An Unmotivated Person’s Guide to Body Dysmorphia

   
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I have a vivid memory of standing in front of a mirror at my dad’s house. It was the only mirror in his house where I could see my whole body without standing on a stool. I was 8 years old. I sucked in my stomach then stuck it out far enough that I looked pregnant. I fantasized about some kind of vacuum sucking the childish mound of fat off my abdomen, or a giant meat cleaver coming down from the sky and chopping it clean off.

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Even then I would compare myself to other girls. I desperately wanted the bodies they had. Small, delicate, and hard like an eraser. I was desperate to feel comfortable enough with my own body to join my classmates in their ballet classes, or to be able to go to pool parties without it being a traumatizing experience that would inevitably end in tears.

I am not now, nor have I ever been ‘fat.’ I have weighed more or less at times, but I always fluctuate within the spectrum of ‘normal’ weight. Nobody whom I have been close with has encouraged me to lose weight or insulted my figure. Even in moments of intense honesty, nobody I’ve been romantically involved with has told me that they would be more attracted to me if I lost weight (although I still suspect that to be true for every person I have sex with or ever will have sex with). I don’t know where my bodily insecurities stem from or how to get rid of them.

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I’ve always felt bigger than most people. Not just my weight, but everything about my body. I was fully developed by the time I was 12, and for those of you who don’t know what it feels like to be a five-foot-eight-inch tall middle schooler with size 34-C boobs, it’s really not as fun as it sounds. I didn’t start to feel even vaguely ‘normal sized’ until midway through high school when all the boys had finally reached their pubescent growth spurts. I’m still a bit taller than the average girl and people love reminding me of it. When someone says to me  ‘You’re so much taller than I imagined you to be’  what I hear is ‘I didn’t imagine you to be such a horrifying obese giant.’

I hate shopping, mainly because it causes my bodily insecurities to surface. I think about the way my body looks almost constantly, but going shopping makes it so that I have to immediately put myself into a category. With the options ‘small,’ ‘medium,’ ‘large,’ and ‘extra-large’ presented to me, the inaccurate image that I have of my own body takes control and I always, without fail, assume that I’m a size extra-large, even in men’s clothes, and sometimes I do the same thing with shoes. This results in me looking like an insane homeless person 100% of the time. I wear comically huge men’s shirts as dresses and pretend like I meant for it to be that way, like I’m trying to do that ‘Keebler™ elf in regular people clothes’ thing that Mary-Kate Olsen does, when, in reality, I just have an extremely skewed perception of the size of my own body.

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I check my BMI religiously. (For those of you who don’t know, BMI stands for ‘body mass index’ and it gives you a score based on your height and weight, which categorizes you as ‘underweight,’ ‘normal’ or ‘overweight.’) Every morning I wake up and weigh myself, then type my weight and height into a BMI calculator and see how far away I am from the ‘underweight’ category. I use that as a sort of guideline for how much weight I am allowed to lose. Currently my BMI is hovering around 20.5, which is the lower side of ‘average.’  Ideally, I would like my BMI to be exactly 18.5, which is right on the border of ‘normal’ and ‘underweight,’ even though I know that is unhealthy and probably unattractive.

Despite the burden and strain that I feel every day as a result of my bodily insecurities, I have yet to be motivated enough to do anything to effectively lose enough weight or feel okay about myself. However, I have made many attempts. Here are a few of them:

VEGANISM 

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In retrospect, going vegan was the beginning of me completely losing my mind.

I decided to go vegan when I was 19. I had just begun compiling things for my book. I had an opportunity to do something artistically satisfying for the first time in my life, and the only way for me to feel good about it was to prove to myself that I could lose a dangerous amount of weight. I still don’t fully understand how that logic works, but I stand by it.

I wanted to know good people, have healthy relationships, make art, and stop being ashamed of my body. I went vegan but without the knowledge of the sorts of things vegans have to eat to remain healthy. I massaged kale with olive oil and lemon and ate that for almost every meal for the first month. I lost 10 pounds, which was enough for me to feel like I had accomplished something but not enough for me to feel thin or satisfied.

