How do you deal or what do you say to yourself when you look back at pictures, and see a skinnier version of yourself? Or when you see pictures of yourself now and just think you look fat? Looking at pictures and taking pictures is the hardest part for me.
I’ve been getting a few iterations of this question over the past few weeks. And adjustment of my mindset has been an important development over the course of my recovery. Living with Body Dysmorphia (BD), and working in an image based industry, has required some intense and consistent work on my thought patterns.
It is one thing to change your dietary habits, and start the physical work to regain your health. I have found that my physical body changes much faster than my mind, and that creates a real sense of discomfort. But mindset does follow action. It can take a long time, but if the work gets done consistently, eventually you will settle into a new sense of normal.
I am happy to say, that over the past two years, my BD has improved a lot. In early recovery, I never used to feel comfortable looking in mirrors, because I knew my body would be completely out of proportion in them. When I was in the grips of my eating disorder, I would selectively choose the mirrors that I looked in. There were “safe” mirrors that I saw myself “skinny” in, and whenever I would pass these on my day, I would anxiously check to see what size I was. And I was never skinny enough for the reflection. Day after day, I would complete the same routine. I would measure myself, stare in the mirror for about 20 minutes and then try on my tightest jeans – just to make sure nothing had changed in the twelve hours I was asleep.
When I made the commitment to gaining weight, I had to change all of these habits. I decided that I would only go by how my body felt in the moment, and how my clothes fitted me. I threw out my measuring tape and all my clothes from a size 0. I decided I never wanted to fit them again. The key to all of this, was my decision to stick with it – no matter how uncomfortable it made me.
Because it is a very uncomfortable feeling. Gaining weight is the start of recovery. My eating disorder was far from silenced once I began the work. If anything it got louder. But I am quite a stubborn person (apparently), and I stuck with it. In the early days of recovery, it was much easier to just avoid the triggers. But as time wore on, my mind caught up to my body. Now when I see remnants of my sick, skinny self, I just feel sad for that girl. I lost so much time to hating myself, and diminishing. I know I have so much more to offer than that level of existence.
Recently I found a bra that I wore at my smallest. It is a 30A, and in photos of me backstage, I can see it gaping from my chest. Far from feeling jealous of myself at my smallest, it truly shocked me that a 5’10.5 woman at the age of 25 wore that bra and it fitted her loosely. And that a client saw me at that size and deemed me suitable to represent their brand. The sadness I feel now, is an entirely new mindset to me – one that is based on expansion of myself in every way. Not diminishment.
When it comes to seeing photos of myself at my smallest, it took until this year for my mindset to shift. I used to avoid them as much as possible, and would dread the memories on Facebook coming up to remind me. But this year, I found myself looking through old pictures. And I started to remember who I was then, and what I had going on. I was sickly small. And I had no tangible life.
I didn’t see any friends, because all my spare thoughts were tied up with food. My free time was spent in a state of anxiety over possibly suddenly gaining weight. I couldn’t really work out – I tried and pretended for the photos, but I was not strong. Climbing stairs killed me. What gets me the most though, is my lack of brain power. When I began to eat properly, my brain came back. I began to do my Bachelor’s degree. I became fascinated by the mind/body connection, and decided to get into nutrition and psychology. My writing opened up. I made so many new, wonderful friends.
My world welcomed me back with open arms.
Of course, every day I have to show up to this life. I still see photos of myself and have a knee jerk reaction of “fat”. When my emotions fluctuate, I want to stop eating. The intensity of PMDD certainly leaves me nostalgic for the times when I had no hormones. And feelings, and emotions, and backbone.
But the difference to me now, is that I don’t give in. No matter how uncomfortable I get, I do not want to ever go back to the place I was in.
Because that place was small. In every possible way.
Bridget when she doesn’t eat, is preoccupied, and uncomfortable. She can’t trust her reflection, or other people’s reflections of her. She is easily walked over, and any emotional reactions she has scares her, so she pushes them down.
I am not like that anymore. And that is enough for me to fight those mean voices in my head. If you are on the verge of recovery, I highly encourage you to speak to a therapist. Begin the work of getting to know yourself, and put faith in something other than yourself. If you keep walking the path of recovery, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, you will get to a place of relative balance, and peace.
And you will be stronger for it 😀
Peace and love,