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Journey to Self-Acceptance: Overcoming My Battle with Body Dysmorphia

I’ve always felt mildly uncomfortable in my body. Don’t get me wrong, the external confidence has always been there, and I know how to fake until I make it with the best of them, but if I’m being honest I’ve had body issues since I was eight or nine years old.

The 1990s and 2000s were the age of the glamorous skinny bitch, and while we’d finally had the likes of Tyra and Naomi to look up to as Black women, there was always the issue of what was “acceptable,” especially when it came to Black features, weight, and overall body image.

In other words, you could be Black, but if you were, you’d better make sure you were skinny, had good teeth, and God forbid you have a flat nose.

St. Ignatius College Prep Jocelyn Reaves

I got braces when I was fourteen so that was a relief and had finally fallen in love with my face and Black nose, but by that time the body dysmorphia had already set in. I weighed between 110-115 all throughout high school but couldn’t help but think I was fat. I would find myself pinching at my stomach, or doing sit-ups in bed before I went to sleep to work off the ice cream I’d had for dessert. I didn’t formally count calories at that point in life, but I was super mindful about what I ate and how much of it I ate.

The thing about body dysmorphia is that no matter how big or small you are, you can’t really tell. It sounds insane, but you look in the mirror and you can’t see what’s there for what it is. At that point in my life, I was tiny, but felt huge and felt the weight of any and everything I ate. It also didn’t help that I had a predilection for bread and family members telling me that “if you keep eating like that you’re going to blow up.”

Jocelyn Michelle Reaves Body Dysmorphia

Around sixteen I found out that I had an autoimmune disorder that impacts my thyroid, Hashimoto’s Disease, that among other things, makes you feel incredibly lethargic and gain weight like crazy.

I developed habits. I loved food too much to really be anorexic, but I would shove my fingers down my throat from time to time, and I made really good friends with Dulcolax.

As I grew older, food became more of a creature comfort for me.

Happy? Eat.

Sad? Eat.

Celebrating? Eat.

Mourning? Eat.

Bored? Eat.

Stressed? Eat.

I remember being 25 and weighing myself and couldn’t believe the scale which came in around 145. More than that, I couldn’t believe my eyes–my belly had never been that big and I was convinced I was pregnant; like there was no way in hell I could be that big without something growing inside of me. I took a pregnancy test which of course came back negative, but I was so convinced that I went to the doctor to get an “official” one. Again, negative.

It’s a hard thing to grapple with–the very thing that brought me comfort was that which I was most afraid of: food. This caused a sense of shame and guilt around eating, my body, and ultimately affected the way that I allowed myself to show up. When life hit the fan in 2020, this was exacerbated. Like everyone else, I was confined to my home, “staying safe” as they called it, and eating a ton. In turn, that eating would make me feel better, then I’d feel bad about how much I’d eaten and take a laxative and then repeat.

I gained weight. A lot of weight.

At the same time, I worked through some childhood trauma and rid myself of a toxic relationship and also felt a certain freedom that I’d never experienced before in my life. It was like one weight had been lifted from my shoulders while a bunch of other weight was packed on everywhere else. I was bigger than I’d ever been before, and here’s the kicker…I couldn’t tell.

I knew I was bigger, but I didn’t know that I’d packed on about fifteen pounds and counting. The body dysmorphia was now working in reverse, and I wasn’t able to tell how big I’d gotten until I’d tried to put on one of my favorite dresses and couldn’t zip it up. I realized that it was time to do something different, starting with getting a scale.

Friends and family told me that I’d never looked better, with one adding that they were glad I didn’t look “anorexic” anymore, but inside I felt awful. How could I let this happen?

Luckily, by this time I had hit the rock bottom of my proverbial quarter-life crisis and was doing the work to find myself, unpack past trauma, and alas, really and truly love myself. I had a long way to go, though, and I was disheartened at where I was, but it didn’t cause the same finger-in-throat reaction it would have a couple of years prior.

Somewhere along this process, in between all the meditation, prayer, positive affirmations, retreats, etc; I started to get comfortable with where I was. I hadn’t dropped any weight, but I had dropped the insecurity that was associated with the weight. I’d also dropped the notion that I couldn’t do anything about it and that I was destined to be obese because of my thyroid disorder. I reclaimed my power.