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Eventually I had what I can only describe as ‘an episode.’  I was meeting people online whom I identified with much more than anyone I knew in Los Angeles (where I grew up and was living at the time). I felt completely alone and like all I wanted to do was stay home and talk to my internet friends and see how long I could go without eating. Every hour I went without food felt like an accomplishment. I had given up on trying to maintain relationships with anybody in real life. I viewed all my past relationships as failures, for the most part. I began having ‘cyber sex’ with a person I had never met in real life. I lost 8 more pounds and decided to move across the country.

I had never even seen snow before moving to New York, so I wasn’t aware of how easy it is to not think about losing weight when it’s 10 degrees outside and you have to wear 5 layers of clothing just to leave your apartment.  I stopped weighing myself to avoid knowing whether or not I was putting on weight. I began working 12-hour days and developing drug habits to distract myself from thinking about my body.

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The first time I broke my veganism was during a hangover shortly after I moved to New York. My ex-boyfriend was cooking bacon in his studio apartment. I said ‘I’m going to eat that bacon’ with a sense of determination and stubbornness that I haven’t felt since. He obliged and it was all downhill from there.

 

COCAINE 

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I was 15 the first time I did cocaine. At the private high school I went to in Los Angeles, doing cocaine for your first time at age 15 was about average. If anything I was a late bloomer, cocaine-wise. I had bodily insecurities then too, but up until that point, I had never been exposed to a drug that literally took my appetite away. It was an incredible discovery. But at age 15 I didn’t have the money or resources to develop a cocaine habit.

However, when I was 20 and living in my own apartment in Brooklyn with a full-time job, a reliable 24-hour cocaine delivery service that was available to me after nothing more than a 5-minute phone call, and a boyfriend who was ready and willing to do/pay for drugs, a cocaine habit was well within my reach.

I hadn’t done cocaine often or in large doses until that point. We started small, buying one $40 bag and sharing it for a night. After a month or so, our tolerance grew and the calls to my drug dealer became more frequent. At our peak we could snort up to $120 worth of coke between the two of us. We did coke 3 or 4 times per week. We became incapable of doing coke without drinking a ton and taking xanax for the comedown.

What they don’t tell you about cocaine is that even though it takes away your appetite while you’re on it, your appetite only increases the next day. My ex claimed that cocaine and alcohol mixed together to create some kind of chemical in your body that made you hungry during hangovers. I’m still not sure if that’s true. I have been unmotivated to research it.

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At night I would come home, skip dinner, drink a meal’s worth of calories in beer, snort a ton of blow, then wake up the next day at 2 p.m. and have an insatiable appetite for fried carbs and more beer. At some point it occurred to me that the only way cocaine would make me lose weight is if I was on it all literally all day long, which seems nearly impossible, and if it is possible then I have never had enough money (or dated anyone who had enough money) to do it.

So, unless you are a millionaire who is immune to cocaine comedowns, that whole ‘cocaine makes you lose weight’ thing is false advertising. You heard it here first.

 

BULIMIA 

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Bulimia was something I tried very briefly around age 16. The first time I made myself vomit was after Christmas dinner at my grandma’s house. Just like every other grandma, mine is an incredible cook who uses an incredible amount of butter. I consumed half my weight in macaroni and cheese, steak, mashed potatoes, cheese cookies (literally cookies made out of cheese), pie, ice cream and booze.

My feelings of guilt increased exponentially during the car ride home. The food settled like a brick in my stomach. I felt sick and drunk, but mostly I felt ashamed. I felt like I had cheated myself and I needed to repent, somehow. As if I owed some kind of karmic debt for overeating.

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When I got home I immediately went to the bathroom and turned on the shower. I let the water run and leaned my head over the toilet while meekly sticking my pointer finger into my mouth. Nothing happened. I stuck my finger in farther down my throat and still, nothing. That’s when I discovered that my gag reflex is almost nonexistent.

