I woke up today feeling good. In part, because yesterday I had put on a pair of jeans (meaning I zipped them up and exhaled without discomfort) that when I first bought never fully zipped up all the way, and left me panting and sweating when I attempted to force them to do so. With my new jeans-inspired confidence, I felt that this morning would be the perfect time to take an “after” photo. After all, if these tight-ass Fashionnova mom jeans fit, that meant that I had lost some weight since very mildly incorporating fitness into my life. Thank you, quarantine. So, I took a photo of myself in the mirror and compared it to a photo I’d taken of myself 2 months ago…and my heart sank. I just could not see a change. Actually, that’s not true. I could see some minor changes. My butt looked a little rounder. But I just couldn’t see any change worth celebrating. I was fully prepared to get another confidence boost, but what I ended up with was another episode of “Afia doesn’t know how big or small she is and clearly has a sense of self that may never be reconciled with reality”. What naturally followed was a downward spiral into a depressive state that lasted well into the afternoon. The sky outside my window was a bright blue, filled with big, white billowy clouds and all I felt was dark, dreary sadness raining over me. My perception of my body and how it changes never seems to match reality. And the frustration that comes with feeling this way is incredibly depressing. My body dysmorphia was rearing its ugly head once again and I could not cope.
But, reader, it’s funny how certain things we go through mirror larger conversations and experiences outside our own little, individual world. While I don’t recommend anyone do this, in my depressive state today, I turned to social media for some relief. I’m not sure what kind of relief I was looking for, whether it was to find motivation to work out or an encouraging word to help deal with my state of despair. I just knew that I didn’t want to feel bad about my body for the rest of the day. What I unintentionally found was Khloe Kardashian’s face plastered all over my Twitter and Instagram feeds. Now, I make sure to curate my social media to my liking. Because of this, the Kardashians rarely ever pop up and I do feel that my life is the better for it. But the photo of Khloe, that I was forced to come across, had gotten everyone’s attention this morning and in its turn had triggered (yes, triggered) something very real in me. I’d gone to social media looking to throw myself a bit of a pity party, but had come out feeling more reflective, so I guess that’s good.
Reading through different people’s reaction to her photo caused me to feel somewhere in the deep crevices of my very blackened heart, an ache for her. Most of us have seen what Khloe looks like (whether we mean to or not, that family is everywhere) and yet the image she posted of herself deviated far from how we know her to have always looked (even with the cosmetic changes over the years). People on Twitter chimed in on the many different versions of her face they’d seen and the many different cosmetic procedures and photo-editing tools she must have used to create the image she clearly wants to portray of herself to the world. To be clear, I’m not diagnosing Khloe with anything. She is a stranger and I am not a licensed physician, so it is not my place, and it’s not my interest to label her with anything. It’s just that seeing the photo, knowing how she’s looked on TV, I felt sad, for her and for myself. If someone took all the photos on my Instagram feed (you won’t find any there at the moment because I archived them all–we love a depression-fueled purge), am I recognizable? I try not to post too many photos with filters that alter the structure of my face. I decided to do this last summer to challenge myself to accept my own image without the distortion of filters that make my complexion too light, my nose too thin, and my eyes much larger than they are. But, even after a year of doing this, I still don’t have a clear view of what I look like. The image I see in the mirror and what I see in a video and what I see in a picture are all different. It’s only made worse by the fact that a picture that I take of myself and a picture someone else takes of me are also very different. And all of this is distorted further by the fact that cameras don’t capture people how they truly look in real life (see the popular phrase: the camera adds ten pounds). I have no baseline and many times it feels like I never have.
When I was younger, everyone pretty much always made me feel big. I mean, I was. But looking back, I also wasn’t. There are pictures of me as a prepubescent child when I was bullied for being too big, and I look back and I just was not. I may have been bigger than my peers, but I was not fat. Yet, that label has haunted me since I can remember. And it was from everyone: my parents, my friends, my teachers. Everyone, close to me or not, seemed to feel comfortable making comments on my body at a time when I had barely come to terms with how I felt about it on my own. And it is others perception of me that ruined the perception I have of myself. In high school, when I’d lost over 50 pounds, I’d felt just as big as when I was at my heaviest. When I don’t lose weight, as clearly, I haven’t today, I can still feel smaller than I was three months ago. I cannot figure out how big or small I am. I just feel big all the time and when I feel smaller, even that doesn’t feel real.
All of this is to say that body dysmorphia sucks. It really, really does. Like many people suspect of Khloe, body dysmorphia can lead a person to create an appearance, be it through surgery or Snapchat filters or Facetune, that reflects the best version of themselves they’d like to portray. And while this can sound empowering (many people argue that it is), it stems from a distorted, false sense of self. You change what you look like without knowing how you actually look, and that’s dangerous. How can true confidence be born out of you lying to yourself? Because, once you’re confronted with the truth (as I was with my “after” photo this morning), you realize that everything you’d concocted and engineered to portray to the world and to yourself doesn’t exist. Cue the depression.
There’s no inspirational conclusion to this post. It could have been hundreds of words longer. It could be better thought out with a silver ligning to make me and you feel better about the world and our places in it. But, I’m still struggling with the way I view myself, so it’s hard to feel that my words make sense or like I’m making a point. I think this post is simply to remind, dear reader, that body dysmorphia is a real bitch. She takes no prisoners and fucks with your mind in ways people don’t get to see. All people see is the result. The Facetuned Instagram post or the new nose post-surgery. You don’t see the war inside of people, the push and pull between accepting how you are and wanting to be better. You don’t see how even the perception of “better” feels foreign, like an anchor thrust into your arms without your permission and all you can do is sink with it because it was never meant for you to hold. If I have to give a conclusion, thought, I’d say it would be to be kinder to people. It’s hard when you don’t really know what you look like to put out an image of yourself for you and for others to appreciate. It’s hard to do it authentically, which is why many people do not. And why people like the Kardashians and Insta-fitness “experts” selling flat belly tea (whatever it’s called) capitalize on vulnerable people, pushing them to buy things they don’t need and wouldn’t want if their sense of self was more solid. So, please be more empathetic. Life is hard enough. *messages therapist*