I struggled with body dysmorphia for most of my teenage years and sometimes, I still struggle. Staring at myself so long, I start to perceive the most minor, unnoticeable, and often nonexistent flaws in myself.
I’ll never forget standing in front of the mirror and trying on formal dresses my senior year of high school, while one of my best friends sat on my bed and asked me how I had lost so much weight.
“You’re so tiny!” she said amazed.
As I responded to her question nonchalantly and with ease, I continued to stare at my reflection and every part of me I believed wasn’t tiny enough. Sure, I had lost weight…but not nearly enough. I was just getting started. Yet, because I knew this friend had been trying to lose weight and failed to have success, I didn’t want her to feel ashamed in her body and burdened by comparison (never mind the fact that I was drowning in shame and comparison myself). Isn’t it funny how we give to others, the grace and acceptance we frequently fail to give ourselves?
Soon after our exchange, I was trying on another dress and my mom came in with a couple more for me to try on, since I had last minute decided I’d go to the winter formal and didn’t have anything to wear. She laid the dresses on my bed and then looked up with a concerned look on her face. I had on an extra small pink slip that dangled loosely over my bones and struggled to stay up.
“You’re too skinny, Carly. I shouldn’t be able to clearly make out the bones of your chest and back. It’s not healthy.”
She always did this, I thought to myself.
I wanted to yell at her and tell her to get out of my room.
I’m tired of her criticizing the way I look.
She’s turning her back on me just like everyone else.
I’m not going to change.
This is who I am, and I’m happy with who I am.
Only, I wasn’t happy. It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, I wasn’t ever satisfied with what I saw when I looked in the mirror. There was always something. Something too large, standout, in need of perfecting, and ugly.
I share this to make the point that it doesn’t matter what your friends or family say to you when you are struggling with body image or an eating disorder. Until you start believing for yourself that you are beautiful, worthy, and enough JUST AS YOU ARE—REGARDLESS OF YOUR REFLECTION—the words of others are nothing more than empty comments with confused meaning.
I’m writing this blog post because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such comments. More than once, I’ve had loved ones grab me by the shoulders and shake me with tears in their eyes, begging me to please stop what I was doing. You are beautiful, they would say.
Each time, I walked away thinking their words were kind…but they weren’t ever enough for me to relinquish my grip of control and to start believing for myself, that I was indeed beautiful. Instead, I walked away feeling pressure and heaviness.
They only think I’m beautiful because of how hard I’m trying.
If I give up all my hard work now, I’ll be left with nothing.
I will be nothing.
But let me tell you something my friend, that’s a lie from the accuser—and it’s a damn convincing one. If you give up the secrecy, the restriction, the body shame, the striving, the perfecting, and the control, you will most certainly lose some stuff. You will lose a false identity, a time sucker, and hurtful labels you’ve been carrying for far too long. It might even feel like learning to walk again. But in the process, you will gain a new identity, energy to focus on the things that matter, and a new list of TRUE statements describing who you already are in Christ.
- Blessed (Ephesians 1:3)
- Chosen (Ephesians 1:4)
- Holy (Ephesians 1:4)
- Blameless (Ephesians 1:4)
- Predestined (Ephesians 1:5, 1:11)
- Adopted (Ephesians 1:5)
- Redeemed (Ephesians 1:7)
- Forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)
- Given an Inheritance (Epheisians 1:11)
- Sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
- Loved (Ephesians 2:4)
- Alive (Ephesians 2:5)
- Saved (Ephesians 2:5)
- Raised up (Ephesians 2:6)
- Seated with God in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)
- A workmanship created in Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10)
- Brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13)
- Made one with Christ (Ephesians 2:14)
- Reconciled (Ephesians 2:16)
- Given access in one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18)
- A fellow citizen with the saints (Ephesians 2:19)
- A member of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19)
- Being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)
- Given boldness and access with confidence (Ephesians 3:12)
I’ve put together 10 tips you can use to overcome body dysmorphia, and to begin seeing yourself in a new light. These are tips that have helped me throughout my recovery, and tips that I’ve heard have helped others in their recovery too. And even if you aren’t recovering from an eating disorder, I still think you will find these ideas helpful, as we all—to a certain degree—fight a battle to see in ourselves what others and God sees in us.
So, take what you will and leave behind what doesn’t serve you. Share this post with others, comment below with other tips you’ve tried that have been both unsuccessful and successful, and please promise me this one thing: That you won’t give up the the fight to believe beautiful.
