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Selfies Help Me Battle My Body Dysmorphia

Personal Stories

CW: Body Dysmorphia, Eating Disorders, Suicidal Thoughts, Suicide Attempt

I’ve never been a fan of mirrors. Or any reflective surface for that matter. My earliest memory is me standing in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom of the first house I’ve ever lived in. I was looking at my little toddler legs, thinking “I hate my thighs” as I pinched at the skin. Then turned my attention to my nose, my face reflected disgust. “I hate my nose. I wish I could rid of it.”

I was four years old. Four.

Almost exactly two decades later, my thoughts on my appearance haven’t changed. The only difference is that I am now battling an eating disorder, one that started in earnest in my teen years, but the symptoms clearly showed up before then.

Eating disorders come with a host of other mental illness. Because, as the old saying goes, “misery loves company.” One of the most common illnesses associated with eating disorders is Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD is a mental illness characterized by a “fixation on one or more self-perceived body flaws, leading to serious mental distress and inability to properly function socially."

When people talk about eating disorders or BDD, there’s often an association with an image often found in high school health class textbooks: an extremely thin girl looking into a mirror and seeing a morbidly obese girl. However, that’s not quite accurate. BDD is not a generalization; it’s more honed in, like focusing on a particular flaw and magnifying it until it becomes distorted. I’ve wasted hours I’ll never get back looking solely at my crooked nose. I’ll go into the bathroom two dozen times a day, just to pull down my jeans and make certain that my thighs still don’t touch. In college, I would pass the window of the campus nightclub on my walk to class and every time I would have to stop and push down on my stomach, to the light teasing of my friends. I’ve annoyed everyone I care about with constantly asking “do I look okay?,” “do I look all right?”

If it sounds like hell, it’s because it is.

The beginning of last year was a rough one. I moved back home with my parents, ended a long-term and messy relationship with a boyfriend, and fell down the black hole of depression, making my eating disorder worse, leaving me at my lowest weight in years.

Something had to be done.

I found my something in the unlikeliest of places: Tumblr. Scrolling through a sea of cute dogs and old vines I found a post, with a stock image sunset in the background, telling me in bold letters “Do one kind thing for yourself a day.” It sounds like cheap advice I’ve ignored in the past. But this was different. What can I do that is kind for myself? I’ve never been exactly “kind” to myself before, quite the opposite. If I treated another person the way I’ve treated myself I’d probably be in jail, or the very least have a heavy restraining order. So, I knew should probably start small.

My answer? Take a selfie.

Yes, it is a counterintuitive move considering the story I just told you, but my reasoning was that maybe by actually putting myself out there, looking at my body through a different lens might help me not be so cruel. A self(ie) analysis if you will. Some kind of challenge to myself. I loved Instagram, but rarely taken any photos of my own. It might be fun.

January 22, 2017

This is my first day of my little selfie experiment. Why am I doing this to my forehead? I look like a Shar Pei. This was also my first day teaching my Creative Writing Group, and I am wearing my favorite dress. This was taken with my iPhone 5 which its fuzzy camera lens. There were 40 photos taken, and this was the “winner”. With the filter, my eyes looked nice. 24 people commented, 2 people wishing me luck. I needed it in more ways than one.

March 12, 2017

I decided to test myself more by taken a full body selfie that had always been a source of unspoken terror for me. My body? Who’d want to see that? Gross. Actually I just wanted to show-off the beautiful dress I got from ModCloth that made me feel like a Disney Princess twirling around my room. So, I placed my MacBook on top of a stack of Nabokovs and Nancy Drews and spent the better part of two hours taking and editing photos until I created the photo you see now. There is a lot of opinions on using filters and photoshop on selfies when you’re doing #bodypositive. But spending hours playing with colors and filters, I noticed, for the first time, how nice my arms looked, how well the dress fit me. I might not like how I appear, but I can change how an image of me looks. And aren’t filters just a different way of making art? Plus, I really love that dress.

April 4, 2017

For full disclosure, this article was very hard to write. I ended up deleting a lot of photos. This selfie project did not cure my body dysmorphia; it was never meant too. When I get to this picture, my finger is on the delete button. It’s not a great photo. Its fuzzy, my shirt is silly, I wrote a snide comment to myself in the post. I should delete but…I recognize myself. My long hair, my dark eyes, slightly cocked smile. Details that do not hang me in a vicious cycle of flaws, but things that help me recognize myself.

That’s not a bad thing.

August 13, 2017

Oh, look it’s our old friend my printer, the real star of my selfie journey as I don’t have the skill or house space to not take a picture with it. I hate it at first, but now I see it as some kind of “control” in this experiment. I may be changing, but the printer will stay the same. This is one of the first pictures taken with my new iPad that had a slightly better camera quality and it’s taking the picture of the first “first” date I’ve been on in two years. This is one of my favorite outfits. I always get compliments when I wear it.

I like how I look in this photo. It took ten times to type and delete this sentence, but I’m keeping it.

August 28, 2017

I look ridiculous No, I can admit it, I look ridiculous. This photo was taken for a blog post called “dressing by the decades” where I am clearly a 1920’s flapper girl. My fashion blog Sarcasm In Heels was started a few years ago my junior year of college, but I had been always been rather lax on keeping it updated, especially since I hate my body and it was a fashion blog. Now having done selfies for nearly a year, I felt confident enough to get the blog going again. Comfortable enough to put myself, and my work out there again. It become less painful and more fun. This photo was taken a few days after my 23rd birthday. I didn’t think I would live to see 23, and truth be told, I tried to end my life on my birthday. But I live to snap another selfie.

January 19, 2018

It’s been almost a year between the first photo of this journey at this one. There are some obvious differences: my hair is longer, my face fuller, my body is there and I am trying to not to tear into myself. It’s still difficult, but I hope to whatever deity that is eavesdropping I am a lot less like the self-destructive person I was then. And I’m not saying I’m healed, or I am in love with myself, or I’ve even stopped pinching my thigh because I haven’t. But I feel like I’ve created something.

And that ain't nothing.


Self-love and body positivity is a hard ask for some people. It’s hard to fall in love with something you been taught to hate since childhood. And it doesn’t make it easier when people tell you to “just love yourself”, like it was so easy.

I am not looking for self-love. I am not there yet. I will not rush this journey. I might never get over my body dysmorphia, even as I try to recover from my eating disorder. It was something I will always deal with no matter how many “inner beauty” speeches I’m given or what can be stamped on a t-shirt. I’m more looking for a truce between my mind that wants me dead and a body that wants to stay alive. My own Treaty of Versailles I’m learning to get comfortable in my skin, to recognize myself and not just wreck myself is the first step towards that.

So I ask all of you to do something kind for yourself. Whether it’s taking selfies, writing compliments to yourself, or making your favorite dinner. It’s important to be kind to everyone, including yourself, even if it’s hard.

If you are someone you love is suffering from BDD, there are many resources out there to help you such as the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) who have plenty of information, screening tools, and even a helpline to call or text. If you are have depression or suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or list their Lifeline Chat. Remember, you don’t have to suffer alone.

Ellen Ricks is an writer, blogger, and feminist living in Upstate New York. When not writing, Ellen enjoyed consuming pumpkin spice everything, frolicking in fancy dresses and dismantling the patriarchy. 

This is a personal essay. All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author. 

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