Body Dysmorphia Sarah Wyland
From Sarah | Life

On Body Dysmorphia

I’ve struggled with body dysmorphia for years.  

I spent so much of my life overweight that when I lost weight, I struggled to understand that I was smaller. When I went shopping, I picked the larger sizes to try on. I then went through the hassle of asking a sales associate for a smaller size because I was never right. Half the time, I would still guess wrong and have to send them back yet again. 

Jean shopping is the bane of my existence. I’m 5’2” and God gave me hips. I was in J.Crew a few years ago in search for the elusive “perfect pair” of jeans. I recruited a sales associate and he led me to what he thought would be the right cut for me. He asked my size. I told him 14. He looked me up and down and said, “try again.” I insisted I was a 14. He insisted I wasn’t. I said I might be a 12.

Fast forward a few minutes and I was sheepishly asking for a 10.

He was waiting outside the door already and handed me an 8.

I left J.Crew with two pairs of size 8 jeans and the realization that I was, in fact, a lot smaller than I thought I was. 

A few weeks later, I saw a photo posted by my gym. It was of a girl squatting some pretty big weights. I stopped on the photo to figure out who she was. 

It was me. 

I didn’t recognize myself. 

Body dysmorphia.

We live in a body obsessed society. We have in our minds the “ideal” body, what we think society deems “beautiful.” Women nip and tuck and pluck and shave to achieve a look they think society will approve of. They starve themselves, work out for hours, layer on makeup, and change their hair color. 

But men have that same pressure. It may not be as “there” for them as it is for women, thrown in their face by Instagram and magazines every day, but it’s there all the same. They think they need to be “jacked” or dress a certain way. According to a 2019 report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there has been a 29% increase in cosmetic procedures on men since 2000, further proving men are seeking to fit into an ideal image cast upon them by the collective. 

Recent headline stories about Khloe Kardashian and Zac Efron put body dysmorphia in the spotlight, although it perhaps wasn’t called that in their cases, more or less because they are celebrities with means most of us don’t have access to. 

In Khloe’s case, it was a private, unedited photo of her in a bikini. She didn’t “look” like herself (meaning the image wasn’t retouched/airbrushed/photoshopped/whatever), and so it went viral, as did the fact that her team worked overtime to get it taken down. 

Khloe addressed the photo with another bikini photo posted on Instagram. In the series of images, she included several slides with a note from her in which she discusses her years of insecurity about her body. 

The photo that was posted this week was beautiful. But as someone who has struggled with body image her whole life, when someone takes a photo of you that isn’t flattering in bad lighting or doesn’t capture your body the way it is after working so hard to get it to this point – and then shares it to the world – you have every right to ask for it not to be shared – regardless of who you are. 

Khloe goes on to address years of insecurity at being compared to her sisters. 

In truth, the pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and to meet other’s standards of how I should look has been too much to bear. “Khloe is the fat sister.” “Khloe is the ugly sister.” “Her dad must not be her real dad because she looks so different.” “The only way she could have lost weight must have been from surgery.” 

Can you imagine how that must feel? To be compared to your sisters who have been deemed “prettier” by the masses? To have your paternity questions because you have a different body type than your sisters? Of course there’s the argument of “well, she is in the public eye,” but here’s the crazy thing about celebrities: they put their pants on one leg at a time too, just like you and I. My dad told me that once, many years ago when I was a wee intern nervous to interview country music celebrities, and I have never forgotten it. He’s right – they’re just like us. They just happen to be on TV or our radios.

In Khloe’s case, because she’s a celebrity, it’s been assumed that she paid for her look, that she didn’t work hard to get there. 

For over a decade now in photos, every single flaw and imperfection has been micro-analyzed and made fun of to the smallest detail and I am reminded of them everyday by the world. And when I take that criticism to use as motivation to get myself in the best shape of my life and to even help others with the same struggles, I am told I couldn’t have done it through hard work and I must have paid for it all. 

And she’s right in something else she says: if you hear something often enough, you come to believe it. And she’s certainly heard things like she’s the “ugly sister” or the “fat one’ enough to believe it. 

Khloe went on to close out her message with the reminder that how she chooses to present herself to the world is up to her and encouragement to others that may be in the same shoes as her. As someone who refuses to leave the house without mascara and earrings, I got what she was saying: show up however makes you feel good, the rest of the world’s opinions be damned. 

It’s easier said than done though. And some days it’s pretty damned hard. But we try to look in the mirror and accept what we see and that’s the best we can do. 

