Balancing Act

I’ve lost two and a half stone, and I don’t know how to feel. A blog about body positivity and recovery.


Content note: this post is about body image, dysmorphia and weight loss.

The current resurgence of the fat- or body- positive movement, or perhaps my raised awareness of what was always there, has left me feeling conflicted.

How do I talk about Body Dysmorphia – when a large part of my hatred towards my body is rooted in my weight – without it sounding negative towards “fat”? It’s not right to keep on about hating my size and shape while other people are working to make being larger just as desirable as the model in the notoriously shitty “beach body” ad.

Beach body

I love the fat-posi movement. They’ve made me realise and confront deeply held prejudices that I never knew were there. This podcast, where comedian Sofie Hagen talks to artist and activist Scottee, made me feel like old issues to do with size, sexuality and identity were finally being dealt with in a new way. I wish they’d been around when I was growing up.

Sofie Hagen and scottee
They look fun to hang out with.

But all that falls to pieces when I try to apply these ideas to myself. Like (I’m guessing) all Western women and some men, my conception of my size, and my feelings towards food, eating and fatness are deeply rooted in feeling and emotion. They’re not something I can rationalise away, no matter how much I cognitively want to.

My problem was that I had got fat, and it made me desperately unhappy, triggering feelings of dysmorphia that had been latent since my teens. I couldn’t look in the mirror, I couldn’t leave the house. Back in July I blogged about how I’d stopped seeing friends due to my appearance, and looking back this period of self-imposed exile lasted months.

From being a pretty stable size UK 10-12 all my life, I began to gain weight uncontrollably. I had no idea why, or what was happening and neither did the doctors (not much change there). However, its no coincidence to me that my sudden and rapid weight gain coincided with the worst ever mixed bipolar episode I’d experienced, and nor is it much surprise that as my symptoms started to recede, my weight dropped.

In the July post, I wrote about my body and my concerns about how I was feeling. I was desperate for someone to talk to about it, but it was strangely hard to get support. Eating disorder services wouldn’t deal with me, because I hadn’t got an eating disorder. Everywhere else I tried referred me back to ED services. I was torn between wondering if what I was feeling was actually just “normal” and how all women felt, or that there was something deeply wrong with me. In the end I got no help regarding how I felt about my changed body, but I did get help on how to stabilise my mood, and consequently my appetite plummeted like a stone. I’m now one of those annoying arseholes who can use the phrase “the weight just dropped off”.

I’m sure in a large part this is down to quitting alcohol, as I was probably getting through my daily calorie allowance in booze alone, and that’s without the crisps that inevitably accompanied it. Mmmmmm, memories of lovely crisps and booze…

Homer drooling

Something else that helped ease the symptoms of my BDD was accidental. Due to a change in domestic set up, I moved to a bedroom without a fixed full-length mirror. Only having to see my entire body when I chose to (which wasn’t often) helped a lot in terms of processing my feelings towards my body. Ultimately, though, my BDD eased as I returned towards my old weight. It’s not gone altogether, as I now direct my hatred to my ageing saggy face.

Up to now I’ve lost fifteen kilos, which Google tells me is two stone five pounds, and I hope to lose more (but then I don’t think there has ever been a moment of my life, at any weight, when I haven’t wanted to be thinner). To return to my opening comments about feeling conflicted, basically by listening to fat-posi people I’ve realised that it’s not really OK to go round shouting “hey look I’ve lost all this weight aren’t I great”, but now I’m not really sure how to talk about it. I know it’s perfectly OK for me to have a personal goal and to reach that, but I don’t know how to talk about this without fetishising thinness, and feeding into the insidious social pressure about our bodies that causes me and millions of other so much pain.

