Seeking Perfection: Overcoming Negative Body Image

by Emma Michelle Williams

“I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection” – unknown.

The other day, I found a photograph of myself sitting on the arm of a sofa at my brother’s wedding. The photograph sat in amongst an album of 70 plus photographs from the wedding and remains a stark reminder of how little progress I’ve made with my perception of my self. 

I had a love/hate relationship with this album whilst growing up, and it was evident in this particular photograph, why the album caused me so much anxiety. It captured a moment of my body image anxiety that I still struggle with today.

As far as digital went back then (14 years ago), it was a case of taking a photograph and having it developed. I didn’t have photoshop back then, filters weren’t a thing, neither were selfies and so, you’d have to get really creative or avoid the photo being taken of you in the first place if you wanted to get out alive!

Angles were super important for me to practice, just in case, I found a situation where hiding wasn’t an option. Constantly being coerced into photographs was a huge struggle for me throughout my early years and something that still fills me with dread now. It makes me incredibly sad when I attach myself to that feeling and realise, I have hardly any photographs of memories I’m starting to forget, simply because I wouldn’t get in that picture.

Fast forward to the other week, and I’m popping prosecco celebrating my best friends engagement. The wedding talk is in full swing and I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled for her but my excitement was short lived when she asked me to be her bridesmaid. An absolute honour and honestly, I could have cried with joy – but the negative self-talk soon entered and I’m like, how will I be able to get in the wedding photographs?

Do I turn down this role because I don’t want to be ‘that bridesmaid’, ‘that weirdo’ who steps out of every photo, leaving onlookers and guests to question ‘what’s wrong with her’? Aside from my fears that I won’t reach my dream weight by then and even if I did, my body dysmorphia would likely lie to me and tell me I’m still not there yet, I’ll probably end up picking my face worrying about it all and ruin myself anyway – tumbling into a huge pit of inevitable self-harm and conflict. Another ‘no show’ from Emma. Inserts eye roll.

Flashbacks of that photograph from brother’s wedding start to emerge. I mean, had gone through the entire album and drawn over myself in my mum’s black kohl eyeliner. I’d carefully cut away the chubbiness and created a stick thin version of myself. The dark background in the image meant this was easy to achieve – the ones I couldn’t master were torn up and thrown away or better, thrown into the fireplace.

Now, we are well and truly blessed (or cursed) with that selfie/filter life, photoshopping apps and just straight up avoidance. I try not to indulge in selfies because I know it will only make me more unwell, especially when I leave the house and realise my face doesn’t actually come with a filter – it’s just my face. Awks.

In my desperate attempt to find control of a situation that I feel is so overwhelmingly depressing, I start to ponder all the ways I can overcome this. Will my BDD find a way to ensure I book a photographer as a wedding gift – someone who will send me all the copies first, so I can edit every single one with me in until I am anxiety free? How unrealistic! But unrealistic – I can achieve that. I must try! Will the dress have sleeves? Omg. Will my arms be on show? I think back to my brother’s wedding and want to scream at how I squeezed myself into a dress far too small for me – I could never find a dress to suit my curves back then, it’s still a struggle now. All of the other bridesmaids are so slim – and then there is me! The nightmare. The photographs will likely go all over facebook and I’ll be tagged. It’s cool though, I already have that on lockdown. You can’t tag me without my strict vetting process. But wait, people from school will be like “Omg look at her, she looks awful” and the photographs will continue to circulate. I feel gross that I’m making my best friends wedding all about me but, my BDD is literally making this a huge ‘ME’ issue. Ugh.

At present, I’m in therapy. So this is something I can work through with my therapist, but when anxiety turns into avoidance and I don’t make it to therapy, the spiral downward is very fast.

For me, I can handle being ugly at home, I just can’t handle being ugly in public. I avoid mirrors at all costs, people and even family. On the flip side, I’ll overindulge, get my huge makeup kit out and spend hours playing makeup perfecting different looks. When I look in the mirror, I find it hard to know what is me and what isn’t. Years of comments that have damaged the way I view myself make it so incredibly difficult to see anything nice and I’ll start looking into ways to finance my nose job, cheek lift or brow op.

Although I do not blame others for how I see myself, I’m extremely sensitive to any comment that comes my way. It’ll likely stay with me until I die. If I don’t become the comment in my mind, I become it in my body – is there a difference? I never know. Are you confused? Welcome to me.

I am no different to the millions of other people who are out there dealing, diagnosed or undiagnosed with the devastating effects of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. This illness is crippling and its no surprise for me to learn that it has one of the highest rates of suicide. People living with BDD experience so much shame and guilt around their looks and find it incredibly difficult to take in any positivity or compliment. It’s so difficult to believe in those who might say “you are beautiful”. For me, that just makes me want to throw up because it honestly feels, in my heart and soul – like the biggest lie that was ever told.

I really wanted to write this piece with a million ways to improve how BDD makes you feel, things that have helped me and inspire everyone reading to do x,y and z – but it simply wouldn’t be true. I don’t know how long I will deal with this, it’s been so much a part of my life, evidently, since childhood – and I know many of you reading this will relate.

Not everything is about recovery/recovering and self-caring your way to happiness and body image bliss. This stuff takes time, it takes a lot of work and it takes patience. It takes being aware first and getting the help you need. It doesn’t make you vain to seek help around any obsessions you may have with your body image – do not be embarrassed, I’ve felt these feelings too – I totally get it, but it’s part of the illness, please don’t let it stop you from getting the help you deserve. Things do get better, and although I’ve just told you how much I haven’t managed to get to my goal, I’ve still made huge progress in little ways. I keep that up each week by going to see my therapist. There is no time limit on finding true love for yourself, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. If you are only offered 6 sessions of CBT, take it and then find an alternative therapist/pay what you can counsellor to help you when that comes to an end because its likely that the 6 sessions just won’t be enough in the long run. If you need help referring yourself to a service, email me – I’ll write something for you! I’ve done this for so many people and it really does help to speed things up. I guess people shit themselves when they see we are a blog/mag? Who knows. But please, just let me know, do not suffer alone – let me help you!

There’s also a tonne of helpful resources to arm yourself with online that I will link below. It pays to read lots about this, especially if you think you are dealing with it and don’t know where to start.

If I can leave you with one thing I have learned, something that helps me each day – its this little mantra …

“Perfect people aren’t real, and real people aren’t perfect” 

Helpful Resources for Body Dysmorphic Disorder 

NHS – Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Do I have BDD? BDD Foundation 

OCD Action – Body Dysmorphic Disorder & OCD

Dermatillomania (Skin Picking Disorder) Anxiety UK

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