After a few minutes of struggling with my finger, I stuck the handle of a toothbrush down my throat. That did the trick enough for me to vomit up about half a cup of fluid, which honestly appeared to be mostly red wine. After that I proceeded to ‘face fuck’ myself with the toothbrush handle for another 10 minutes with very little success.

I have tried to make myself vomit after overeating countless times since then, to almost no avail. I have a love/hate relationship with my lack of gag reflex nowadays.

 

WEED

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I’ve always loved weed. I smoked weed for the first time when I was 14 and smoked it consistently for the next 4 years. I stopped smoking weed for the most part between ages 18 and 20 because it started making me paranoid and it’s difficult to successfully starve yourself when you’re constantly doing a drug that makes you more hungry. Recently, however, I have discovered the joy of starving myself while stoned.

I have always gotten a certain satisfaction out of not eating. It makes me feel a sense of power over my own life, which I rarely feel otherwise. Hunger is a solvable problem that stays at the forefront of my mind, while simultaneously being something that I can easily fix. So, by choosing to not eat, I am able to feel like the main problem in my life (hunger) is completely manageable, and hence I am in control. Also, the more time I spend not eating, the more aesthetically pleasing my body becomes to me. Win/win.

The kind of hunger that weed makes me feel (i.e. ‘the munchies’) is much more difficult for me to combat than other kinds of hunger. In the past, weed made me feel like hunger was no longer in my control, which ended with me binge-eating. This was one of the main reasons I stopped smoking weed. Even while working at a medical marijuana dispensary, I refused to smoke weed out of fear of the uncontrollable hunger that went with it.

Recently, however, I have discovered the pleasure of ‘only eating while stoned.’ When I decide to starve, my meals become smaller and far less frequent (obviously), which means that each meal is worth more, in my mind. I want to savor each bite. Eating while stoned increases the pleasure of eating and trying to eat only when stoned limits the amount of meals I eat in a day to how often I choose to smoke weed.

Another cool thing I’ve discovered about weed is that because it’s more difficult for me to not eat when I’m stoned, it is also more satisfying. In the form of a math equation, it looks like this:

smoking weed = 2x amount of hunger = 2x more difficult to deny hunger = 2x satisfaction from denying hunger

 

EXERCISE AND A BALANCED DIET 

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Just kidding.

 

BINGE-DRINKING (?)

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A few months ago I went through the shittiest break-up of my life. It took me a long time and many different types of coping mechanisms before I was able to stop feeling sorry for myself. I tried rebound sex with men, rebound sex with women, xanax, opiates, amphetamines, sleep deprivation, working 2 jobs, working no jobs and masturbating 3 times per day to porn where people get molested on public transit. None of my attempts seemed effective, so, I decided to abandon New York and move back home to sunny Los Angeles, California.

Upon moving home, I realized that every drug dealer I used to know had fallen off the face of the earth. I was suddenly forced into borderline sobriety, left only with weed, alcohol, and occasional xanax which was mailed to me from friends on the east coast.

I have always considered drinking to be ‘the least of my problems’ in comparison to other drugs. After moving back home though, I suddenly realized that getting drunk was really the only thing I had left to help me forget about the massive unending void that some people seem to be able to face without drugs.

After a week of sulking around my parents’ house in my pajamas, I finally decided to go outside and be social. I went to a bar with some close friends. I drank a glass of wine to suppress the anxiety I felt about seeing them for the first time in over a year. Immediately, I felt comfortable and happy around them. I drank ~4-5 beers then came home and got in bed.

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My alcohol tolerance is high, to say the least. I’ve been drinking since I was too young to be drinking and have never thrown up from alcohol. I’ve always prided myself on ‘keeping my shit together’ while intoxicated. But now, to my surprise, I suddenly felt sick. I ran to the bathroom and vomited… and continued to vomit nonstop, all night.

I spent the next day sleeping and eating dry toast. The day after that I felt fine and assumed it was some kind of 24-hour virus. I ate normally and drank maybe 3 glasses of wine, which is average for me. I spent the whole next night vomiting again. The next day I barely ate anything and didn’t drink alcohol, and then I spent the night vomiting. I spent the rest of the week vomiting up everything I ate. I literally could not even keep a piece of fruit down.

