Monday, July 12, 2010

Belly and Butt

At the vehement recommendation of my nutritionist, this week I am seeing a Body Dysmorphic Disorder specialist. My nutritionist believes that my insistence that I am fat, huge, and enormous (because this is how I feel) indicates there is more than just distorted thinking involved. Maybe she’s right, but I can’t help but point out that this is how I’ve always felt--I have never been at home in my body, whether it was too skinny or too fat—so I’m not sure how my thinking, my perceived comfort level with arms and legs and belly and butt will change.

According to information I’ve pinched from the Mayo Clinic site, this disorder is “a type of chronic mental illness in which you can't stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance — a flaw either that is minor or that you imagine. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful and distressing that you don't want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called ‘imagined ugliness.’”

Okay. Perhaps I meet some of the criteria: I do obsess over my body’s size. But this stems from a vow that I made to myself that I would never be a body that anyone could call fat. Why? Up until college, I’d always had crazy high metabolism. When I was much younger, I remember my best friend Erin and I would have Binge Wednesdays. This was the day of the week when our Catholic School let out early—before lunch—in order that the CCD students from the public schools could come in for religious education classes. So Erin and I would head to the local deli and order sandwiches (mine was always a salami and provolone stacked high), buy a bag of Doritos, a tube of Pringles, a can of Spaghetti O’s, and a bag of Starburst. We’d go to her house, sit at the kitchen table, and chow down for the next two hours straight. Happy, gluttonous eating.

Fast forward to college and all that free beer and the dining hall with its bagels and hash browns and then midnight pizzas. When I came home at Thanksgiving, I’d gained precisely fifteen pounds. My dad, not knowing what to say to this puffy faced, chubby daughter, said without thinking, “Well, you’ve certainly put on the pounds.”

I wanted to die of shame.

Instead, I spent the next several months exercising like a maniac and subsisting on frozen yogurt. I lost the fifteen and then some.

That vow also has its roots in an incident with my mom. I was watching her play mixed-doubles tennis one afternoon, impressed, as always, by her ferocious serve, her quick, slicing backhand, her willingness to dive for balls. My mother has always been an athlete and it is from her that I learned to enjoy sports and competitive play (starting at age five, she’d haul me out on the tennis court and we’d practice forehands and backhands and lobs and serves for hours!). But as she came off the court that day, her partner, not my father but some macho country club jerk, tapped her butt with his racquet and said, “You’d move faster if you lost some of that ass.” My mother is not someone who loses her composure, and so she laughed him off and poured herself a glass of water. But she had to have been hurt, had to have felt ashamed. Or maybe not. Maybe she did really just laugh him off. Maybe she could give a fuck what he said. Maybe she thought, “Screw you, asshole.” Or maybe not. I don’t know because she never mentioned it.

But as I watched the exchange, I was embarrassed and ashamed for her, for me, for the me that might one day have some guy comment on the size of my ass. No way, I remember saying to myself, no way will anyone ever say something like that about me.

Now? Even though I know, objectively speaking, that I am not Jabba the Hut, I look in the mirror and that’s all I can see. Someone who is too big; someone who takes up too much space. I want a body that is whisper thin, a body that is beyond notice. That’s why it is so difficult for me to look in the mirror, a chore made doubly hard by our mirror which is only ¾ length, so my head and feet are chopped off. Which makes it possible, I suppose, for me to look at that headless body as a thing, like some discombobulated mannequin chucked in the back of a storeroom. Arms, legs, breasts, belly, butt. Not me, but an assembly of parts. Shin bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone….Which makes it easy for me to zero in on the parts of my body (all of them except my shoulders) that are shameful. As I regard those limbs, that torso, I can feel myself detaching: What I see before me, what I hate, is not a ME but an IT, and an IT that is NOT MINE.

