What they call body dysmorphism

I complain that I have no idea what my body looks like, that I have no idea what size I am, or what body type I have or how I look and how I’m supposed to dress, and you say, yeah, yeah, whatever, that’s weird, and how is that possible? How can you really be so completely distanced, so remote from your body that you don’t know what you look like? Is it really possible to be that blind–I mean, you’ve got eyes and a mirror, don’t you, woman? Eyes and a mirror kind of failed me, and I’m still not sure what to think, exactly.

On Saturday, after E kicked me out of the house to get some sun and ice cream and ride around, because I was getting grumpy and hunkering bear-like in my cave. I pedaled around town, read my book in the sun with a cone of burnt almond mocha fudge awesomeness, and then toodled by the giant thrift store not too far from home. I skidded into the parking lot, locked up my bike and went to browse. I ended up browsing for hours and hours, and filled up an entire cart full of stuff.

It took me 45 minutes to try everything on, five items at a time, and I found so many things–a ton of floaty tops and a bunch of jackets and a raincoat and a crazy ’70s dress and a skirt and pink Capri pants and everything was two dollars or four dollars, so I took it all. I think the most expensive thing was eight dollars, and it was exactly like a motherlode. I stuffed all my bags into my baskets and pedaled home, excited to have so many new things.

I threw my bags on the couch and J came over to look at what I had got. Each thing I pulled out, he cringed at, and called awful, cheap, handmade, synthetic, terrible, gigantic. None of this would fit me, he said. And it made him mad, that I wasted all my money on so much crap. I argued. He yelled me. I got mad. He yelled at me again–don’t I think I’m worth more than this? Aren’t I worth better than polyester crap and home ec projects? I should be buying good clothes, that fit me. They fit me fine, I argued. Okay, he said. Go put on outfits. Go put these clothes on, and we’re going to take pictures.

Fine! I said. I came out for picture after picture, changing into things I remember really liking in the changing room. And he’d take the picture, and then he’d grab the fabric at my waist and say look at this! Look how this thing is swimming on you! Look how much room you’ve got in here! Why are you wearing this when you’re so tiny? Why are you making yourself look like this? And I shrugged at him and went to put on the next shirt. We made it through my piles of bags, and then he handed me the camera and said, Look.

In picture after picture, I was floating in clothes that were too big for me, that stopped at the wrong place at my hips, that gave me saddlebags and made me look short, or flat-chested, or weird or like a meth addict. I must have looked shell-shocked, because he said, “Look. I know why you picked this stuff out. It’s kind of quirky stuff, and it suits your personality to wear quirky stuff, I get that. But it doesn’t fit your body. It doesn’t suit you. You don’t need to dress all wacky. You can do so much better than this.”

In so many of those pictures, I look uncomfortable and stiff, and part of it, of course, was because it is odd to pose for photos, but a lot of it–I can see that it’s the clothes. In every outfit, I was tugging at them and yanking on them and fiddling with them, and I am mad at him, for being right. I am angry that I spent so much money, and angry at–I don’t know, a blind uncaring universe, I guess–that this is so continuously, continually hard, and that I feel so, so stupid every time it slaps me in the face. Every time I think I have a handle on things, my body or my shape or dressing, it turns out that I have no idea what’s going on, what I look like, what I look like to other people. Now I’m kind of terrified of what I look like to other people. I feel so ridiculous for not knowing.

“Did I dress okay when I was fat?” I said. “I mean, have I always”–“You dressed great,” J said. “You looked good. But you’re not fat any more. Your body’s completely different.”

Oh. Right. It is a little bit irritating, how I am so exquisitely and constantly aware of that every single day, and yet completely oblivious.

I wish I was brave enough to upload these photos to show you. I keep looking at them, trying to figure out if I recognize myself in them. One shirt, it fit me well, hugged my waist, skimmed my hips, looked good. That’s a good shirt, J said. I keep coming back to this picture, where I am standing tall, with my arms at my sides. The body language is strong and the shirt fits me well, but I am not sure if my body fits me. Or if I fit into my body. My shoulders look so wide, and my hips look kind of narrow, and my thighs are big and I can’t tell if I have stubby little legs or not. Is it the photo, or is it my body, or is it me? I’m guessing it’s me. I’m so sick of guessing.

A Quick Review by Editor:

I know exactly what you’re saying. I lost around 40 pounds: going from my worst to my best and four years later I still can’t get a grasp on this “new” body. I still buy things that I’m swimming in and I can’t seem to commit to buying a pair of pants that fit correct because I’m scared (god forbid) that I will get fat again. Any significant weight loss is a hard thing to understand. Our bodies look one way but our minds are still stuck in the fat phase. People say losing weight is a good thing but it’s so hard mentally to understand the change. I have a sweatshirt that is three sizes too big for me and I bought it last year…it was even bigger on me then (a few washes shrunk it down). I just can’t commit to the fact that my body can handle clothes that show it off. I’m not fat anymore but I just can’t accept that. In my eyes…I will always be that fat girl.