I was finally successfully vomiting up food for the first time in my life and I wasn’t about to take it for granted. During the rare times when I didn’t feel like I had to vomit, I would do things that I knew would make me vomit. When I wasn’t nauseated I would drink half of a beer, then wait for the nausea to set in. The pain and discomfort of vomiting was worth the empty feeling in my stomach afterward.

In retrospect, the vomiting thing probably stemmed from more than just binge-drinking. My mother thinks it was me ‘detoxing’ from living in New York; a friend of mine was worried I had e-coli poisoning; my dad thinks I was doing it on purpose. I prefer to not question it too much. I lost like 10 pounds after that.

Whatever it was, it has been one of my most successful weight loss techniques so far.

 

VIOLENT SEX

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I wouldn’t exactly call this one a ‘weight loss method.’ Its more that, when you dislike your own body as much as I do, yet you are completely unwilling to do anything to fix it, you sometimes become frustrated and resort to violence.

Last year I began looking at myself in the mirror every morning and became actively upset with how much I hate my own body. I have always been unhappy with how I look, to varying degrees, but this time I was physically angry in a manner that I had never been before. I felt depressed and exhausted, but mostly I felt irritated at myself for being so helpless against my disgusting body.

So, I did what any normal girl would do: I asked full-grown men to physically injure me.

From a young age I have enjoyed a very specific kind of porn. I frequent a website that is all in Japanese and only has videos of tiny women being groped in public. There are a lot of aspects of this that I enjoy but the main one is objectification. When these women are groped ‘against their will,’ they literally become objects. Their bodies are no longer something they have any control over. The same way a table could be used to put a glass of water on, their bodies are being used to create pleasure for another person.

Shame and objectification have appealed to me for as long as I have been having sex, but until last year I had never felt so bad about myself that I was ready to be with someone who would actually go through with the things I fantasized about. The farthest I had gone into the ‘rape fantasy’ game was this one guy I had sex with when I was 17 who sort of meekly rested his hand on my throat after I requested that he choke me.

At some point last year, a switched flipped in my brain, and I realized that the person I was sleeping with was probably interested in the same things I was interested in. I could smell the rape fantasy on him from a mile away. It was just a matter of revealing that I was interested in having no agency during sex.

It started one day when I offered to fold his laundry. Folding laundry is something that I enjoy doing in a non-sexual way, but to my surprise halfway through folding my boyfriend had whipped his dick out and was dangling it near my face. I felt confused and embarrassed. The sex we had that night was exactly what I wanted. It felt, somehow, as if he didn’t notice that I existed, even while his dick was inside of me. Suddenly, my body became an object that was fully under his control and it felt euphoric.

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From there it only got worse, because, for those of you who don’t know, here is a cool fact about that kind of sex: the dominant person will continue to crave dominance and the submissive person will only want less control. As the relationship deteriorated, this sexual dynamic began to inflate. I think it happened because the more rejected I felt, the more I hated myself and the more I wanted to feel separate from my own  body. And, in turn, the more passive I became, the more chances he had to physically dominate me.

So he got more violent and I enjoyed it until I was scared, and then I continued to enjoy it. It got to the point where every time we had sex I got a new, visible injury. I began lying to my coworkers about the bite marks on my back until I couldn’t come up with a good excuse, and then I just told them they were tooth-shaped hickeys. I would come to social events with a swollen face and tell my friends it was from allergies. The last time I had sex with him, he choked me until I passed out, then gave me a black eye.

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After that relationship ended, (like, immediately after that relationship ended), I let someone else hit me in the face during sex. He made my nose bleed and worsened my black eye. Somehow, it was different with a new person. I guess I wasn’t ‘in the moment’ enough and it felt like straight up physical pain without the pleasure of feeling like my body didn’t belong to me. Since then I have stopped letting people injure me during sex.

I enjoyed the injuries while they lasted. They were visible, tangible proof that someone liked my body enough to objectify it.

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