And you know what? As a fellow curvy girl, I bought my first pair of Good American jeans a few weeks ago. I had no idea Good American was Khloe’s company. And for the first time EVER, a pair of jeans fit me perfectly. I put them on and immediately felt good in them. There was no need to take them to a tailor or sacrifice fit in the waist to fit the thigh. They just fit and I could have cried right there in the Nordstrom dressing room. Khloe really does get it, and for that, I’m thankful. 

Then we have the recent “What did Zac Efron do to his face?” fiasco. 

In case you missed it, Zac was a part of Bill Nye’s Earth Day video and people noticed his face looked fuller. The speculation started right away. Did he have plastic surgery? Was it fillers? Steroids? The headlines said things like “What’s wrong with Zac Efron’s face?” and plastic surgeons were weighing in, offering their “professional” opinions to gossip rags. 

The comments were terrible. They compared him to cartoon characters, said his face looked “botched,” that he had “ruined” his look. How cruel. He’s spoken openly about his struggles with body dysmorphia after training for Baywatch and if you watched Down to Earth, you heard him mention how he hadn’t eaten carbs in months. You also heard him say he needed to get out of Hollywood. I loved his show, learned a lot from it, but my real take away from it was that he needed a hug. I can’t imagine what he’s been through just because he was “lucky” enough to be cast as Troy Bolton. For his sake, I hope he didn’t read those comments.

While I’m not an international movie star and I have no idea nor cares about what work Zac may or may not have had done to his face, I’ve had hurtful comments hurled my way in recent months about my own cosmetic procedure. I got Botox for the first time a couple of months ago to help with forehead wrinkles. After seeing the results, I proclaimed my love of Botox on social media for all to see and hear. While most comments were supportive and many shared their love of Botox as well, others weren’t so kind: 

“You didn’t need Botox! You were perfect the way you were!” 

“You moved to L.A. and immediately got Botox?” 

“Why would you do that to yourself?” 

Well, I’ll tell you why. 

I wanted Botox and I will absolutely be getting it again once it wears off. 

A few weeks later, I got my hair cut. I also went a touch lighter. “Summer blonde” as I call it. I loved my cut and color and posted a photo to social media. 

“More blonde AND Botox? You really are L.A. now, aren’t you?” 

“Why’d you go more blonde? Your natural color is fine!” 

I’ve been blonde more than I’ve been my natural color since I was… fifteen? I like how I look with blonde hair. And Botox. And while we’re at it, a good red lip. But as someone who has struggled with body image and body dysmorphia, those comments are salt in the wounds. 

I grew up with a mom that was always trying to lose weight. As an overweight child myself, I followed in those unhealthy footsteps. We tried every crash diet. I snuck her diet pills. She told me things like “go for a walk as soon as you eat dinner to help it digest faster” and “don’t eat after eight o’clock because all of the food will turn straight to fat.”

But later, when I did lose weight (in a healthy manner), she said things like “you work out too much” and “you don’t eat enough” and my personal favorite, “if you lose any more weight, you won’t look good.” 

She meant well, but those comments scarred me. So did hearing a classmate say “she has a pretty face, but she needs to lose some weight” when they thought I was out of earshot and comments like “where’s the rest of you?” from a well-meaning aunt when she saw me for the first time in a while. 

All of those one off comments piled into a lot of insecurities. I’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of hard inner work over the years to work through my body image and body dysmorphia issues, but it still creeps in from time to time. It’s been pretty prevalently lately as I wrestle with how much “softer” my body is after a year of pandemic life. I haven’t gained weight (and so what if I had – it was a global pandemic), but I have lost a lot of my muscle mass. My body composition has changed and while I can see my arm muscles starting to peek out once more – it’s always my arms that show up first – it’s been a mind trip to look in the mirror these last several months and see softness when I’m so used to seeing muscle. 

It’s easy for people to be keyboard warriors – or as my friend Amanda calls them, keyboard killers – when the focus isn’t on them. But it’s a lot harder for them to realize the person on the other side of the screen, celebrity or not, is a person with feelings, with wounds. 

Think before you call out someone’s body changes. 

They may be struggling a lot more than you know with their body image and body dysmorphia. You have no idea what drove them to get Botox or fillers or a boob job or liposuction or whatever they may have decided. Folks said some pretty mean things about how skinny Chadwick Boseman was. Months later, he died from colon cancer. 

Be kind to people. Be kind to yourself. Body image struggles and body dysmorphia are very real, even if you’re an international celebrity. 

Even if you’re an aspiring TV writer living in Los Angeles. 

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