I have been busy catching up on class assignments and it has been a while since I have gotten on here to post anything.
Our assignment was to “Photograph” a social issue. It could be anything from homelessness to political upheaval or anything in between.
For my project I chose body dysphoria or body dysmorphic. Dysmorphia is defined as: a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life. Dysmorphic is defined by a difference in feature or body structure.
I think the hardest thing for people to understand is that even a completely normal person with no obvious external flaws can suffer from dysphoria or dymorphic views of themselves when they look into the mirror. I am not a doctor, scientist or psychologist, but I have some theories about where some of these insecurities come from.
Growing up everybody called me “skinny minny” and my sister was told that she looked just like my grandmother, who was about 5’2″ tall and weighed about 250lbs. I am positive that none of these comments were made with malice. I was the sister who was tall, lanky, skinny, blonde hair, blue-eyed and talked to much. She was the slightly pudgy sister with the dark skin, deep dimples, and the smart one. I was the sister who didn’t know my place. I always wanted to be around the adults and in the center of the action. I wasn’t content to hang out with the kids my age. She was the sister who could sit quietly and listened to what she was told to do.
Fast forward to High School. All the girls including my sister were beginning to develop. I was flat-chested, pale and insecure as hell. I was still the “skinny-minny” who talked to much. In the meantime my sister developed Anorexia. She was no longer the “pudgy” little sister. At one point you could count almost every bone in her body. She still had the deep dimples, but she was no longer the sweet malleable child she had been. I had become the “wild-child”. The labels changed some, but they were labels nonetheless.
Again, I don’t believe that any of this was done with malice or with any intent to cause emotional scars. The family thought it was funny. She and I are the oldest of seven children so I believe we were the test children in the family. The competition began as far back as I can remember. Us siblings were often pitted against each other. Who was the smartest, the prettiest, the best behaved, most athletic and the list goes on. At around sixteen I decided I was going to stop competing and I joined the pot heads. I dropped out of school and decided to let my pretty, smart sister have all the glory. Even then I was not very competitive. It was easier to be what my parents thought I was then to try and change their opinions.
Fast forward again. At the age of 19 I had my first child. I married the love of my life and still couldn’t move past the labels. I made a multitude of mistakes in the ten years that we were together. In those ten years we took our family from three to five. Eventually we got divorced. Not because we didn’t love each other, we just weren’t real good at love. We each had childhood scars that crippled us.
With almost no time to grieve the loss of my first marriage I jumped into the second. I needed to be loved, to be needed, to be told I was beautiful. All the signs were in place. Control. Manipulation. Anger. I ignored them all. I was a twenty-nine year old woman with four children. Who else could possibly want me? I was the skinny, pale, not so smart high school drop out. I was so lucky that this man wanted me.
This might be a good place to add that I am not in anyway stupid or uneducated. Yes, I dropped out of high school. Went back to college and got straight 4.0’s. Imagine my shock when during an advanced Psychology class my IQ came back in the high gifted range! I had an adviser named Lucy who will forever live in my heart. I believe now that I met her so I could get to where I am today. She took each label and gave it a new name. At the time I really didn’t understand. Understanding wouldn’t come for many years yet. I couldn’t even get past the fact that I wasn’t the dumb one yet.
So back to the original story. I got married and spent years getting a lot of new labels. They were far worse then “skinny minny”. They were hurtful and hateful and this time they were filled with malice and aimed at destroying any dreams or self-confidence that I may have possessed. At the end of this time I was forever changed. I didn’t know the woman in the mirror anymore. She had changed. Her eyes were sad. Her teeth were missing. She had aged and I couldn’t see the creative me anywhere in the reflection.
Men still called me beautiful and I thought that meant they liked me so I dated them. I was dating any loser that actually gave me the time of day. This put such a strain on my relationship with my children that for a while my children almost became strangers to me. I no longer needed people to label me. I did that for myself. Drunk. Slut. Loser. Nobody.
For the past five years I have been single. I have not dated. I have not had sex. I have not gone looking for someone to fill in the empty spots in my life. I have had to learn to be alone. To be lonely. I have had to learn to be alone. To enjoy my own company. It has been a rocky road, but without them realizing it my children have been a huge source of comfort and encouragement. Our relationships have changed as a result of our past, but with time we are forging new relationships. I had to learn to be patient. At one time I just wanted them to forget the past and move on like I wanted to. That just wasn’t fair. They lived it and they had to come to terms with all the crazy in their own way and I had to learn to step back and not get angry or hurt when they didn’t react the way that I wanted them to.
It really wasn’t hard for me to decide what I wanted to do when we were given this assignment. I still fight with my reflection in the mirror. I still fight with the labels and worrying about what others think about me. I realize the images may be disturbing on a certain level, but I feel that they are a rather realistic representation of how the mirror can lie to you.
To achieve my assignment I used on of my favorite images. It is a black and white ink drawing of a beautiful young girl. In the image she looks a little sad. Not exactly how you would picture a young girl sitting among flowers.
The starting point was easy. I knew that I wanted to incorporate this image into my assignment, but just looking sad in an otherwise pretty setting does not define or show dysphoria. I stared at the picture for quite a while and allowed my imagination to explore what she might be thinking about and how she felt when she looked at herself. Did she see herself the way others did? Did she see how pretty she was? What kind of things had been said to her that gave her the look of underlying sadness? Who/what had hurt her.
At the age of fifty I am finding the beauty in the everyday. People still use labels, but I don’t allow them to attach themselves to my psyche. They are only the labels they need to define the world around them.
As I have written this the rain has finally stopped here in Pennsylvania and the sun has come out. I do believe it is time to get out and enjoy the day.