This post deals with body dysmorphia and suicide, and might be triggering for some readers.
I can’t remember a time when I felt beautiful. Even on occasions when I was supposed to be feel beautiful, such as my wedding day, I didn’t. As a child, I thought everyone had the same thoughts as me.
"You are hideous."
"People shouldn’t have to look at you."
"You need to make up for what you lack in looks with your personality. You need to be perfectly nice to everyone or you will let yourself down."
"Only surgery can fix this. And you’ll never be able to afford that. You would be better off dead."
"Don’t risk having kids. What If they look like you?"
Watch: How to improve your daughter's relationship with body image. Post continues below.
I realised as I got older that although most people have insecurities about the way they look, their thoughts aren’t as harsh as mine. And most people aren’t prone to feeling suicidal over how they look.
They especially don’t worry that having a child of their own is the wrong thing to do in case their baby ends up looking like them.
When I found out I was having a girl, my feelings of excitement quickly turned to shame. I was bringing a little girl into the world. How irresponsible of me! What if she goes through what I go through? If she looks like me, she’s going to have a terrible life and it will be my fault.
As I felt her grow inside me, I flitted between being excited to meet her and being completely terrified. I knew I would love her no matter what she looked like. But if she looked like me, I feared the world wouldn’t love her. Most of all, I feared she wouldn’t love herself.
When she was born, my fear came true. As the midwife put her on my chest, I was surprised to see a miniature version of my face looking up at me. I was even more surprised that it was the most beautiful face I had ever seen. My brain couldn’t compute it. If I’m hideous, and she looks like me, then how is it that she is so beautiful?
I had always suspected that there was something not quite right with me, but as I watched her sleep next to me as I stayed overnight in hospital, it really hit home how abnormal my thoughts were.
The birth was risky, and I had plenty to worry about in that regard, yet I was more worried that she would look like me.
It dawned on me just how much I hated myself and I couldn’t live like this anymore, especially with this little version of me looking to me to be her role model.
I became consumed by motherhood as I put my need for mental health treatment to one side. This is one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. My body image issues were the worst they had ever been in my entire life. I couldn’t accept my new body. I tried to make myself see it in a positive way. "I look like this because I created life, and that’s beautiful," I would tell myself. But the words didn’t sink in.
I sought help and had a period of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. While completing thought diaries as part of my homework, I was shocked to see just how preoccupied I was with my appearance.
It was hard to believe I had any time to think of anything else.
When the diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder was queried by a mental health professional, finally things made sense. Although the diagnosis was never confirmed, it made me understand that I had a mental illness and not a character flaw. I wasn’t a monster for worrying that my daughter would look like me.
As part of my treatment, I created a timeline of my life to see where my thoughts came from. I always knew my mother was a bully and responsible for my low self-esteem, but the timeline made me realise just how responsible she was.
Every thought I had about my body could be traced back to something she said or the way she treated me. Although this process was painful, it was essential because it gave me the breakthrough I needed.
I couldn’t change what my mother had done. And I couldn’t "cure" myself of my issues. But I could stop my daughter from having the same experiences I had. Her life could be different. And I had the power to do that.
I began researching body positivity and body positive ways to compliment children.
I devoured articles on gentle parenting and increasing children’s self-esteem. I realised I would have a lot of work to do. I would need to unlearn so many toxic behaviours and beliefs. And the only way I could do that it by being kinder to my body, because how can I expect my daughter to have healthy body image if she has no role model to learn from?
I attempted to get into body positivity, but this was an unrealistic goal. When you have a mental illness that distorts the way you see yourself, it’s painful to try to be positive about the things you hate.
All I ended up doing was pretending my true feelings didn’t exist. Body acceptance was a more realistic option for me.
"...People are told not to be ashamed of their physical selves, based on the premise that there was never anything wrong with them to begin with, as though the same companies that claim to be guiding this 'movement' haven’t been selling insecurity for years." – Body Positivity is a Scam by Amanda Mull.
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My postpartum body is seen by society as a before picture. This deeply affects me, to the point that I worry about having another child.
Not only do I still worry they might look like me, but I worry I will end up even more hideous. Whereas body positivity made me feel like I had to pretend I was okay with the way I look even though I’m not, body acceptance allows me to admit my true feelings.
I hate my body. Sometimes I hate it so much I have suicidal thoughts.
But I accept that I hate my body. And I accept that I can lead a full and meaningful life despite not loving myself.
I accept I can wear clothes I like, even though I never feel like I look good in them. I accept my daughter has a mummy with issues but will be able to watch her mummy deal with these in a healthy and honest way. And I accept that it’s up to me to ensure her life is very different from mine.
Feature Image: Getty. The feature image used is a stock image.
For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here.