Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I have never felt pretty.
I cannot think of a single time in my whole life that I have ever once felt beautiful.
In spite of spending lots of times in salons, spending big money to get my hair done or nails or whatever, I've always felt like someone just poured glitter on a trash can.
I’ve felt like an ugly bride. I see photos of myself at other people's weddings or mine, and I look happy, but I remember how I really felt with all those photos being taken — glitter trash.
I remember spending days looking for a prom dress and loving the one I got, but still feeling like trash. I just want to know what it's like to look in the mirror and not want to cry or vomit.
What am I doing wrong?
I'm a cis female, but I've fantasized about being a guy so that maybe it wouldn't matter so much.
I wish I could afford therapy, but even online therapy is too much. I've been thinking about trying to lose weight or change my makeup, but it feels like dressing up a goat at this point.
I see photos of myself as a child, posing in dress-up clothes and wondering if I felt pretty then before society or reality ruined me.
I wish I could remember.
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I am not a therapist or medical professional, but the type of feelings you have sound like what I’ve experienced with BDD (Body dysmorphic disorder). BDD is described as “a mental disorder in which you can't stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable.”
I understand. I really understand what it is like to look in the mirror and hate what you see. And I know that when you’re in it, no amount of reasoning or logic will talk your brain out of it.
I spent years struggling with this. Sometimes I still do.
I have had days when I could not leave the house because I felt too ugly, too fat (which is a whole other issue of internalized, unrealistic, arbitrary size standards), too not right. At my worst, I tore clothing, broke mirrors, threw things, scratched my face.
It’s embarrassing to admit these things. I’m telling you because I understand. When people would compliment me, when anyone called me pretty or sexy or beautiful, all I could think was — somehow I’ve tricked them, somehow they only see what they want to see, they’re lying to make me feel better. It’s horrible to be fixated on our outsides when we hate what we see.
It hurts my heart to know that you feel this way about yourself.
And I want you to know that there are things that help. There are things I learned that have helped me improve.
The number one thing that helped me was CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). I know you mentioned that therapy, even online, was too much. I am not sure if you meant too much to handle or too costly. If there is any way you can access some professional help or are willing to try again, I want you to do it. Specifically, to work with a therapist specifically on CBT.
I had to retrain my brain and practice behaviors that would reinforce healthy thought patterns.
In addition to CBT, a mindfulness approach helped me greatly. Rather than trying to control the negative thoughts, I learned to acknowledge, observe, and accept them. This is sometimes called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
For many people with BDD, medication can be helpful, as BDD is considered on the OCD spectrum. As I said though, I am not a doctor, and this would be something to discuss with a doctor familiar with the disorder.
Another option to get some support is through online peer support groups. In the UK, the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation offers a comprehensive list of both in-person and online support groups. In the US, there is a bimonthly online group through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And there are more out there as well.
My struggles with BDD significantly improved as I did the work on my “insides.” As my self-esteem increased, I placed less value on my appearance. And there is one last thing I’d like you to consider…
Beauty is 100% subjective.
What makes someone beautiful, makes someone sexy, makes someone glow, is the soul inside that shell. I know that it can be so hard to remember, but please try.
You will never be perfect. You are more than your appearance. And you are beautiful.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Bloodstone, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo