As I stare into the mirror, a feeling a rising feeling of repulsion on observing the curves of my body. A strong sense of dissatisfaction creeps in as I notice the stretch marks and scars that line across my muscles, the marks of shame. Strangely, despite having a well-toned athletic body, I derive no satisfaction from my physical form, just disappointment. As my eyes wander over the cuts of my muscles or the contours of my abs, I only feel resentment towards myself for not having a better physical form, especially like the extremely attractive ones that top athletes and fitness models possess. I can feel the heat of embarrassment rising up my face and I rush to cover myself up – I’d rather not have a breakdown today, again.
What started out simply as a desire for the want of a better looking body slowly ate away until desperation remained, and I was at the brink of willing to do anything just to escape the feeling of disgust that constantly gnawed away at me. At first, I was simply checking myself out a lot in the mirror. I’d keep observing the individual body parts and muscles, hoping to see an improvement, hoping to see some similarity with the top athletes that I looked up to. When I couldn’t see much similarity no matter how hard I looked, I began to look for means to change the situation – staying back after training for longer, doing tougher workouts, constantly flexing my abdomen to maintain the ‘lean cut’ look. While I could notice my body changing, I didn’t feel satisfied enough. My dad’s comments on how other badminton players of my age seemed to be in a much fitter and better looking condition didn’t much help. I started losing confidence in myself and my abilities. Even walking out the door and facing the world seemed suddenly scary. It was then that things started getting serious. I began cutting on meals, trying to reduce my intake in the hopes that it would help cut away any remaining layers in my body. I went as far as to reduce my consumption to just a light lunch and dinner, completely avoiding breakfast or evening meals. Even drinking water became irksome to me, since a lower water content body seemed to have better muscular definition. All this while, I was training 5-6 hours a day, and returning home bone tired. The final straw was when the self harm began, not directly but rather in subtle forms. I didn’t notice then that I was participating in self-harming behavior, since it seemed so practical – I began going on long runs everyday after training, trying in involve physical training at any point of the day that I can. Even the recovery day of my week was consumed with intense workouts to the point where my muscles were cramping everyday and I’d return home every night in a state of dizziness from the exhaustion; the continued self-induced cuts in my diet only accentuated the problem. My wake up call from this chaos only came when I collapsed from fatigue while running on an empty road one afternoon. When I regained consciousness and walked back home, lips bleeding and knees bruised, I realized the damaged state of my body, and the negativity I had associated with my own perception of the way I look. I slowly started to recognize that this might be an issue, and not just a simple relentless desire.
Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition where an individual has “excessive preoccupation with an imagined defect in physical appearance or markedly excessive concern with a slight physical anomaly”. This disorder is surprisingly common in today’s society, with close to 9.75 crore individuals under its burden in India alone. Around 2.9% of the world’s population suffers from it. Unfortunately, while awareness about it has begun to surface, there is still widespread ignorance about the disorder as well as the severity of its effects, which range from depression, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. It takes effort to overcome this disorder, especially since the strength to do so comes from within – from self-acceptance and understanding that your physical form is a temple that deserves love and respect. It also takes courage and effort to seek help for such an issue, and to open up about it.
It took a lot of effort from myself to be able to overcome the repulsion I felt for myself and my body. In fact, I’m still fighting to overcome these feelings and responses. Yet now, whenever I look in the mirror and see the stretch marks or the imperfect muscular curves on my body, they do not seem to me as the marks of shame. Instead, they seem to be battle scars to inspire me as I walk out the door with pride and go to war.