When I initially started this blog, I knew that I would write this particular post. I knew it was going to be difficult, and I wanted to avoid this for a long, long time. With all the hormonal changes, emotional ups and downs, drastic physical changes and what motherhood does to a woman’s psyche, I can’t skirt this one any longer. This one is a hard one for me- it’s going to be raw and honest. This is embarrassing, but I feel the need to be emotionally naked on this, especially since I promised this blog would be both honest and a documentation for this journey through parenting.
When I was six or seven (honestly I don’t remember the exact age), my family got the E channel. In the early 90s the E channel was more about fashion and beauty and “reality TV” didn’t exist. I distinctly remember that after all the Saturday morning cartoons were over on all the other stations, E had a modeling/ fashion hour. It was nothing but runway shows with model and designer interviews. At the time clothes were really just utilitarian for me, mostly to keep me from running around like a naked savage child, so that wasn’t what struck me. The models were tall, rail thin, esoteric, even stoic. Cameras and rich people loved them, or so I thought. Like I said, I didn’t know that clothes existed for anything more than practical purposes, so it took me some time to realize the models were clothes hangers for the designers’ fashions. I digress. I saw the attention lavished upon these young women and I wanted to be them. It occurred to me that their intelligence, life skills, or anything else other than their appearance mattered not at all. They were loved for their looks. They were paid well for their looks. At some point, early on, I secretly wanted to be a model. I was ashamed to admit it, even at seven or eight, that I wanted to be appreciated for how I looked. Fast forward to age ten, when my sister won her first of many beauty pageants, and it solidified my impression- “girls with bad skin or bad hair, ugly girls, fat girls” – never won these competitions. Around this time I started growing awkwardly, with ridiculously long legs, a unibrow, chopped off hair, and the start of a lifetime battle with cystic acne, and I realized that I was not beauty pageant worthy. I was not going to be loved for how pretty I was.
Rewind to age four or five. As the youngest of six children with three older sisters, I was demanding and dramatic early on in life. I remember drinking Slim Fast shakes because I didn’t want to be fat at three or four, watching my sisters put on makeup and perfume at five, and wanting my hair to also be perfect. Granted, a ponytail versus mall bangs and a perm took little effort, but I refused to go out of the house if there was a bump anywhere in my hair, even underneath the ponytail. I’m sure I was insufferable to my mom and sisters. Around age eight my mom took me to my pediatrician and asked that they verify I was “not fat”. The doctor pulled out a BMI chart, showed me where my height and weight met, and told me that, if anything, I was underweight. I remember sheepishly grinning at the thought that I wasn’t fat, but still worried about it. My obsession with appearance, it seems, started at a very young age.
In middle school I struggled with watching the other girls around me grow gracefully. It was not my lot in life to do so. I sprouted breasts and hips overnight, and by eighth grade, still had baby fat, but with accompanying womanly curves. It was a nightmare for me. High school was more of the same, and I struggled with my weight, my hair, my skin. I picked at my face, verbally ripped apart my body, and constantly changed my hair in hopes of finding something , any look, where I would feel pretty.
You’re probably reading this and rolling your eyes. For the few people I’ve ever shared any of this with, that’s their reaction, too. As I said earlier, this is embarrassing. It’s shameful that I’m sitting here writing this out. I hate admitting I have problems, rather, obsessive fixations, on how I look. It sounds vain. It seems weird. But I haven’t been able to stop it for a long time.
I have body dysmorphic disorder.
You’ve probably never heard of this. For most people, this very strange, uncommon mental deficiency is written off as a vain obsession, a way to strive for perfectionism, or narcissism. Please take some time to read about what this disorder REALLY is. Here’s the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_dysmorphic_disorder
Talking about this is very weird for me. It’s something I’m ashamed to admit. But I’m telling myself it’s healthy to talk about. For the record, I don’t blame my sisters, or the media, or social expectations for this. There may have been visual contributing factors, but this isn’t something created by outside forces. The neurotic behavior I have tried to conceal for most of my life isn’t the fault of E or Victoria’s Secret. I can look back on several instances where signs of BDD reared its head without associating it with anything external.
Throughout pregnancy I watched as my body transform against my wishes. I worked hard for the body I had pre- pregnancy and worked harder to act casually about it. I didn’t want people to know I looked in every reflective surface I passed to see if my skin had magically cleared or if my hair stayed in place or if my tummy still looked taut and invisible beneath my clothes. Aside from the drastic life change, my primary fear about having a baby was losing the marginally acceptable body I worked so hard to maintain. Over the course of the thirty seven weeks I watched my thighs and arms balloon, witnessed the accumulation of fat on my hips, and saw my face (and ass) widen. Eventually I stopped looking in the mirror, unless it was for public appearance purposes. Every time I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office I sarcastically remarked something witty to the nurse to keep her from seeing the pain in my eyes. The only reason I didn’t want pregnancy to end is because I felt I had a slight excuse to be fat.
The day after my gorgeous little guy was born I did yoga in the recovery room. I didn’t want to be thought of as lazy, or that I was going to accept my horrific new body. I have spent years avoiding the camera, and after the birth of mini- Gwinn was no different. I wore extra makeup. Layered on clothing to hide my deflated midsection. Fixed my hair, even if I wasn’t going to see anyone. I was physically exhausted from bringing home a new baby, mentally exhausted from the lack of sleep, and emotionally drained by the entire experience. I started limiting my caloric intake. My milk supply plummeted. To be honest, it’s still incredibly low. The day he turned four weeks old, I started running. My skin reverted back to high school level acne. There were many days I spent time huddled in the shower crying. Hell, that happened yesterday. I went to the gym for the second time since my first trimester. Women half my size and twice my age were wearing perfectly matched workout sets, running longer than me, and lifting more weights. Their perfect bodies taunted me. I felt eyes on me, judging my weakness and my jiggle, as I walked around the gym looking for a bicep machine. I stayed for maybe forty minutes. When I got home I immediately retreated to my shower. I felt shamed at my ineptitude. I was embarrassed to be in public, at the gym no less, trying to hide my postpartum body while trying to make it better. I know there wasn’t anyone actually watching me, and I know that even if they were, they don’t actually care about how I look. How narcissistic of me to assume that anyone would notice me in the first place. But as much as I try to rationalize my irrational thoughts, I can’t quell them. It is an hourly struggle to walk past a mirror, to look in it and see disappointment splashed across my entire figure, and accept that time may or may not change me for the better.
I realize that many women, to some extent, feel this way. I also realize that instead of feeling empowered, that my body created life and pushed out a human without scrape or cut, I feel weak and shameful, and shouldn’t. At times we all feel inadequate. At times we all feel less than beautiful. This isn’t just a part time feeling for me, though. I hate myself for how I feel, and I hate myself for how I look, and try as I might to change both, the process is slow, if moving at all. This post isn’t for pity- please don’t comment with anything of the sort. This post isn’t for justification, excuses, compliments or complaints. I wanted to share this difficult piece of me, this struggle, and this part of the motherhood road.