Disclaimer: This piece may be triggering to some readers.
body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, mentions of body sizes
Often times with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia (an unrealistic perception of one’s body) occurs.
Often when you’re not cisgender, dysphoria (disconnect from body and gender) occurs.
Then there are a lot of us who have both.
I am non-binary. I was assigned female at birth, and despite loving makeup, pastel goth clothes, and other traditionally feminine things- I am NOT a girl.
You could call me a demigirl, feminine agender, but at the end of the day, this is one of the few parts of my life where there isn’t a steady label.
My pronouns are they/them/theirs. However, when people I don’t know well use she/her/hers, it’s no big deal since the long existing concept of non binary identities is only now becoming more publicly known.
Now, I also have anorexia nervosa that brought along body dysmorphia.
From a young age, I always wondered if there was something other than girl or boy and how nice it would be. But what is it? How could I become that? Would I have to sacrifice my disney princesses to be that? Oh silly Christina, there’s no such thing or else why would teachers say “okay, boys and girls”, and why would doctors only tell your mommy and daddy that you’ll either be a boy or girl?
I was raised to be the “young lady” my parents assumed I would become.
I felt so guilty (and still do) that the term of endearment of young lady made my stomach churn. I used to shrug it off but by the time I could articulate why it didn’t fit, I wanted to scream “I’M NOT A LADY I’M JUST ME”.
But seeing how my father smiled with joy talking about his “young lady” I couldn’t bare to break his heart.
After all, how should either of my parents know? The doctors said I was a girl and I loved a good lipstick. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, maybe I just need to face the fact that I am and always will be a G-I-R-L.
The way my mother introduced my sister and I to her friends and co-workers as her “girls” or “daughters” had the same effect. Momma, I’m not your daughter I’m your child. But I smiled a squinty smile as the guilt set deeper into my chest.
Backing up a bit, doing competitive gymnastics was probably not the best thing to ease my dysphoria or eating disorder. For clarification, I wasn’t diagnosed with anorexia until age 12, but it is clear as day to me now, how sick I was beginning around age 8. I will touch on the details of that later, but I wanted to change my body. After settling on the fact that since there’s nothing other than boy or girl, I heard the message of what a girl was supposed to look like. I loved the idea of pretty hair and clothes, but even by the time I was 9 I knew that boobs and hips just weren’t part of me and would freak out anytime a discussion occurred. Why can’t I be girly without being a girl?
When the starvation became obvious, I was thrilled when people said that I wouldn’t grow into a “woman’s body”. They’d say it with concern and hopes to scare me out of my weight obsession, but it only reminded me why I need to lose weight. Not only were bones an aesthetic I strived for, and the thrill of watching numbers fall, but now I wouldn’t be obviously a girl. I could wear the feminine clothes I loved so much, without really being a woman. When you look like a child you’re just that. If I stayed in a childlike body, perhaps no one would consider me to become a woman.
As if the obsession with being as underweight and sick in all other aspect weren’t enough, I had another fear keeping me from wanting a healthy body.
Let’s jump to my first hospitalization.
Periods made all the girls on the ward feel fat, and after years of “sex ed” (aka cis and heteronormative puberty and abstinence class) I learned that periods require a certain amount of fat for GIRLS to have. It was a woman’s issue, which explained the panic attacks I had throughout my early life.
It was a “curvy woman’s problem” and I wanted to be a thin person.
Thinking about the taboo topic made me feel fat and girly. It’s so hush hush with pretty women on your TV holding flowery tampon boxes. Where’s the (trans) men? Where’s the non binary? Where are all these other genders that don’t get to talk about this topic? Of course the majority of menstruating people are cis women, but just because all other people aren’t majorities doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be seen.
I didn’t want to hear about these cycles in recovery, it only pushed me further into relapse. The more people encouraged me to “become a woman”, the more I wanted to make sure anorexia is what would kill me.
Now, at 16 years old, 2 inpatient stays, 1 php, and tons of outpatient later, I’m finally in a good place in recovery and hope it stays that way. I haven’t engaged in many extreme behaviors since my last scare, but that doesn’t mean my dysphoria or dysmorphia is gone.
Size wise, I never know what my body looks like. I feel to be at a size where I’m extremely displeased, but every time I look in the mirror it’s like a mouse grew into an elephant, morphed into a whale, shape shifted into a cat etc.
And the dysphoria seems to be getting harder to manage, but easier to talk about. Having the terminology and vocabulary to describe my identity is a gift I feel blessed to have.
It’s difficult that because of my sex and my expression that I’m seen as a girl, but I’m beginning to understand that what’s important is that I know who I am and that this gender doesn’t define me. What the world sees and thinks is constantly growing and changing, so maybe someday I will be seen as just Claire in a dress and not Claire the girl because they’re in a dress. Maybe someday there will be a place for people of all genders and birth sexes to feel like they’re valid and accepted. But for the mean time, I will focus on my mental health and knowing that this body doesn’t define my gender and that I am what I am. As long as I accept myself, I am valid.