I learned to do this a long time ago when I was in an abusive relationship. During sex, I would will myself not to feel, will myself to detach from (my) that body that was under assault—I can’t feel you, I would think over and over. You can touch that body, but you can’t touch me.

So it is nearly impossible for me to regard (my) that body as part of me. It’s what makes it easy for me to starve that body, to purge that body, and to cut that body. Not me, not mine. I can’t feel the pain. I can’t feel love for it.

So THAT BODY must somehow become mine, a body that I can love and respect, a body that can feel good as well as bad, a body that occupies space, a body that says I am Here.


  1. Powerful stuff, but I get it. The trouble is I am now a size 18 and I am feeling like crap (to say the least). I wish now that I could be as "fat" as I once thought I was... I wonder if I will ever get past all of this stuff? I am 52!

  2. I hope you share what you learn from your specialist. I so struggle with this. Only teenagers who don't know better would ever say anything about my weight. I'm not the size 0 I used to be, but, for being in my 30s and having 3 kids, having to wear size smalls is pretty good, right? Yet, I see myself as being so much bigger than I rationally know that I am.

  3. I am working on this right now in my life, trying to connect with my body. For years it's just been a thing, a shell. Something required and temporary. It didn't really matter what happened to my body because it wasn't me. In fact, I just wrote a little bit about it on my Difficult Things blog.

    I totally understand what you mean.

  4. I'm sorry that you feel like you are not adequate. After looking at your picture and reading some of your posts. You are a very brilliant, beautiful, smart woman. It sounds like you as well as 90% of the women in this country are just brainwashed by societal standards. It's not your fault, we've been conditioned since birth to be "perfect". I wish you the best in getting healthy in mind, body, and spirit. There is a lot better information out there than from the Mayo Clinic. I suggest you watch the documentary: (Century of The Self) You also might want to check out the blog "Bipolar-Or-Waking-Up" He also has a youtube channel. All this information saved my life and has made me a better person in love with my body as it is. I hope it helps. Blessings.

  5. I am trying to be healthier as of late and caught myself thinking, "I think I look a little smaller, oh good, I want to feel small again, like I don't take up much room." I noticed that and had to remind myself that I DESERVE to take up as much space as my body needs. No matter it's size now or in the future, I have to learn how to OWN the space I take in this world. That space is mine and it doesn't need to be smaller. I am trying to learn this and rethink the way I think about this stuff. It is so hard. That remark about the tennis asshole? Oh my, my mouth just hung open. Wow.

  6. This is very interesting to me and I would love to know what you find out or if you could tell me where to get more information/resources about it. I use to be just like that, but something in my brain kicked off when I was pregnant. I loved being pregnant and I loved that it was "okay to be fat," so something in my mind went click, and I decided to be comfortable with my body, that hoovers around 180-190. I know I need to loose more for health reasons, but I'm okay. My good friend, won't leave the house, except for work, because she thinks she is so fat. She thinks everyone looks at her, and that she is huge. She probably weighs 160 at the most. No amount of telling her, she looks good, helps. What you are talking about, sounds like it could help her a lot. She won't even look in the mirror!!! I want to help her because she is really beautiful, but so unhappy.
    Thanks for this information.

  7. Great honest post! Wow! My sister had someone comment on her hips when she was younger and it spiraled out of control until she ended up with anorexia. She has sucessfully come out of that but she exercises to the point of exhaustion. Her she is 100 pounds (if that) and I am 60 pounds heavier...and 2 inches shorter. I know I need to lose and I totally see myself as fat...I have always been self conscious with my body. I would love to hear what the specialist says too.

    I am a new follower...just came over from Pampers and Pinot.

  8. I don't know what I can add but I didn't want to leave without leaving a comment. This post was so honest and I'm sure mirrors the way a lot of women feel about their bodies. Years ago my sister called me a "stick figure" and that one comment has always bothered me and made me self-conscious about being too skinny. I've since gained weight and don't have that issue but whenever the scale starts to dip I remember what she said.