What it Feels Like to Have Body Dysmorphia

Let me start by saying that I’ve never been fat, at least not in any conventional sense. I don’t have stretch marks, a muffin top, or carry excess baby weight.

My highest weight was just 139 pounds and that was when I was nine months pregnant. I was the girl who carried “cute” — no swollen feet, pudgy cheeks, or puffed-up ass.

I was the girl with the little basketball belly; I was the girl you couldn’t tell was pregnant from behind. But just because I was small then and am small now (full disclosure, I’m 5 feet tall and, on a good day, weigh 102 pounds), doesn’t mean I’m not fat.

Correction: That doesn’t mean I don’t see myself as fat.

I’m not vain. I rarely wear makeup, my skincare regimen is nonexistent, and I frequently leave my house in oversized jeans and a saggy t-shirt. But when it comes to my body, I’m self-conscious to the core.

I was self-conscious and had low self-esteem before my pregnancy but packing on a fifth of my body weight in six short months only amplified this anxiety, during my pregnancy and after. Why? Because everyone feels entitled to comment about your weight.

At first, I wasn’t gaining enough. My doctor said I was right on track for my small frame, but friends and family often disagreed.

Was I eating? Did I know I was eating for two now? Clearly I should have another slice of pizza because I wasn’t eating enough but once I hit the last trimester, complete strangers rarely missed the opportunity to point out how “big” I was.

One man, around the 28-week mark, joked that I should “lay off the fries.” My daughter is two and I still remember that remark.

When the weight started to fall away after my daughter was born, people grumbled with envy. They saw a petite young woman with perky, swollen milk breasts, wide hips and a cinched waist — a petite young woman with a three-month-old who was lucky, just lucky.

They wished they had the problem of being “too skinny.”

When I’d point out my imperfections, or the fact I was still carrying around pregnancy weight, they told me I should just shut up and be grateful for what I had. Yet, again, they told me how lucky I was.

Here’s the reality: in my case, there was no luck involved. I exercised before I was given the A-OK from my doctor (which I don’t recommend), and often to the point of passing out (which is just f*cking stupid).

I ignored urges to eat, distracting myself with the day-to-day tasks of newfound mommyhood and knowing if I skipped a meal I’d be that much closer to cramming back into my size 4 skinny jeans.

I starved myself skinny. So … luck? No. I wouldn’t call it luck; I’d call it sick. I’d call it what it is: a problem. And the smaller I got, the bigger that problem became; the smaller I got, the more flaws I was able to see.

You see, my thigh gap doesn’t make me happy, and the fact I can jam coins in my collar bone but doesn’t make me beautiful. What I see is a girl — a woman — with small, flat tits, a round and puffy stomach, an ass that’s too big, and shoulders that are too bony.

I pull at the skin that hangs — more loosely everyday — from my triceps, and I poke at my stomach after showering. I’m keenly aware of my post-pregnancy pouch, the sack that 99.9% of all mothers carry around and I make sure it’s tucked carefully beneath my waistband or hidden behind a chunky belt and flowing top.

I see my breasts hang limply like unleavened pancakes when I remove my bra, and I see the way my once curvy ass has lengthened and flattened.

I could go on-and-on talking about my dimpled thighs or dull and damaged hair, but I won’t. I won’t for one reason: my daughter.

My daughter, my two-year-old daughter, deserves better. I don’t want her to grow up in this world of body shaming, where skinny is “sexy,” fat is “ugly,” and women hate each other for being at one end of the spectrum, or the other.

I don’t want her to grow up in a world where she should be ashamed when she eats a sandwich or embarrassed if she doesn’t. I don’t want her to know this self-conscious feeling.

Today, I vow to embrace my stomach. Today, I vow to wear shorts — ugh, shorts! — to the supermarket, and to show off the varicose veins on my unshaven legs, and call attention to the not-so-shapely nature of my ass.

I also vow to the change the conversation, to call out the shamers, and to call out myself.

So to the crossing-guard who called my daughter chunky, to the stranger at Applebee’s who snidely pointed out her glorious appetite, and to the young woman (ahem, me) who pokes and prods parts of herself while her daughter is in the room: whether it’s your intention or not, you’re part of the problem.

I urge you to think before you speak, to stop making assumptions, and to stop hating yourself.

I’m doing it one glorious, dimple, potmark, and skin flap at a time.

More from Your Tango:

4 Powerful Tips to Boost Your Self-Esteem

Bad Body Image? 15 Ways To Improve Your Self-Esteem

If You Keep Worrying About Everyone Else You’ll Never Be Happy

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