Love Your Body: My body dysmorphia stole the joy from my teenage years
"I hated just about every part of myself."
Many women have a complicated relationship with their body, often starting from a very young age when they become aware of what society considers 'normal' and 'attractive'. In a new series, Her meets a selection of Irish women who have transformed their thinking and learned to love their bodies as a result...
Just about every teenage girl has something about herself she doesn't like – but with me it was everything.
In my first year of secondary school, I remember playing with a baby cousin of mine and thinking: "She shouldn't have to look at me, I'm so ugly'.' I was 12.
During my teen years, things only got increasingly worse, and I hit bottom before I started to gain any confidence about my appearance. This was a part of my life I have put far behind me, but taking part in a recent throwback photo challenge made me mourn for the carefree teen years I didn't have.
A social media group I'm a member of recently asked us to post a teenage snap along with a recent photo. I posted one of myself when I was around 16 and another that was taken a couple of weeks ago. Looking at these two photos side by side was difficult.
For so many years I couldn't stand the sight of myself. I would wear layers of clothing because I thought my body looked too thin and disgusting. I didn't like looking at myself in the mirror because I thought my face was too round and my eyes were too small.
I hated my curly hair. I hated my short legs. I hated just about every part of myself and it took the joy out of my life for a long time.
I was convinced that something was wrong with me. I thought I was the ugliest of my friends and couldn't understand why they wanted to be seen with me. I truly believed that no one would ever find me attractive and I would never get married.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder characterised by the obsessive idea that some aspect of your own body part or appearance is severely flawed and therefore warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix the dysmorphic part of your figure.
It wasn't until I was in college that a name was given to what I was going through, thanks to guidance from a medical professional. It was then that I realised how distorted my view of my body had been. In my mind, I looked completely different to my actual appearance.
Singer Billie Eilish recently spoke about her own struggles with body dysmorphia.
"I wasn't as confident. I couldn’t speak and just be normal. I was always worried about my appearance. That was the peak of my body dysmorphia. I couldn't look in the mirror at all."
Her experience is all too familiar to me. I remember looking at some old photographs before my 21st birthday and saying to myself: "Why did I think all those horrible things? There was nothing wrong with me." It took me until that moment to realise that my problem had never been about my physical appearance but all about my mental health.
I didn't fully comprehended what I was going through at the time because I knew so many other girls tearing themselves apart in different ways. I knew girls dealing with eating disorders, I knew girls who had addiction problems and others who had self-harmed. The serious nature of all these things didn't really click with me until my younger sister became a teenager. I hoped she would never hate or harm herself.
At the same time, it wasn't easy working through the issues I had with my own body.
My low self-confidence led me into a toxic relationship, and I really hit rock bottom. After that relationship ended, I started seeing a counsellor to deal with my body and self-esteem issues. I threw myself into my hobbies and college work while trying to focus on the positive.
Those old feelings still creep in sometimes, but I now have coping mechanisms and can shut that voice inside my head down.
I remember reading once that we would never say the awful things we say to ourselves to our best friends, and it's true. When I saw other girls picking themselves apart, I would wonder why they couldn't see how great they were – but there I was without a single good word to say to myself.
If you're going through this, know that you don't have to feel alone. You shouldn't feel unworthy of love and affection. It might seem like it will never go away but it will. Finding the right counsellor was the turning point for me, and even though it couldn't bring back my teen years it did save my 20s.
Conditions like body dysmorphic disorder are extremely serious and should never go unchecked. If you are affected by the issues in this article, contact youth mental health service Jigsaw.