Coping with Body Dysmorphia

Photo of the author wearing pink headphones and a hot pink jacket.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Finding information that are about body dysmorphia that’s by and for people who experience it can be incredibly challenging. The material is there, but you have to know where to look-it’s buried, mired in a lot of academic language.

Let’s break it down. Body dysmorphia is a medical condition that deals with hating your body or a specific aspect of it. In my case, it manifests as chronic dissociation from my body. That means I sometimes don’t recognize myself, and that I perceive my body as belonging to someone else entirely. That gets complicated to deal with, particularly in the social media age. So, how do I cope?

I create defining characteristics every morning.

Every morning, when I look in the mirror, I see a blank slate. It confuses me to see my own hand moving back and forth if I wave to myself in the mirror. This state feels complicated for me. It feels gender affirming to have trouble figuring out exactly what I am, but it’s also alarming to not really know what I physically am.

I deal with this by picking out clothes and makeup that are really bright and eye-catching. Take, for example, a red liquid lipstick. When I apply it to my mouth, and catch myself in the mirror or my phone screen throughout the day, I can recall this morning, when I put it on-for that day, I consider myself red.

I do my best to flash things up, with bright colors and patterns that I can remember. These are a visual cue. It’s a way to establish common ground with people as well. It’s a conversation starter that doubles as a way for me to remember and affirm that yes: the person in the colorful clothes is me.

I pick recurring visual themes in mobility equipment—and document them.

All of my mobility aids are brightly colored, and feature at least one of the three primary colors—red, yellow, or blue. When I’m taking an aid in the morning, I can always recognize them as something I often grab because my mind associates those colors with being in less pain.

This theme also runs into my outfits being bright. Primaries tend to go well with brightly colored outfits, and contribute to the visual aesthetic I’ve developed to see myself. I also practice regularly photographing myself with aids, which helps solidify in my mind that the bright person, the person that wears the colorful outfits, is me.

I take time to ground myself in my body.

I have a dedicated ten minutes at the beginning of the day where I stretch and apply cold compresses to my body. That doubles as pain reduction, but its primary function is to try to make my mind connect to my nerves enough to recognize that my body belongs to me. I take a similar break midway through my workday to stretch and walk outside, and a hot bath or shower at the end of the night after I’ve wiped away the visual cues I placed that morning.

Grounding techniques can be harder on me, mentally, because it’s a more directly physical way to try to force my body and mind to work together. If you choose to go this route, I recommend being gentle with yourself, and starting with shorter periods of time.

Working alongside my dysmorphia has been a challenge, but over time I’ve learned that I am not broken or evil for struggling to connect to my own body. In a world that’s determined to make my body all that I am, my mind is fighting for something different.

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Noor Pervez is a community organizer who works at the intersection of race, religion, LGBT+ issues and disability. He has been in recovery for several years, and can be reached on Twitter @SnoringDoggo.