Dear Survivor: You may look at yourself in the mirror and see something completely different than what other people see.
You may see flaws that aren't really there; you may amplify the imperfections of your body to a fault. You may feel uncomfortable in your own skin, daydream about looking differently, or have constant thoughts that you would be happier if "this" or "that" was different about your body.
All of these things are a response to trauma.
When I was a child, my abuser objectified women in front of me constantly. Occasionally I even walked in on him watching porn, or found his porn videos carelessly left out on the table. My young eyes saw those images of women and immediately thought..."I don't look like her; maybe something is wrong with me."
As I grew into a young woman and hit puberty, I quickly realized that I wasn't blooming at the same rate as my peers. My abuser called me a "late bloomer" and constantly criticized my body. I was flat chested, underweight, angular where all of my peers were curvy, and my skin was anything but flawless. I struggled with blackheads, acne, and I was never taught how to shave or how to handle my monthly cycle, so I had to figure these things out by myself.
Every time I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw. I compared myself to my peers and was even intimidated by the girls that I thought were prettier than me. This caused me to withdraw from other females and I found myself never being able to have a close friendship with other girls. I compensated by becoming "one of the guys" and resigned myself to a life of a tomboy, even though deep down I wanted boys to desire me. I wanted to feel beautiful. I wanted to feel wanted.
I am about to turn 32 in a few weeks and I just had my second baby, and let me tell you - this is really the first time in my life I have ever looked at myself in the mirror and genuinely liked what I see. I now have the curves I have always wanted; but my body changing isn't what healed my body perception.
I had to make peace with my body. I had to train my eyes to see something beautiful when I saw my own reflection. I did this by throwing away my makeup and not allowing myself to hide behind the paint anymore. I began wearing clothes that accentuated my body without showing off unnecessary skin; I used to wear booty shorts and low cut shirts even though I didn't have the curves to fill them out because I thought it was the only way to gain confidence. What I learned however, is that I gained a great deal more confidence through practicing modesty.
Modesty taught me to have self respect. It enhanced my self esteem, it made me feel special, as if I had something hidden beneath my layers that only my truest soul mate would be privileged to see. Now, these changes didn't happen overnight. It took months and months of practicing changing my inner narrative before I really began to notice a difference. Until one morning I woke up, hair crumpled, sleep in my eyes, and I thought, "Wow! I look really pretty today."
What you can do to overcome and heal body dysmorphia:
* Speak to yourself out loud every single day, "I love my body, I love myself, I am unique and beautiful the way I am". I know it sounds silly, but science has proven that we believe what comes out of our own mouths more than we believe what we hear from others.
* Take risks. Do you hide your body because of shame? Take a risk and wear something you think is pretty but wouldn't normally wear because of fear. Do you over compensate and show off lots of skin to try and gain confidence? Take a risk and wear something more modest that you think is pretty. Practice working against your fears and shame.
* Stop comparing. Teach yourself to appreciate other people's appearances without constantly comparing your own to theirs. Every time a comparative thought comes into your mind, stop for a moment, take the thought captive, and change it. Fight those comparative thoughts with body positive thoughts of yourself.
* Journal. Dig deep into your subconscious and have conversations with yourself about the root of this body dysmorphia. Trace your fears and shame back to toxic memories and thoughts from your past and present trauma. When you finally discover a root, it may lead to another root. Every time you come across a reason for your toxic thought patterns, release it. Verbally speak against it and replace it with truth. Example: A toxic thought would be, "I am not pretty enough. I'm too fat. I wish I were a size zero." When you find the root of this thought, speak against it: "I don't need to be a size zero to gain the approval of anyone. I am attractive to myself and to the right people for me."
*Fun Mental Health Fact*
Body Dysmorphia has a spiritual root of shame, guilt, and self-rejection. This causes your brain to produce stress hormones that your body becomes physically addicted to. Patterns of negative thinking can create physical dependencies on stress hormones that make it feel as if you are dealing with an addiction. Don't be surprised and don't be too hard on yourself if changing your thought patterns and beliefs about yourself feels like you are trying to kick a physical addiction. Take time to understand how your brain chemistry works with your body to produce the hormones that keep your brain and body connected. As you heal your thoughts, your soul will heal, and your body will follow.