And then I thought I saw Narcissus looking back at me

Narcissus, of course, was the man who, in Greek mythology, fell in love with his own reflection.

I, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. I still struggle a LOT with body image issues, and one of the most annoying and frustrating parts is that I have a hard time figuring out exactly what size I am. I'm not talking about the splitting of hairs between a size X at the Gap and a size X somewhere else. I look in the mirror and most of the time, I see a chubby person. My legs seem exceptionally gross. People have told me, again and again, that this does not match up with their experience of me, yet the problem persists. I often wish I had a cardboard-Carrie-cut-out to look at and compare to other people so that I could really see exactly what size I am.

I noticed something interesting today, though. Our office has polished brass elevator doors, which provide an oh-so-lovely chance to examine yourself while riding up to your floor. I wore a skirt today to accommodate The Boot, which left my other tights-clad lower leg sticking out. And I noticed: my good leg seemed kind of, I don't know, thin. I turned a little. Yep. Still oddly thin.

When I had The Boot off this evening to shower, I looked at my legs again, and they looked like they usually do: stubby and chubby.

I don't get this. If anything, it reminds me of research done with phantom limb syndrome, in which amputees continue to believe the amputated limb is still attached to their body. Sometimes it results in chronic pain- in the missing limb. Yet neuroscientist VS Ramachandran was able to alleviate this pain using a clever optical illusion that tricked the sufferer's brains into seeing the missing limb. Could something similar be happening here?

I just wish that I could look in the mirror and see what was there.

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Gwen said...

Carrie, I can so relate to this post. Years after I've recovered from my anorexia, and I still can't come to terms with my body and what it actually looks like. My perception of my body changes from day to day and it's so frustrating. I wonder if it's the vestiges of the illness hanging on. I'd like to think that the anorexia isn't a permanent resident in my brain, that there is a way to eradicate the illness once and for all. But, for me, I just don't know if that's possible. I hope that one day you find the peace with your body that you are looking for. We all deserve that.

licketysplit said...

ditto. It's so confusing how one minute I am oddly okay with my reflection and the next I can't bring myself to leave my room because I'm so embarrassed and disgusted.

Kim said...

I hear ya. Actually, the only thing that keeps me somewhat sane is recognizing how my image of myself changes almost daily. The INsanity of that is what makes me stop and think, "Ok, logic is obviously not involved here." A cardboard cutout would be handy.

Libby said...

Oh, amen.

To this day, I swear up and down that I've never seen another person who's bigger than I am. Forget the fact that any store where I buy clothes also has clothes that are much larger than mine. Logic plays no part here.

I always wonder if this part of it will ever go away or if I've got to learn to accept it... or if at some point my body changes size, I'll still think this way.

A:) said...

I can relate to this.

Especially during weight restoration at the moment it becomes my mind's sick game to "look" for this week's weight gain -- most of the time I am wrong.

I have just learned to completely ignore body image. I can think my arm looks bigger and it ruins my day only to find out I have gotten no bigger -- or not as big as I thought. Things change so rapidly -- from thin, to huge. Even looking at my face is hard. . .

Here's hoping it eventually gets better!


Just Eat It! said...

The phantom limb syndrome reminds me of what I like to call "phantom fat." I feel fat that isn't there as well as see it. It's a very bizarre phenomenon: I feel an enormous body part that supposedly isn't there at all.

Occasionally I have those "aha!" moments like you had in the elevator. I see what I actually look like on occasion, usually when I'm wearing something like tights or something completely concealing my skin. It's weird.

Lisa said...

I second, third, fourth, fifth the previous comments. I have no clue what I look like and mirrors are no help. I have to see a photograph of myself to have any idea, but even then I can see something very different from another person. Libby's absolutely right that there's nothing logical about this, and I've felt something akin to "phantom fat," too.

Anon Mom said...

Have you watched the neurobiology of eating disorders video on the Aussie CEDD site?

One of the many points the doc makes is how they discovered that people with anorexia, even after they have been weight-restored, can't see themselves accurately. We can see others accurately, but when the patient looks at herself, that back part of the brain (forgetting the part/name atm) shuts down/off.

The reason I think we (I) can have occasional "moments of clarity" is that you catch site of yourself before your brain recognizes you as you ... and you think "holy, shit! who is that starving person? Oh my god, am I gonna make it out of the mall on those legs? I should be in the hospital."

But, then, quickly and predictably, I will see myself as totally "fine" and "normal" or oversized or of inaccurate proportion.

It could be, in this case, that the contrast of the size of the boot gave you something to measure yourself against ... to actually see your leg next to something real/concrete rather than in isolation and in comparison to the images in your head, which of course, are probably inaccurate/distorted at best.

Crimson Wife said...

I've had the experience of playing around with the virtual model at a shopping site, and when I view the result after entering in my measurements thinking "there's no way I look like that!"

I can recognize a healthy-looking vs. a too skinny body in others but somehow when it comes to myself, I fall victim to mental distortions :-(

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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