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Here's The Thing: Body Dysmorphia is The Worst
ONE OF THE BIGGEST SWEETIES OF ALL:
I doubt you have ever heard something like this but I want some outside perspective. When I was about 16, I got involved in a pretty (mutually) emotionally abusive relationship with a boy at my high school (I was closeted then and deeply in fear of being outed to my Catholic, military father). Over the course of about a year, numerous pressures from getting into school to keeping myself concealed congealed into what I now understand was a severe case of body dysmorphia. The object of my fixation became my own penis. It wasn't big enough for him; it was ugly. I don't know. Irrational and illogical; I want it to be clear that I have no memories of him ever saying anything of that nature; I think other insecurities and feelings of lack manifested in something that I found different about myself, or at least something I thought I might be able to control.
This all came to a head when I convinced a urologist that I had pain (there was none) and that my dick needed corrected. It had a curvature that was absolutely not unusual in anyway but I was totally adrift in this delusion of inferiority and a procedure was done when I had just turned 17. I was still involved with the same guy. We later broke up for unrelated but similarly mentally affected reasons. I was very, very, VERY unwell.
Even typing this out makes me shake. My therapist described it as 'highly adroit self-mutilation' which, while I understand what he was trying to say and assuage the guilt I feel about harming myself, in a way it made it hurt worse because I'm so angry I was ever in a position that my mind could deteriorate so far; I was a pretty bright kid and that's what I put my mind towards? This was almost 10 years ago and in the time since, I have been romantically involved in several serious relationships, one of whom I even shared this story with; he was remarkably compassionate and understanding and made me feel so okay with myself; I have to emphasize that never in my life has someone recoiled from me or made me feel like I was too small or whatever. But whenever I want to get involved with someone new, the intrusive thoughts ruin the experience and (particularly now that I am in a larger gay community where people, and the worst part is that it seems to be getting worse. I don't like blowjobs anymore; will I hate sex as a whole next? :-(
I don't know what I hope to gain from writing you this; I imagine you've very little experience with over-analyzing the performance of your dick. This decision I made long ago is having an insane reverberation through my life and though I've stopped seeking validation from sex in the way I used to, I worry that this will be a lifelong problem and I don't know what to do about it.
I picked a photo of a hedgehog because I was trying to avoid a photo of something cheesy and phallic. I don’t even know if this picture is photoshopped and I don’t care. It’s neutral and enjoyable.
Ok, bodies are the fucking worst. They suck shit. I would pay a disgusting— like OFFENSIVE— amount of money to get to leave my body by the side of the road and float on with my life as a sexy vapor. And you’re right, I have never had any experience with over-analyzing the performance of my dick because I don’t have one, BUT I have had multiple eating disorders including but not limited to anorexia, food addiction, orthorexia, and a lingering body dysmorphia that never will go away even at my healthiest moments. I am genuinely SHOCKED each time I look in the mirror because I have no clue what I look like. No clue.
Anyway, I have been obsessed. I haven’t perhaps gone as far as you have, but I have tricked doctors into treating me for things I did not need treatment for or harmed myself for the sake of medical attention (when I was much younger mom please don’t call me, I’m fine right now). Even as I knew that what I was doing was not healthy, I could not for the life of me stop myself. I’m saying this because you are SO FAR from alone. You wrote to a random person and your situation is so common that they happened to have a somewhat similar experience. (I don’t want to erase the gravity of what you went through; yours is a particularly extreme case of dysmorphia and obsession. That is not negated by how popular these conditions are).
The painful, heavy, fraught connection between bodies and sexuality that unfortunately comes to a heady peak right when we’re all vulnerable and hormonal— middle and high school— is bullshit. I wish there were a way to untangle the two. To get to enjoy sex without bodies and bodies without sex, but the die is cast at this point, which means that the two have to be dealt with together. It’s like having to babysit quadruplets while camping in a desert. Either one is hard enough; are you kidding right now with putting them together?!?!
As an exercise, I would write down what you wish someone would say to you. It could be a therapist, a parent, a friend, or a partner. Hell, you can write letters from all of those perspectives. Here is what I wish someone would have told me, “You are never going to love your body, Sophia. You’re never going to be Kendell Jenner. Your rib cage is never going to get smaller—it’s a rib cage. It’s ok. It’s ok to be angry about this. It’s ok to hate your body some times. You just don’t get to hate yourself. You are not your body. You don’t get to hate yourself even for hating your body.” Bodies have assigned value that neither of us chose; That Big Bitch “society” decided their value based on racism and classism and all the other isms, pretty much. But there is nothing inherent about it. For example, having a small dick used to be “in” in Greece (hence their statues). Does this arbitrary-ness make these societal pressures less real? No. Does it make us love our bodies more? Ehh, not really. It’s real to hate your body. It’s real to have dysmorphia. It’s real to obsess. Those things are real. They aren’t going away simply because someone else says your body is ok, or because they encourage you to love your body, or because beauty standards are arbitrary.
These feelings don’t go away. They linger. They wax and wane at inconvenient times. The best thing you can do is set yourself up to deal with them. And the best way to do that is usually to work with a therapist. Talk about what hurts. Talk about the petty, small, angry, big, bitter, hurt feelings you have. Tell someone the hard parts. Unburden yourself. You didn’t make stupid choices. You were a brilliant kid. You are a brilliant adult. Your mind didn’t deteriorate— you had a mental health issue that went unaddressed. Your brain isn’t full of this stuff; it’s probably only taking up 1% of your lovely, kind, wise brain. Please don’t feel this has made you less smart or clever or loving.
Remember: it’s your first time on earth (that we’re aware of). You’re bound to get things wrong the first time you go around. Be patient with yourself. You have to do some healing of an old wound, which is a lot harder than doing the healing upfront. Imagine if you broke a leg and kept walking on it for 10 months and now you realize, “Ahhh my leg was broken! I need to address this.” It’s going to be much more difficult than if you’d put it in a cast and reset it right away. (That’s not a perfect metaphor but you get it).
I would also try to hold off on having sex with people for a bit just to give yourself a freaking break!!!!! Going back to the broken leg metaphor, it’s like people keep inviting you to go on a hike while you’re trying to heal your broken leg and you keep saying “YEAH SURE I LOVE HIKING!!!!” which, maybe you do, but you can’t do that right now! You will soon, after some rehab and recovery. But right now, give yourself a chance to heal a bit. To mourn what you lost. To wallow in the pain. To rage. To accept. To ignore it. To do all the hard things that come with trauma.
I wish you all the healing and love in the world. You’ve got this. If you’ve dealt with this much pain for this long, there’s no way you don’t have it in you to start the work of healing. There’s just no way.
(Also, as a book recommendation, I would try reading The Body Keeps the Score).