I went to an escape room on Saturday, this is what birthday parties look like now that we’re in our 20s– an ode to the physicality and inconsequential problem solving of our jungle gym days. We escaped in the nick of time, and were asked if we’d like some photos to commemorate our victory. These images were sent to our respective email accounts, obtained through the waivers we signed upon entry. The first image was an overexcited blur of eight figures standing with our chosen props. My stomach lurched at the others. They showed me standing with one leg across the other, grinning in one, and smiling knowingly in the other. My minimum of four hardcore gym days per week flashed before my eyes as I took the pictures in. For emphasis, I specifically recalled the days where I couldn’t have given anymore– none of which my body seemed to reflect.
“These cannot be real,” I mimed the words as I scrolled incessantly.
I showed them to my sister without saying anything at first.
“Awww,” she cooed.
And then I made the comment I’d been waiting to make, the sort she’d become well-trained in rebuking, which she promptly did.
My sister will always reside at the opposite end of the spectrum, as a loved one who may genuinely find me mesmerizingly in proportion, a viewing pleasure. I, however, will always have an extreme, sort of vague standard to which I hold myself.
There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about the odd spell of body dysmorphia. People who work out are prone to it– muscle dysmorphia, or ‘bigorexia’ affects one in ten gym goers. I call it body dysmorphia and not body dissatisfaction because one is being confronted with an undiluted delusion, while the other is being smacked about by an upsetting, albeit enlarged personal truth. Both are planted by a yearning to appear ‘normal’, which of course is itself guided by whichever beauty standard disrupted our formative years.
In my mum’s youth, it was long, skinny legs. My mum, in turn, felt she’d been denied them. One day, while tube hopping from work, she saw a pair of beautifully toned, elongated pins on a reflective surface. She fell in love with them, only to realise they were her own. The birthday party and its photos made me consider what it takes to perceive our outward appearances with accuracy. What was gleaned from my mum’s own encounter with dysmorphia is that it calls for an out-of-body experience, a new set of eyes. Life orchestrates these moments.
I, much like everybody else, am familiar with body dysmorphia, but I do not share a consistent relationship with it. My mind goes back to a BBC documentary I watched years ago called ‘Ugly Me: My Life With Body Dysmorphia.’ I watched it again this morning, and was reacquainted with Liane– a thin redhead with almond eyes and the beauty of a musician’s girlfriend. In the opening segment, she tells us of the importance of symmetry to beauty, how she is asymmetrical in the face, fat, and an embarrassment to her boyfriend.
“I don’t see anything wrong with Liane, I think she looks beautiful in whatever, but she hates me for saying that,” said her boyfriend over the course of the documentary, “I never know the right things to say.”
There’s a moment in the documentary where she is seeking a diagnosis, and is asked to draw a self portrait. She draws something that resembles a potato– the sort you’d find behind a fridge. Her boyfriend is visibly damaged by it all, and she’s exhausted. Needless to say, it began as an internal, secret issue, and now the BDD has a voice of its own, the tone and frequency of which made me squeamish as I listened.
Only 5% of people diagnosed with BDD seek treatment– says the documentary. The kind they get, the kind Liane was given, concerns a mental shift. The doctor wanted her to focus on the external world, to put her internal world to bed for as long as it was unhelpful to their cause. He also took her back to the beginning of it all– needless to say, it started in her teenage years, which are always underpinned by a general feeling of inadequacy.
I’m finding that as I go along, I don’t really have a central point from which all things stem, as far as this particular discussion goes. I am only left mildly curious about why Liane’s adult life distinctly contrasts mine, given that our childhoods were not so wildly different. Both of us were relentlessly uncomfortable as children, and then as young adults. Both of us had warped perceptions of ourselves at a time when our fates were most susceptible to influence. But I turned out very differently. There’s an indirect, fluffy answer to this, and then there’s the straight one. This blogpost is long enough, and so the straight answer is this: I’ve been nurtured into what I am by God, and what you see today on this platform is an emulation of the imagined finished product, though I couldn’t possibly picture it. And when I see myself now, it is with heaven’s eyes.
image cred: ‘Jasmine’ by Ana Miminoshvili