My 10 tips for overcoming body dysmorphia:
1. Unfollow social media accounts that are no longer serving you and stop comparing yourself to others
It’s a hard thing to do, but sometimes it’s the most necessary step we can take. Did you know that some girls start developing signs of body dysmorphia as young as 3-5 years old due to unrealistic images and construed ideas of what beauty is? There’s no doubt that weeding through your friend list on Instagram or Facebook is a time sucker, but there’s something so refreshing the next time you scroll through your feed and realize a less stressed out, frustrated, and anxious version of yourself because of your choice to be mindful of who you friend and follow. Discovering those who lift you up, and avoiding those whose images and words do nothing more than put unrealistic ideas in your mind about who you are and should be.
2. Take time to understand the different systems of the body and how they work
Our bodies are so complex, incredible, and resilient. Do you know how your food gets digested and used for energy, or how your immune system is constantly fighting for you? Have you studied the way our brain and gut are connected through the vagus nerve? Taking time to understand these processes is not only fascinating, but will help you gain a deeper appreciation for everything your body does for you.
3. Cover up your full length mirror for a specific length of time
There was a point in my recovery where my full length mirror had become a place of terror and defeat for me. Grabbing at my fat, despising my cellulite, and imagining things like my right calf being larger than my left one (you think I’m kidding…but this actually happened). Covering up my full length mirror for a whole month kept me from devoting too much time to my appearance and the stress caused by what I saw before and after my shower. There were a couple times I slipped the blanket off to see if my shoes looks alright with my outfit, but 90% of the month I found this a great technique to move away from body dysmorphia, focusing my energy on more important things.
4. Find clothes to fit your body, rather than chasing after a body to fit your clothes
The worst thing you can do, is try to squeeze yourself into clothes that no longer fit. I know, I know…it sucks having to re-do your wardrobe to match your weight. Saying goodbye to your favorite jeans is no fun. I’ve been there and done that more times than I’d like to admit. But it is SO IMPORTANT. There are a million pairs of jeans and billions of blouses—but there is only one of you. So, please…do yourself a favor and ditch the clothes that no longer fit or flatter your body, and devote time to finding new items of clothing you feel comfortable and confident in. Read my article called “Clothes That Fit” for more of my thoughts on this.
5. Affirm yourself whenever negative body talk starts to erupt
The next time you start to feel “fat” (which by the way “fat” is not a feeling, it’s simply the reality of your body), bloated (also just a natural bodily function), less than, or insecure, I dare you to stop the negative self talk and take a couple moments to look at yourself in the mirror, saying to yourself two things you don’t necessarily love, but are choosing to accept about your body that day. I may never love certain things about myself and that’s okay, as long as I can learn to accept them. Affirmation is powerful way to get there and regardless of how silly you feel complimenting yourself, it makes all the difference.
6. Think of people you admire or love most and identify the things you admire and love most about them
Most of the time, the things we love about people have very little to do with their appearance. When you attend a person’s wedding or even someone’s funeral, you never hear people talking about how skinny or fit they are/were, or how perfect their makeup is/was. People are remembered for their character, not their looks. What do you want to be remembered for?
7. Make an effort to hear from other women who have been in your shoes
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I believe the absolute best way we learn is through the experiences of others. Realizing you’re not alone and have other people in your corner (who have been in your exact shoes or ones similar), is such a freeing experience. Read my blog post on the resources and people that helped me most during my recovery here.
8. Journal and respond to these questions:
What do I see when I look in the mirror?
What do I want to see when I look on the mirror?
If what I’m seeing is negative or skewed, how can I actively work to see myself in a positive light?
9. Don’t take yourself so seriously
It is funny, the things we sit and obsess over. Like the night I began to see one calf larger than the other. I look back now, and laugh at how consumed I was by something that I guarantee nobody else noticed. Taking ourselves too serious is a great danger and I think if only we practiced acknowledging our perceived flaws in a playful way (this may be easier with a friend or family member), we might come to appreciate the ebb and flow of feeling confident and comfortable in our skin one day, to embarrassed and awkward the next.
10. Stop supressing your feelings and start talking
The more you open up and allow yourself to be vulnerable, the more healing you will experience. It is scary, trust me….but we must allow ourselves the space to feel our emotions. Otherwise, it’s a long road of wearing mask after mask after mask, expecting others to read your mind, and clinging to false hope that enough distraction will help you forget how you feel. Remember, the insecurities you carry are not unheard of. You are not crazy and you are not alone. For more tools and resources to start practicing embracing vulnerability, I recommend checking out Brene Brown’s books. They will change your life.
The last thing I will say before coming to an end with this blog post is that all of these tips will be much more accessible if you learn to trust yourself less, and if you begin to trust God more. If it weren’t for faith in Him and His ability to perform the impossible, much of my steps toward recovery would have seemed useless. But if you let Him, He will guide you, He will lead you, and He will constantly continue to remind you of the beauty you withhold not only on your exterior, but on your interior as well. Through Him and in Him you have been set free.