I have found that the best writing comes from the heart – where true passion lives. Where compassion and emotion are found, you will also find absolute truth. People can relate more to honesty and real life than fictional fairy tales. It makes me sad that some people think that they have to struggle in silence, put a fake smile on, and pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. We are all human and I think that sometimes we don’t cut ourselves enough slack and allow ourselves to really feel emotion because we are so worried about what someone else might think. What I am about to share is a secret about myself that almost no one knows – I have been struggling with this for years and am now ready to talk about it, no longer ashamed because I now know that I am not alone…thanks to someone I met earlier this year – someone who has become a wonderful friend, a soul sister. Let me first say that in no way am I trying to attract attention, nor am I fishing for compliments. My hope is that by sharing this I might reach someone else who might be struggling, too – and to also show that we don’t always know what someone else might be going through.
We are all guilty, in one way or another, for wanting to change something about ourselves, whether it be to lose a few pounds, change our hair color, or wanting a smaller nose. For me, every time I look in the mirror, I want to change everything. Every time I look in the mirror, I see someone hideous looking back, someone riddled with flaws from head to toe. I quite literally cannot name one positive attribute. When I look in the mirror, I see every wrinkle, every blemish, every acne scar; I see a nose that is much too big, eyes that do not fit my face, horrific skin, a big belly, rolls of skin, and thunder thighs covered in cellulite. Because of this, I avoid mirrors as much as humanly possible.
But I find so much beauty in everyone else.
To most people this may sound bizarre – which is why I stayed quiet for so long. When I would make comments aloud about my flaws, I would hear, “Don’t be ridiculous!” or “You’re crazy!” Truth is, I was ashamed because I felt completely alone in my thoughts. I was surrounded by beautiful, healthy people who for the most part seemed confident. But then I met a girl through Facebook who quite honestly, changed my world. She was a complete stranger, someone who I connected with almost instantly, someone who accepted me for every flaw and struggle and still wanted to be friends. I owe her so much for showing me the strength I didn’t know I possessed.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) often shows up when you’re a teenager. Well, that’s exactly when it started for me. Up until senior year, I was a fairly confident and happy kid – didn’t stress too much over appearance. Like most teenagers, I went through periods of not liking how I looked and compared myself to other girls, but nothing out of the ordinary. But that all came crashing down with a few hurtful words. There was a guy that I really liked – and while today I cannot even tell you why I liked him – back then I was smitten with him. I fully admit that I was just a stupid teenager. One day, one of his friends told me, “You’re not pretty enough or skinny enough for him.” At the time I weighed 100 pounds.
Words are powerful. Words can break a person.
Those few words sent me spiraling down. I began obsessing about my weight, how I looked, and depression started setting in. This is when the negative body image started. Since then I battled depression for years, was on an anti-depressant for at least seven of those years, I struggled in silence with the demon in my head. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I saw a beast, someone not worthy of anything. I had a hard time leaving the house because I felt that ugly and thought for sure everyone would be staring at all of my flaws. I would change clothes at least three or four times a day – searching for the outfit that covered my body up enough. BDD consumed me and swallowed me whole. I would find a million excuses to stay home so as not to face the outside world. Between my senior year of high school up until the time I met my now husband, I only seriously dated one person. I just didn’t want to get close to anyone.
My rock bottom happened when that serious relationship ended in 2003. That is a whole long story in and of itself, but what you need to know is that it wrecked me. I have my CA family to thank and my then running coach for snapping me out of it. He threatened to kick me off of the team if I didn’t shape up. Not his exact words, he was genuinely concerned. I was down to 89 pounds at that point. You see, that team meant a great deal to me because I was running for someone who was losing his battle to Leukemia. If it wasn’t for that, who knows where I would be. While living in CA, I began to see a therapist and continued therapy when I moved to Illinois and then Oregon. I knew that I needed to work on me, to get better – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Seeing and talking to someone helped more than words can describe – I recognized where my depression, anxiety, stress, and unhappiness stemmed from.
Recently I have learned that there are varying degrees of BDD – some struggle more than others and more often than some. Every day is a battle, but some days are easier. I know that I will never be cured or free from the struggle, but I feel like I have gotten better. I have my husband and daughter to thank for that. Since having Willow, she has shed some light onto who I want to be and how I need to be. I want to raise my daughter to have a healthy body image and in order to do that, I need to set a good example. Can I tell you how hard that is?!? We don’t use the words fat, skinny, thin, chubby, or any negative words around her. Inside I am saying that I am fat, but I keep it to myself or say it when she isn’t around. I know that I can’t protect her or shelter her forever from the harsh reality that there are cruel people, but I have to do my best to instill healthy self-esteem. I want her to be able to look in the mirror and smile. Kids and teenagers can be downright mean so I need to build her up as much as possible without being conceited. Not to mention the way media projects beauty – it’s hard sometimes not to compare yourself with the models you see in magazines and on television. I do applaud those celebrities who have been honest and shown their true colors, what they really look like. More often than not, they’re more beautiful before all the airbrushing and Photoshop.
To this day, I still have downfalls, usually triggered by a look on someone’s face or an unkind word. I’ve been called thick, round, and people have commented that I have gained weight, but I can safely say that I will never again be that unhealthy, severely underweight girl anymore. I have too much at stake – people I deeply love and care about – and people who care about me. This is not to say that I still struggle some days with leaving the house or wish I could change the way I look…those will be every day battles. I hate the camera and am extremely critical of any picture of myself – I am very quick to point out flaws. But here is one quick bit of info that I can laugh about now – after college I learned that the guy who brought the BDD out is actually gay – so it was never about me personally.
I will leave you with this – think before you speak and do not judge without knowing someone’s full story. You never know what that person may be going through or the hurdles they have jumped to get to where they are today. Be kind. Listen. Be empathetic. Smile. You would be amazed at what a simple smile could do.
Wow! It takes tremendous courage to admit something like this to the world. Not a lot of people will get it, but some will relate 100% & be glad to have read it! You’re fantastically gorgeous & there’s so much about you, physically & intellectually, that I envy! So much love & respect to you, dear. I hope your journey in this disorder is about over!
Mandy! a) you are amazing. to admit to your struggles when they’re so personal and vulnerable. b) i have always thought so – before this post, after this post. c) i can’t say i identify exactly with what you’ve gone through, but i do know we all have struggles. our bodies and our faces – ug. can’t live with them, can’t live without ’em, right?
i love that you’re going to try to instill positivity in your daughter, i think we all want that. i’ve thought about things like that too – i don’t have a daughter, but i don’t want my sons growing up with unreasonable expectations of women. and i don’t want them to ever think it is ok to say something negative about their bodies. (i need to stop making self-deprecating comments about myself. so badly.)
anyway. i love your blog. thanks for sharing. and keep your chin up. you are a lot stronger and more beautiful than you know.
I know that was hard for you to share, takes courage to expose yourself to the world! I guess all of us less than perfect people can relate to some degree. Not wanting to discount your feelings in any way, I will say that from the day I met you I have always thought you to be a very beautiful young lady! Having said that I also think that your physical beauty pales in comparison to your inner beauty!! I truly believe that your adorable daughter is very lucky to have you and your hubby for parents, very lucky indeed! Very proud and grateful to call you friend! Always here for you, best thoughts and wishes always headed your way!