Welcome to Rose-Minded, a mental health blog and self-care brand supporting others through their journey. We love to encourage journaling, self-care, and sharing your story to promote healing and recovery. Continue reading below for guest writer Lauren's personal experiences with body dysmorphia and tips for others in their 20s struggling with body dysmorphia as well.
Bathing suit shopping has never been an exciting activity for me. I walk into a dressing room with a two-piece labeled “high-waisted” and slowly take off my shirt and pants to reveal a stomach with just a pinch of muscle, but mainly fat that perches itself on my gut. My legs and thighs display that “big-boned” trait that my mother always insists that I got from my grandmother, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fully love the curves, the butt, or the body that I’ve come to have.
I’m now almost 4 years into recovery from anorexia, and though it feels wonderful to now eat pizza and pasta without a “care in the world,” the truth is that I do still care immensely about how I look and appear as a 22-year-old woman post-recovery. Many girls, like myself, have first struggled with an eating disorder in their teens. In fact, the National Eating Disorders Association states that an ongoing study in Minnesota has found incidences of anorexia increasing over the last 50 years only in females aged 15 to 24. Of course, the causes of one acquiring an eating disorder can vary over a wide range.
For me, I was simply upset that so many other girls my adolescent age were taller, more athletic, and could eat whatever they wanted without “blowing up.” It all started with me eating healthier and exercising more in junior high, but by high school turned into a dangerous obsession with how many meals I could skip, how many times I could exercise each day, and who would actually notice that I had lost so much weight.
Thankfully, after a year and a half of trying to follow my ideal of a perfect teenager - and a few close hospital calls - I began my journey into self-recovery with the help of my family and friends. Now, in 2020, I have surpassed my pre-eating disorder weight and, by medical standards, am a healthy young adult. But why have I yet to simply feel like it?
“Recovery must come first so that everything you love in life does not have to come last.”
Unfortunately, there’s not really a manual just lying at my feet directing me how I’m supposed to live life after years of recovery. How am I to feel and react to the extra fat rolls on my body? Should I be concerned when my favorite pair of pants don’t fit me anymore? Is it normal to still struggle with body dysmorphia all of these years later, but to not want to go back to old habits?
According to Nerina Garcia-Arcement, a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, signs of body dysmorphia even after recovering from an eating disorder in your teens can linger or pop-up due to “life transitions that can be stressful,” and, especially for me, dysmorphic triggers come from situations such as trying on a new outfit or going back for my second basket of never-ending breadsticks at Olive Garden. Perhaps even more recently, my body dysmorphia has reared its ugly face during the most intimate times in the bedroom with my partner, and I find myself breaking down into tears - wondering why I just couldn’t see what beauty he saw in my body.
I’ve come to acknowledge that the truth of the matter is that body dysmorphia doesn’t go away overnight. It doesn’t stop when you become the magical age of 21. It doesn’t care about your career, partner, or willingness to move on. And that’s OK. I’ve learned in the past year that the only way to combat feelings of an undesirable body is to focus on life outside of the sphere of guilt or gluttony. Take up a new hobby, treat yourself to a new outfit regardless of the size printed on it (because girl, YOU ROCK IT), and enjoy drinks at the bar with your friends.
On days that I struggle with even looking at a glass of tea and my portion of morning eggs, I take a breath and playback the words that my therapist has guided me through our sessions with: “Recovery must come first so that everything you love in life does not have to come last.” I’ve also found it easier to confide in my best girlfriends on the days that I may struggle to wear a skirt, only to be reassured that I’m glowing and that the feelings of uneasiness and triumph over the thoughts of my curves ripping my jeans or my thighs rubbing together, are but thoughts - and do not define how I should carry on my day. After all, I dream of someday making this squishy body a temporary home for a baby or two, and a permanent home for all of the love that it should encounter both physically and mentally for years to come.
With aging comes body changes that are completely normal, and you shouldn’t be afraid. But you’re only in your 20s for a little while, and I don’t want to remember this age of my life being obsessed with the extra 5 pounds I’ve put on in the last month. I want to focus on the future ahead and to reflect on how far I’ve come. For me, reflection comes in packages as simple as a brisk walk to check the mail, or walk around the house with just underwear on; making it my mission to adorn myself in every mirror I come across and say “you’ve come so far, and I am so proud of you.”
Though recovering and dealing with the challenges of living day-in and day-out with body dysmorphia as a young adult may look different for everyone, I hope that today, you may find solace to know that you are not alone. I see you. I hear you. I am you. And I am here to say, keep going, keep pushing on, and go ahead for that last scoop of ice cream in the tub when you’re searching for that 2 am snack. Because no matter what, you and your body are worth loving.
About the Author
Lauren McCabe is an Arkansas native with a passion for writing, graphic designer, and mental health advocacy. Recently an English graduate from the University of Central Arkansas, Lauren is a former Editor-in-Chief of the college’s newspaper, The Echo, as well as a former marketing intern for two prominent companies in the state of AR. Currently, she holds the position of Social Impact Analyst, and values every exchange and outreach opportunity that she is given to serve the community of impoverished and incarcerated Arkansans. In her free time, she enjoys blogging, snuggles with her dogs Max and Ruby, and a Friday night spent in watching Ghost Adventures with a big glass of wine. To follow her journey of mental health and disability advocacy, as well as for snapshots of her life behind the screen, you can find her at @lauren_mystrey on Instagram.