In year 10 of secondary school, my form tutor announced that we all had to participate in a renewal of our school photos; the last round of photos being of us in the innocent and enthusiastic days of year 7, at the tender age of 11. This sent a surge of panic through my bones – there was no way in hell I could cope with seeing a photo of myself that I had absolutely no control over; I couldn’t alter the angle, dim the lighting, nothing. For someone who had to shower in the dark every morning, this was my absolute worst nightmare.
My form tutor asked if anybody had any questions. I nervously raised my hand, asking whether it was compulsory for every student. My tutor replied yes, in a tone that suggested she was curious to why someone would ask such an obvious question. I burst into tears, declaring I was too ugly to be photographed.
My surrounding classmates comforted me, telling me not to be so silly because I was beautiful, and I went on dreading said photo day, saddened that my classmates had to lie to me trying to make me feel better about my hideous exterior.
Within a few days, my form tutor had spoken to the school nurse, who had then called my mum and referred me to see a therapist.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) was something I had never head of before I was 15. I believed my thoughts about my appearance were completely legitimate – I was ugly and that’s all there was to it. I did my best to deal with it by taking the necessary precautions – making no eye contact with any mirror unless in dimmed lighting, showering in the dark with a full face of fresh make-up and never appearing in any photographs.
Coming out of the first therapy session, my mum by my side, I was shocked that there was something wrong with my mental health. There was an actual name for the way I felt and dealt with my ugliness. Body dysmorphic disorder sounded so odd – how could it be seen as irrational for an ugly person like me to not want to be in photos, or not want to be in brightly lit changing rooms in fear of seeing my reflection?
My therapist was a sweet lady – explaining to me such an illogical disorder was making me need to control certain elements of my life in order to relieve feelings of anxiety. The thought processes I was having when I was complimented were also being altered by body dysmorphic disorder; in my therapist’s words, a compliment (a circle) was changing to what I thought was an act of pity (a square), changing ‘shape’ to suit my own beliefs (which were also squares).
Once I had come to terms with my illogical thoughts through the help of my therapy sessions, I began to get better. I even took a selfie or twenty, getting compliments that I actually started to believe were true. Years later, I was am a (somewhat) cocky little madam, knowing my appearance is quite nice (sometimes).
Though something was still bothering me.
I had gotten over my body dysmorphic disorder by hiding behind my specs. They were a security blanket – my ugliness was hidden behind them; they had a power to make me look like a ‘hot secretary’ (as some had said to me in the past when trying to get into my pants) and they were the key to my good looks.
One day I realised just how absurd this was – how can a pair of glasses; something I wore that had made another kid at school feel it was appropriate to call me Harriet Potter; make me better looking than how I was when not wearing them? Yes, I would look different, but I was bound to. I had worn glasses for half my life, so there was going to be some getting used to my naked face in the mirror.
So last year I dived into the deep end. Knowing that if I were to just move on to wearing contact lenses that I would go straight back to my glasses for comfort and familiarity, I got laser eye surgery. After an hour of walking into the opticians, I had perfect 20/20 vision.
Recovery was horrendous for a few days. Eyes that felt like I had grit stuck in them, unable to touch them and unable to wear any make-up, which as you may have guessed was another safety blanket, just like I assume it is for most other ladies. Looking at blood-shot eyes, with a make-up-less and newly naked face, unfortunate and unwelcome anxiety creeped back in again, this time hitting me so hard that planning to leave the house had me in floods of tears.
With lovely support from family, I realised I needed to embrace the new face, and remember exactly why I had had the procedure done in the first place. Not only would I have perfect vision – being able to wake-up and see everything is rather wonderful after eleven years – but I would be giving the finger to the body dysmorphic disorder, not letting it continue to persuade me that only glasses would make me pretty, or any other illogical reasoning for that matter.
Nothing and no one will make me feel ugly again, exception being when a heavy night out sucks the colour from my cheeks, and that’s fine by me.
image credit: Teresa Freitas