Around a year ago, I started shopping for a therapist.
“I think I suffer from body dysmorphic disorder,” I announced to the man on the other end of the line, a man who came recommended from another professional.
“That’s very difficult to overcome.”
“Uh, yeah, I know that because I’ve been living with it for thirty years.”
Needless to say, I didn’t bother scheduling an appointment. The last thing I needed was someone just as discouraged as I was with the current state of things.
“Do you purge?” the therapist I settled on inquired.
“No. Never. Though, back in the day, I did binge eat.”
She concluded I didn’t suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. In her mind, I had been programmed as a young child to criticize myself. It sounded reasonable considering my mother oftentimes reminded me to suck in my stomach or put on more make-up or get on the treadmill. By the age of fourteen, I had been on Weight Watchers, Diet Center, Jenny Craig, and Weight Watchers again. Except when I look at pictures from that time of my life, I now realize I wasn’t overweight.
Five months and fourteen sessions in with my chosen therapist, I plop down on her plush purple sofa. I adjust the cushions, dangle a sandal off the tips of my toes.
“I wish there was a switch I could flip,” I say as I fidget with the clasp of my watch.
“You just need to parent your inner child,” my therapist says as she settles into her chair. “What do you see when you look at that photograph?”
I’m holding a picture taken in July, the background a collection of pine trees and picnic tables. In one hand is a small box of Munchkins purchased for my students. The other hand hangs loosely by my side. My hair is pulled back in a wet ponytail, the heat and humidity dictating the status of my tresses.
“Well, I’m the last person who should be holding a box of donuts,” I start.
I keep talking. And it doesn’t take long for things to spiral out of control, for me to announce the punch line.
“How could any man see this and think, now that’s a woman I want to wake up next to every morning?” I reach for a second tissue, curse my decision to wear mascara.
She starts talking about the bigger picture, who I am and what I contribute. And I hear what she’s saying. Logically, I get it. When I interact with friends and coworkers, I do see the whole of me. I see a woman who is generous and thoughtful, funny and smart. But when the interaction dwindles to me and a suitor, a man I admire and long for, logic loses every time. I’m reduced to cellulite and squinty eyes, a soft stomach and sizable ass. And the only thing I can assume is he’ll eventually come to his senses and walk away.
“Are you okay?” she asks in a gentle voice.
I attempt a deep breath, stuttering the intake. I fold the tissue in half and in half again. Then I look up, pinching the inside of my lips between my front teeth, and shake my head no. It’s a scary confession, one that I have spent the last ten years trying to ignore.
In that moment I feel like I have taken two steps back. And now more than ever, with a damp tissue crumpled in my fist and my cheeks stained with tears, I ache to take just one step forward.