When I look at myself, at my body, I don’t see what’s actually there.

Ever since I developed body dysmorphia, I don’t see shapes and forms; I see hatred, judgement, and not being enough.

I’m not sure where it began, but I know I had body dysmorphia when I stopped eating.

When I ate just enough to make it look like I was fine, but really, I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough to sustain a human body.

I did that because all I could see was the “extra fat” on my body.

A slight roll of skin on my belly, a widening of my things, no thigh gap. These things sent me into a frenzy where I was overtaken by this burning need to eradicate all the fat from my person.

I was convinced that it was the lumps and bumps on my body, which fell outside the accepted shape for a woman: a plank, that made me so vile and disgusting.

Unacceptable and unworthy.

And so, I starved myself and punished my failures with exercise.

My memories of what existed before that are hazy.

They’re there, but they feel obscured. Like I’m seeing them through a veil.

I know that there was shame.

Shame that I was so round and fat that I regularly prompted comments from family members about it. Comments from my paternal grandmother to my mother about how her granddaughter “is getting very fat”.

And this, while bringing her usual three large boxes of chocolates for Christmas. I guess she was so emotionally unavailable that she was incapable of bringing more thoughtful gifts.

I can only imagine what it was like for my mother, that onslaught of criticism from her mother-in-law.

Before that there was a time of many years during which I ate, but tightly controlled what I ate. And there was shame in that too because, again, family would often comment on the fact that all I’d agree to eat was spaghetti bolognese.

They clearly noticed it, because they remarked on it often, yet not once did anyone stop to ask what would cause me to need to have that tight of a grip on my food.

Or whether there would be more severe consequences of that down the line.

Spoiler alert: there was. Anorexia.

My parents divorced when I was five, and I’m tired of tracing all my problems back to that. I was told in post-divorce therapy several times that “divorce children” have so and so issues.

But maybe it was never that clear cut. Maybe it wasn’t as black and white as divorce with me.

Maybe I was already faced with emotionally distant parents from birth.

And my father didn’t turn into a narcissist the day I was born. He had been working on that for a while already.

And maybe we even have to go back as far as my parents deciding to get married to find the root of my body dysmorphia.

They met in class and, as my father relayed events to me, he one day decided to, quite impromptu, ask my mother if she wanted to get married.

Having been descending some stairs when this question was put to her, she’d responded with “To whom?” without missing a step.

I never heard how they eventually worked it out that it should be to each other, but work it out they did.

Fast forward seven years and they’ve ended up with me. The child that was born despite my mother being convinced she was barren after having been married once before and not conceived.

It was only a few months after that when my mother started waking up at 5 a.m. to have some peace and quiet for herself.

I don’t remember my parents ever fighting, arguing, or even raising their voices at each other. The divorce was a quiet one, too.

No long and drawn-out custody hearings, just a mutual agreement to get as far away from each other in daily life as possible.

And I remember my father telling me several times that leaving me was the hardest thing he ever had to do. And if he wasn’t telling me, his mother was telling me it was the hardest thing her son ever had to do.

The only thing I could think of was, but why?

If it indeed was the hardest thing he’d ever done, why do it? Why leave?

Because when he left the marriage, he left, and he stayed away. Despite having agreements and invitations to the contrary.

If it was truly so hard, why not take every chance to see me?

My mother got full custody, and he got visitation rights, but he didn’t even keep his court-mandated appointments.

And when he’d tearily force his “confessions” on me, I sat there blankly staring at him. I was still there, wasn’t I? I had gone nowhere.

Why waste the time spent with me on these displays of martyrdom, designed to elicit my sympathy, when you could just spend time with me instead?

I was never one of those kids who ardently wished my parents would get back together. I knew they were better apart. But in that divorce I lost something integral to me – the right to determine where I wanted to be.

I remember throwing myself in my mother’s lap, and at her mercy, begging her not to make me go with my father for the weekend.

But it never mattered how much I begged or how hard I cried. I was always packed off to my father’s when it was his turn. If he deigned to show up for it.

It may have been from that my need to control my food was born. Food is a relatively easy thing to control when you can’t control the bigger stuff.

From age five, I gave up a large part of my autonomy. And it lasted for years.

It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I even understood that cutting my father out of my life completely was an option.

And I’ve been so much better off ever since.

Not having to deal with him is an enormous weight off my shoulders, and it’s me reclaiming my autonomy.

That we’re legally associated doesn’t mean I have to put up with his narcissistic abuse.

And while having this knowledge and making these choices doesn’t erase my body dysmorphia – or my anorexia – it makes it a little bit easier to accept myself.

I don’t have a full-body mirror and I don’t own a scale.

I don’t control what I eat and I don’t exercise to lose weight.

I exercise to feel and use my personal power.

I cannot measure, weigh or calculate the things I do because that’s how I’ve fallen off the cliff before. That’s a steep dive back into old ways that I no longer wish to condone as good enough for myself.

Because since I started controlling what I ate at age five, I’ve gone through periods of thick and thin, periods of pushing myself rather than accepting myself.

My body has changed and changed again.

Repeated sports injuries, pregnancy, post-partum, post-surgery recovery – and my body bears the marks of it all.

And all the while, I’ve tried to fit in. To make my body something other than it is.

So, now everything I do, I do with the aim of feeling good. Feeling whole. I’m a work in progress, slowly healing.

I have body dysmorphia and probably always will.

But I can learn to live with it.


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