Body Dysmorphia: a mental disorder characterized by an obsessive preoccupation that some aspect of one’s own appearance is severely flawed.
Sometimes, the pieces all come together to inspire you to share a story. A scroll through Instagram while at a stoplight near the mall on Saturday afternoon sent me to Hunter Schleicher’s post “My Journey to Self-Love.” While my self-love journey looks a little different than Hunter’s, her post hit a nerve with me all the same. I understood what she was talking about – just in reverse, so to speak.
I turned into the mall, parked my car, and went to J.Crew in search of new jeans. I have six pairs of jeans in my closet right now – five dark washed and one black – but over the last month or so, even my “skinny day” jeans are too big. It was high time to stop spend the day pulling them up and buy a few pairs that actually fit.
Once in the store, I walked up to a display, read the size conversion chart, picked up the 32 – a size 12 – in both styles J.Crew offers, and went to the dressing room. I pulled on a pair and found myself positively swimming in them. The salesman – sweet guy, great accident, reminded me of Osh, one of the guides I had while in Italy in December – said “I had a feeling…,” and returned with the 30 I asked for – and the 29 he thought would fit better.
He was right.
Except they didn’t have them in petite and they’re backordered until the end of March. Champagne problems.
The next day, I taught my Sunday morning barre class, then headed over to The Gym to train upper body. After knocking out a set of seven eccentric pull ups (ugh), one of the newer members to our group said “you just look so strong when you do those!” I replied with a “you’re so sweet to say that!” and went to finish out the superset with tricep dips. I couldn’t just accept her genuine compliment for what it was – a genuine compliment.
That afternoon, we went to my uncle’s cabin in Piney River. My mom snapped a photo of Knox – before he took a dip in the ice cold creek – and I. I looked at it, exclaimed “I look huge!” and refused to allow it to go on Facebook no matter how many times Mama told me I was being ridiculous.
I’m surprised she didn’t post it anyway.
Monday morning, one of my favorite people, Toni, snapped a few photos of the 6AM group during our lower body session. When the photos hit Facebook, I saw myself and for the first time in a while, felt PROUD of how I looked.
And I felt a little bit like a badass. Front squatting 155lbs (135lbs in the photos!) is no small feat.
You see, I struggle with body dysmorphia.
It’s not that someone sat me down and officially diagnosed me. I don’t stand in front of the mirror for hours, obsessing over one body part or another. I do, however, struggle with realizing and accepting the size I actually am versus the size I think I am. In my head, I’m a size 12 and a medium shirt. In actuality, I’m a size 8 and, usually, a size small. Or, I guess now, I’m a size 6. At least at J.Crew.
That’s really hard for me to wrap my head around.
I’ve talked about this a bit before, but the fact of the matter is, I struggle to see myself properly in the mirror. I see the strength gains in the gym. I see the difference in photos. I don’t always see it when I look in the mirror. I don’t always see it when people tell me I look strong or thin or beautiful or whatever. I don’t believe it.
Body acceptance is a deeply personal thing. I have days where I look in the mirror and see my abs starting to show or notice now much toner my legs are. I have other days when I leave the gym in wonder at the fact that I was benching 105lbs for reps when I barely managed to lock it out for one rep during my meet in October. I have still other days when I feel frumpy or like the biggest person in the room and try to avoid mirrors and photos at all costs.
I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely surprised by the struggle to see myself properly. I’ve spent the majority of my life overweight. It’s a hard fact to swallow, but it’s a fact all the same. To look in the mirror and see someone quite literally half of their former size who is strong and capable of squatting close to double their weight when they are used to seeing someone bigger who would be winded after climbing up the stairs to their apartment is a bit of a mind trip.
It’s one of those things you don’t think about when you lose weight. You think about how “someday” you will look good in those jeans or that bikini. You think of how “someday” you will have abs and toned legs and no flab under the arms. But then, “someday” gets closer to reality after a lot of hard work and dedication and despite what they say, seeing isn’t believing.
I know this is a personal struggle. I’m fortunate in the fact that my goals are no longer “lose weight” but “get stronger.” I’m fortunate, too, that I’m able to recognize my struggles with body image and work to address them.
Someday, I’ll walk into a clothing store and not be surprised that a smaller size fits. I’ll look in the mirror and see tone and strength instead of underarm flab and too big thighs. Just like losing weight, gaining strength, and continuing to learn how to lead a healthy lifestyle, body acceptance is a process.
Any process is a work in progress.
And at the end of the day, we’re all a work in progress.