My relationship with my body is complicated, and — like florals for Spring — I realize this isn’t exactly groundbreaking. I imagine that far more women could make this claim than those who can’t. Anyone looking at me would probably scoff to hear me say this. Boohoo, poor skinny girl and her bullsh*t body insecurities. But here’s the thing about body dysmorphia: I don’t see what other people see.
Body dysmorphic disorder causes you to obsess over your body’s supposed defects or flaws — flaws that, to anyone else, are either minor or nonexistent. When other people tell me I’ve gotten too skinny, I don’t tell them that they’re wrong, but I still think it. I could be skinnier. I still see a soft stomach and upper arm flab. I still see skin I can poke and fat I could lose. What I want to see is lean abdominals as taut as Saran wrap, with not a single inch to pinch.
With the birth of “fitspiration” came a new tagline: “Skinny girls look good in clothes, but fit girls look good naked.” Lucky for me, I spend much of my time clothed, and largely, I like the way I look in clothes. But every year when swimsuit season rolls around, I find myself in a bikini in the dressing room of a mall, surrounded by mirrors and bathed in poor lighting, inspecting my imperfect body as it’s reflected back at me from a dozen different angles.
I spend a lot of time on Instagram. Probably too much time. The explore tab on my Instagram is filled with fitness models and their tight butts, perfect breasts, and abs popping out like cobblestones, sexy and chiseled and apparently bereft of anything besides barely there bathing suits. My longing isn’t sexual — it’s pure and painful and envious.
In the dressing room trying on bathing suits, here’s what I see: a flat butt. Nonexistent boobs. A soft stomach. Underarm flab. Thighs that touch. I inspect myself from all angles, imagining what strangers at the beach or the pool might see. I bend over and touch my toes. I look at myself from behind. No matter what style top I try on, my chest fails to fill it out, and no matter what bottoms, my glutes look like sad pancakes. I wonder how in the world these women on Instagram manage to have itty-bitty waists and enviable asses at the same time.
BDD plagues me every day, but my disorder is particularly exacerbated by bathing suit season. The strange thing is, I don’t often find myself looking at other women’s bodies with a critical eye. I applaud bodies of all sizes and shapes, and I love nothing more than a woman sporting a suit with confidence. It’s just my own body that I hold to impossible standards, mostly because the women I see on social media make me believe it’s attainable. I never see these women in real life. For all I know, they’re not real — they’re a product of Photoshop and Facetune and the right filter. But still, I want to look like them.
Clothes are forgiving. Swimsuits are not. But every Summer, I’m a year older than the last one, and the idea of having a perfect body feels a little less plausible. This Summer, rather than looking at Instagram, I’m going to remind myself to look at the beautiful women around me. Do I feel they should apologize to me for not having the very specific body I’ve always dreamed of having? Of course not. So, I’ll ask myself, why do I feel the need to apologize to them? Swimsuits may not be forgiving, but perhaps this Summer I can work on starting to forgive myself.