A few months ago, I reconnected with a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time. We met up for brunch, laughed about prior fights, squashed beefs and updated each other on our personal lives in between bites of truffle fries. In between convos about the escapades that happened during our distance, I mentioned that I was trying to lose 15 pounds to get my body back right. Unexpectedly, she told me, “Shamira, the entire time I’ve known you, you’ve been trying to shed 10 to 15 pounds. At every size.”
Seasons later, that line still sticks with me. Not only because she was right—she absolutely was (and is)—but because I know that I say 15 pounds when I often mean 20 or 25 or 30, depending on the day, level of stress in my life and mirror I passed. My volatile relationship with my body has existed since I was at least 9 years old; it’s become so ingrained into my daily psyche that I don’t know myself without it and don’t understand a world in which I’m not over-scrutinizing every dip and crevice to the point of distraction.
I’m not so deluded as to think I’m actually obese; in my moments of rational thought, I grasp that I’m in a healthy range for the average woman in America, and as someone who has danced and played sports my whole life and currently has a regular gym routine to boot, I’m likely fitter than the average American, thigh meats notwithstanding. And there are certainly days when I pass myself in the mirror, tell myself, “Damn, who let that bad bitch in the building?” and flood my various social media networks with a stream of selfies and Snapchat filters.
Nevertheless, in every new relationship, the pattern is the same: I make an offhand reference to my (perceived) growing frame, my partner tells me they love my thick body, and I end up in a seemingly never-ending tailspin of disgust, despair and denial until I somehow make it out of the other end.
Before I make it out, however, I’m weighing myself six times a day—after every bowel movement and every piss. I’m dodging mirrors because I can’t stand to see myself naked. I’m declining invites to go out because despite rational thought, my brain still can’t stand the thought of my fat self being exposed in photos to unflinchingly look at, whether all 5 feet 10 inches of me weigh 135 pounds or 175 pounds.
When I’m terrified to weigh myself because I don’t want my day ruined, I’m knocking on my clavicles for reassurance that they’re still visible and wrapping my left thumb and index finger around my right wrist to check that it’s still small. I’m examining how my rings fit to check for bloating. And the darkest part of me, despite how unhealthy I was and how I was starving myself to maintain during a rigorous dancing circuit, misses me at that “curvy” 135—to the point that I cried to my boyfriend on my birthday after sitting next to a model who was thinner than I could ever be in this universe or the next, ashamed that my most immediate visceral reaction to seeing her frame was envy.
Body dysmorphia has an uncanny ability to warp your mind in a way that seeps into your brain like a vice and grasps on without a care, imprinting any bad perception into your head to agonize ad nauseam, regardless of positive reinforcement from your friends and family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just nodded and said thank you because I was out of ways to explain to a romantic partner or friend that I just couldn’t see what they did, or that something as small as lovingly grabbing my food baby can make me cry myself to sleep depending on the day.
I wish so bad that I could look through the same mirrors my loved ones saw; I wish that I could stop lying every time I drop 20 pounds out of nowhere that I was training for a half-marathon instead of working out for three hours a day and intentionally eating under 1,000 calories for a month; I even wish that my perceptions of my body were tied to male acceptance of my figure—but men have sexualized me from when I was an 8-year-old with baby fat to when I was an undergrad student so depressed that I was running 11 miles a day and not showering, so I’m a few decades too late for that pivot.
Instead I semiannually try to work it out through recommitting myself to therapy and self-care, working toward a level of honesty that I’m not always ready to even admit to myself, much less others. I talk about not realizing how bad I looked until my mom came to visit me for the first time in Washington, D.C., and cried because my clothes were hanging off of me, and sent care packages in hopes that I would eat. I talk about refusing to watch myself on video because I’m terrified to see how I look on camera and turn into an inconsolable wreck before an event. I talk about refusing to admit to myself until 2017 that I struggled with body dysmorphia, because how can you regularly view yourself as an anthropomorphized beached whale if most of your dresses are still a size 8?
I don’t talk about this with everyone, but I do with at least one person (and now the rest of you), because for a month’s worth of weekends, I went through a cycle of eating everything humanly possible on Saturday and then denying myself any nutrition on Sunday in shame—and something’s gotta give, especially my Seamless bill.
Ideally I could tidy this up in a neat little bow and point to the light in the horizon, but the reality is that these are demons I’m still fighting; what I can say, however, is that I now know more than I did yesterday. I know that increased anxiety and stressors trigger my dysmorphia because it’s something I feel like I can control amid seeming chaos. And I know that I can talk more openly about this without feeling like I’m talking over my plus-size sisters who have their own social burdens to bear.
Most importantly, I know not to keep beating up on myself when, despite my best efforts, the demon rears its ugly head telling me I’ll never be skinny enough, and that it’s OK to laugh at the absurdity of the circumstances sometimes! Laughter may not always be the best way to handle trauma, but it’s definitely an accessible one, and honestly, if I were a contributing writer for one of Tyler Perry’s future stage plays, I would gleefully write in a scene of a light-skint woman crying into some chicken wings in abject despair.
Until Mr. Perry realizes my big screen talent, however, I’m sharing this with you all—and I hope that, applicable or not, you come to some sort of advanced understanding of how truly toxic some of our relationships with our bodies can be.