling us that we can change our mind, and set it to more important things than worrying about how we look or feel. Again, practice makes better. 🙂
I hope this super long blog helped, or encouraged you. If nothing else, if you struggle with these things, you now know you aren’t alone. We all do to some degree – just some of us need to work on them more than others!