Poking the Bear: The Challenges of Vlogging With Body Dysmorphia
About a month ago I started a YouTube channel, a vlogging YouTube channel in which I am on camera a lot...all of me. The second I started reviewing clips for the first video, I felt it, the activation of demons I knew weren't exorcised, but I thought maybe were operating at half speed. Nope. Full speed.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a DSM-5 diagnosis characterized by a preoccupation with nonexistent or slight defects in physical appearance, such that a person believes they look abnormal, unattractive, ugly, or deformed. The thoughts are intrusive and can be obsessive and lead to repetitive behaviors like constantly checking the mirror or over-exercising or disordered eating. I was diagnosed with BDD in 2014, at the same time I was diagnosed with complex PTSD and began treatment for the first time for my history of complex childhood trauma including child rape and sexual assault. In the presence of a life that was crumbling on all levels, BDD seemed like the least of my worries, maybe it was back then, but it's front and center now.
It's an odd experience to relay. My rationale brain knows I'm a normal-looking human being. It knows my filter, the lens through which I'm able to see myself, is cracked. My frontal lobe knows I cannot be trusted when it comes to accurately assessing my appearance. I have no credibility in this department, I know that, and yet...When I started filming for YouTube, I felt nauseous at the sight of me, on camera me, and I knew this was gonna be a rough road to travel. Several videos into it, some things have gotten worse and one thing has improved.
But first, let's talk about what vlogging with BDD looks like for me. Well, it looks like a lot or rerecording. It looks like hours of work lost, because I can't get past what I see on the screen, the woman on the screen who barley looks human to me and certainly doesn't look anything like the me I feel inside. It looks like trashing entire ideas and feeling the shadows of my disordered eating past begin to grow. This is a slippery slope I'm on.
The night I published my first video, I felt pretty certain I wouldn't publish any more. I felt like a fraud, publishing a video talking about how I'm building a magical life meanwhile feeling like I'm going to throw up at the sight of me on screen. But here's the thing, I am building a magical life. I have been through extensive therapy, and I have a vast toolbox of resources to help me redirect these thoughts. That's what's different: me. I'm different, I feel it. The thoughts are strong, but I am stronger. I have nothing but understanding for my trauma-injured brain and endless compassion for the little girl who developed such toxic coping narratives as a result of needing to survive intolerable circumstances.
I'm not gonna sugarcoat this, it is not easy for me to vlog with BDD. What's really frustrating about it is that I feel good in my body. I feel confident in my middle-aged skin. It's only when I see the visuals that things start to come undone.
Depending on the camera angle, I can look years older than I am. I can look twenty pounds heavier. That's true for anyone on camera. The problem is that for me, I'm constantly searching for it, scrutinizing every frame, drawing mental highlights over every flaw. BUT at least now I can see that, I can see that process of picking myself apart in progress. I can separate me from the thoughts, and in the process, I can hold on to the progress I've made. And in way, experimenting with camera angle, and realizing I can make myself look different ways depending on how I setup the camera, has made the process a little easier.
Understanding how to manipulate a camera to get a desired result has helped me concretize the artificiality of appearance in general. What's real and illusion is always in question when it comes to photography and filmmaking. Not only is my internal lens cracked, but seeing the world through an external lens and understanding the contrived nature of the image, helps me to further distance me from the image in the video.
It's important for me to make this entry for several reasons. First, integrity and authenticity matters to me, and I want to be transparent about where I am in this process. And, if I'm honest, I want to hold myself accountable for staying conscious, for using my tools, for redirecting my thoughts and managing my behaviors. I also know I can't possibly be the only person with BDD who struggles in this way, and the one thing I've have learned for certain in all my trauma treatment is that silence is the enemy of healing. I need to speak my truth in this way, and I know that someone somewhere needs to read it. I also understand that shame lurks in the shadows, and I don't wear shame anymore. There's no topic I can't discuss now, my closets are clean.
One might ask if it's worth it, YouTube, that is. Is the vlogging worth this work I'm having to do. My answer to that for now is I don't know. It might be my boldest opportunity yet to step into the light (of healing) even if I don't love what I see when I get there. I guess we'll see...