So it doesn’t feel like reaching a goal, or happiness, or victory. Psychologists would no doubt say that I fudged confronting my feelings about my fatter body by losing the weight rather than learning to accept it and be happy. Nasty little right wing neo-liberal shitbaskets might say I got off my fat arse and did something about it. In reality, I can’t claim that I’ve had the mental strength required to follow a diet or eating plan – my appetite has just reduced, and weight loss has been an unsurprising side effect.  In the end, thinner doesn’t feel better, just different.

Which is probably how it should be.







BDD…WT Actual F???????

Content note: this post is about body image, dysmorphia and disordered eating with mentions of self-harm.

So I know I have a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder II with rapid cycling of mood. I have a further diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder, although I have been diagnosed with one or the other condition based upon the weather than particular day.

(Seriously, during one two-week hospital admission I was flip-flopped between these two diagnoses no less than four times, according to which consultant was on duty. And each consultant was vehement that the other one was completely wrong. So please excuse me if I’m sceptical about what, if any, diagnosis is actually correct).

One of the difficult things that happens when you receive a diagnosis of a serious illness like bipolar or EUPD is that any other symptoms you may be having get subsumed within that diagnosis. So I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder which is not addressed because it’s just viewed as one of the manifestations of my BP/EUPD. I am scared of leaving the house and travelling, to the extent that I probably leave the flat about three days in every seven. This is certainly social anxiety/agoraphobia but again, it’s not treated separately to my bipolar/EUPD.

But today I want to talk about a different set of symptoms. I need your help because I don’t know what is normal and despite doing online research I haven’t found the answers.

The reason I frequently don’t leave the house is because I can’t bear to look in a mirror to apply makeup (and going out makeup-free is an even worse proposition). I am afraid of dressing my fat body, the way my clothes look (unflattering) and feel (tight) and I can’t bear to inflict this image on the world. I can’t dress without looking in a full-length mirror and I don’t want to look at my body. As a result, attempts at getting ready to go out are often aborted, and I will change back into my loose fitting pyjamas that obscure my physical form.

There’s close friends I haven’t seen for months because I’m embarrassed at how big I’ve become, especially my friends who work in a very image-obsessed industry where thinness is highly prized. They may know that this concept is bullshit, but they’re still online with their protruding ribs and thigh gaps.

But actually for the purposes of this blog, size (mine or others) is irrelevant. There is no objective size/state/body shape that would feel OK to me right now. This is all about my own perceptions and feelings.

I’d like to know: is it normal to compare your body size and shape to every single woman you see in public or on TV or in a magazine? If I see someone who I perceive to be the same size as me, I try and guess if others would view their body as revolting. Does everyone do this? I have done this all my life. I know we are all raised in the ‘does my bum look big in this’ culture, but how much comparing is normal? I’ve been on Oxford St today and the amount of comparing with others (everyone seems so skinny) plus trying to ignore my reflection in shop windows was just a nightmare.

What about plastic surgery? Where’s the line between a bit of botox and multiple and regular operations? Some days I want to slice off my fat.

Regarding food, I’ve suffered with bulimia in the past (again, never treated and viewed as a symptom of bipolar) but rarely purge nowadays. I’d say I have a fucked up relationship with food, but probably not a lot more than the next person.

I feel like I need some professional help with this preoccupation with my body, with avoiding mirrors, with feeling hideous. But I don’t know if I’m just suffering with anxiety which is exacerbating the general social pressures on women to look a certain way.

My mental health nurse told me straight out I don’t meet the criteria for Eating Disorder services, and that’s fine – I know many people with EDs and they are much more ill than me. I don’t think an ED (although a feature) is actually the main issue here. I think it’s much more to do with Body Dysmorphia. But I am pretty ignorant about this area of mental health provision. From the little I’ve read on the NHS website, the treatment would be little different to what I’ve already had over the years ad nauseum: CBT plus SSRIs.

If anyone can help, I would be so grateful for your comments and thoughts. Edit: even if these thoughts and feelings don’t affect you, I’d still like to know. If you’d like to comment privately, make that clear and I won’t publish it. Thanks.