I was getting ready for work and saw myself naked in the full-length mirror and I didn’t hate what I saw! I actually gave myself an un-rehearsed self-compliment “You look good today.”
The reason this is monumental is because most of the time when I look in the mirror I do not like what I see and I give myself harsh criticism. I suppose after years of self-loathing that it is more comfortable to degrade my appearance than to appreciate it.
Many patients report hyper-judging their bodies after weight loss; it seems the thinner we get the more judgmental we are of our bodies. These days I’m critical of thighs that seem a bit jiggly and some very unattractive cottage cheese dimples on my rear end. Loathing these body parts keeps me from appreciating a thin waist, toned arms or those curious collarbones that were in hiding for so many years.
We’ve discussed body dysmorphia here before – it’s a mental image many victims of anorexia nervosa have that tells them they look fat, even when they are emaciated. Morbidly obese people and bariatric patients can suffer from body dysmorphia as well.
One reader, ThereseD, posted this message regarding body perception:
“Body Dysmorphia is REAL! Over five years after my open RNY gastric bypass and I got hit with it again just last night, when I was cleaning out my closet. My daughter commented that my new shirt, which I was so proudly placing at the front, was too big and needs to go in the "go" pile. I checked the label and sure enough, it said "Large". Following my revision surgery of April 18, 2005, I still have my bandages and I'm probably wearing a size 4 Petite . . . and still I put on a smart and stylish new top in a size that's just too big for me! Oops!”
When we were morbidly obese our emotional coping mechanisms kicked in and many of us were able to convince ourselves we really weren’t that big. It is emotionally kinder to avoid body criticism. The whole issue of obesity seems hopeless. In fact, many morbidly obese patients will say they see themselves normal sized. That is until rude moments remind them they are not normal sized: a skinny chair, a turnstile, a bathroom stall, a flight of stairs, a photograph. This false perception is a subconscious coping strategy to protect us from the brutal truth, the truth about how big morbidly obese really is.
After surgery, there is a tendency for the body dysmorphia to reverse. Before surgery we denied how big we were, after surgery we judge ourselves critically – like the anorexic – and fail to see an honest reflection. One woman, down from size 24 to size 10 wrote, “I feel fat daily. I never felt this at 248 pounds – I saw a thinner person in the mirror than I see now. I look at my size 10 jeans and they look like tents. I don’t feel as attractive as I did when I was heavy. I don’t understand it,” she continued, “but I think it has to do with learning to accept yourself fat so you didn’t see all the fat. Now I just have to learn to accept myself as thinner.”
In previous discussion I’ve suggested that dressing in stylish clothes that fit is one way to beat the body blues. Another idea, as Therese suggested, is having a bystander who will be honest about our appearance. Therese wrote, “My daughter's the number one person I go to, when I need to cure the myopic view of myself that I've developed.”
I wish I knew what magic happened this morning that I accepted and appreciated my own body. If I could package that magic I would personally mail it to every reader of LivingAfterWLS – we ALL deserve to love and appreciate ourselves. It’s time for the self-loathing to end and the self-appreciation to begin.
Please consider commenting on Today’s Topic "What are you doing to appreciate your new body?” I’d love to learn from you.