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Emilia, 27

It was three years ago when I first heard about BDD, body dysmorphic disorder. My therapist told me it could be something that applies to me, so I went online to read more about it.

It felt like they were writing specifically about my life.

BDD means I don’t perceive my body accurately. It’s a relief to have found a term for it. I used to just think that I’m horrible and ugly and awful. But it’s more complicated than that. I feel like my appearance is constantly changing. Sometimes, for instance, I look at my hands, and don’t know if they really are my hands, because they look completely different than at another moment.

When I look into the mirror or at a photo of myself, my eyes often fixate on some unassuming detail, like how my shoulders look all weird. Lately I have been relatively okay with my face, even though that’s usually the biggest problem. So I feel like my face stays approximately the same and that I’m used to it. But then something else goes off. It makes it really hard to be photographed.

I also like to dress in clothes that I can hide behind. I’m not at ease with my body, since I don’t know what it looks like. The best thing would be to be invisible. I used to avoid going out for a long time. Even as I started university, I didn’t go to the café or cafeteria for a while.

Nowadays I’m doing a little better, even though I may still think sometimes that people are staring at me.

BDD can be triggered by certain unpleasant experiences, bullying being the most common. After the Christmas party in second grade, three other girls from our class told me they won’t be my friends anymore. After that, I was completely alone. It continued when I went to secondary school. Later on, all kinds of name-calling and other stuff came along: they’d try to lift my shirt or ask if I wear a bra at all.

I tried to stay tough and not show how bad the bullying felt. But it did feel bad. I became really good at hiding in bathrooms. I would often go to a stall in the big restroom, turn off the lights and sit with my feet up, so you couldn’t see them underneath the door.

Bathrooms still feel safe to me. Except that they have mirrors.

A while ago I spent a year in Japan. I was taller and blonder than the locals. Many people were staring at me, they even took photos in secret. I thought it would make my symptoms worse, but it was the opposite. I felt free. I knew there was a good reason for the staring, so to say: that I was from a Western country. In that sense, I became invisible. It was wonderful. I had almost no symptoms during that year in Japan.