Content Warning: Body Dysmorphia, Self-Hate, Self-Harm.
People don’t fully understand how horrible it is to hate your own body, how terrifying it can be. People often don’t think about what it feels like to be trapped in your own flesh, as though the state in which you will consistently exist is a prison. Most often, those who haven’t felt the same don’t recognize the sensation of feeling as though your shape and texture are unforgivable sins with which you must reckon on a daily basis. Hating your body is perhaps the most fundamental form of self hate.
I’ve been chubby all my life. I have a terrible metabolism and a devilish sweet tooth. I like candy in the way an eight-year-old might, scarfing down sugar with grotesque, boundless enthusiasm. I also have body dysmorphia, a disorder which convinces you that certain physical features are irreparable disfigurements, projecting a completely different image of yourself than anyone else sees. It’s a bad combination.
Few people will ever fully understand what it means to feel physically monstrous—unlovable inside and out. Few people ever consider what it feels like to stand in front of the mirror, trying to craft an itinerary of everything you believe is hideous about you—then feeling like you simply don’t have the time to catalogue it all. It’s a blessing that most have never had to confront the idea that—no matter how much weight you lose, how you change your hair, whether you find the right clothes or makeup—you will always be beyond ugly: your ugliness will be contemptible.
A few years ago, I lost around 80 pounds through dieting and exercise. I felt no different about myself. That’s the frequent curse of self-hatred: that your loathing lies not in what you look like, but what you think you are. Your appearance, no matter its shape, is a projection of whatever horrible things you believe thrive within you—infect you. You often feel like the simple act of physical existence is, in fact, a decision to subject other people to your body. No physical or cosmetic adjustments can convince you otherwise.
Because very few people recognize this feeling, few people understand how to compassionately address it. Few people know not to tell their child that they might feel better if they just go to the gym, just shed a couple pounds. Few people know not to dwell on how their son has thick thighs, and suggest that they take that into account when you’re buying pants. Few people understand how the things they think are constructive are emotionally catastrophic.
I have issues with self-harm. I have issues with cutting myself, and burning myself. Though it’s often a form of self-punishment for perceived emotional failings, this self-harm often feels like a concentrated war on my body: a mutilation of the flesh that so often disgusts me. Looking at my body I often cannot reconcile my ability to be happy with a physical form that seems so undeserving of that happiness. I try as hard as I can to disassociate from my skin, muscle, and bone. I imagine that I can beat my body into submission, scare it off of my soul, send it scattering into the night until another, less abhorrent, one takes its place.
Few people know what it means to feel like your very physical existence is a sin. Few people know what it feels like to think your body deserves constant punishment. Few people, who don’t experience body hatred on a daily basis, know what it’s like to feel like every person who touches you and cares about you and loves you is more or less giving to charity.
That’s how I feel. That’s how so many others feel. That’s what others disregard when they selfishly and childishly defend their right to call others fat, to connect a woman’s worth with the quality of her body.
Many people might dislike certain aspects of their appearance, but few know what it means when that dislike feels like a comment on your ultimate worth. There are times when I feel as though I can’t have sex—because that would be punishing a person via exposure to my body. There are times when I feel as though I can’t eat—because that would be empowering the ugly fat shittiness of my body. There are times when I feel as though I can’t get out of bed because how dare I subject the world to my body.
Body shaming is serious. Body shaming is dangerous. Body shaming robs people of their humanity and their dignity. It denies them the right to feel like people. It fails to acknowledge the pain that can come with living in a body you hate, a body whose very flesh feels like a punishment. It disposes of the safety of others in service of validating the superiority of the bigot.
All bodies are valid. But those of us who struggle know the painful truth that not all bodies feel that way.