Everything Dysmorphia

Or: Is it Cool if I Blame Modernity in General for my Stint as a Green Eyed Monster?

If you’re like me, you have confident days and self-conscious days. Sometimes I oscillate a few times between the two over the course of an evening. This condition is pretty average for a young woman in 2013. Add 5 Sadness Points for every hour per week you spend checking Instagram or Facebook, reading magazines, or perusing blogs. Subtract a point for each time you do something good for the soul (without bragging about it), and multiply by your level of jealousy towards anyone in your life. My calculations suggest that I’m not an adequate human, and if I read one more damn article about a skinny rich girl who’s become a wildly successful actress-blogger-DJ-model-philanthropist by age 19, I will need to be institutionalized.

Insecurity is rampant among Millennials, and I’m far from immune. See Generation Y depression explained with no shortage of patronizing stick figure illustrations here. In typical 90s kid fashion, I’m dissecting the problem from my own point of view.

As if on cue, the economy crashed as I graduated high school, and I’ve been struggling to find a path that remotely resembles the dreams I had as an Everyone is Special kid. Sometimes trying hard isn’t enough, and success won’t come without connections or dumb luck. This is a hard lesson for a girl who grew up in decent schools and a loving home. I thought following all the rules and making straight A’s would entitle me to wonderful things. It turns out I’ll have to keep grasping like everyone else, shoving resumes into bottles and throwing them out to sea. It’s made me the life of the (pity) party, and I could re-write epic poems about our bitterness: I saw the greatest minds of my generation delivering pizzas and folding t-shirts…

One night, as I was carrying garbage down 24th street to the dumpster at work, a frat boy told me, “You have a great job.” I nearly dropkicked him in the polo shirt. I didn’t, though, because 1) I’m not a violent freak in practice, and, 2) Reality will dole out that dropkick on his graduation day.

Moments of feeling like a failure are bound to disrupt 20-somethings mucking through this little era. I think it’s particularly hard on young women who are, more than ever, expected to “have it all” and look perfect while doing it. I think insecurity about my life’s trajectory and my bank account have spilled over into more petty categories. Being a control freak lends itself to that. I can’t will my journalism degree into being relevant or micro-manage the cockroaches out of my apartment, but damned if I can’t improve my own body. According to every fashion magazine, a three-step, DIY blowout is a hell of a lot easier than landing a job interview. My dream of moving to a different city is so distant, I might as well dip into my meager savings for Top Wardrobe Picks for Fall!

And yet, my superficial efforts can’t live up to my expectations, either. Keeping a constant eye on the digital highlight reels of friends, strangers, and celebrities makes me feel like I’ll never measure up. Sometimes I partake in the race to win others’ approval or envy, but it leaves me feeling ashamed. I could abandon the well-studied pressures of online life. That would likely hurt my social, professional, and creative pursuits. What’s the right balance?

I think I need a media and technology cleanse. It might be even harder than that juice cleanse I subjected myself to for approximately no reason. If only green smoothies and interval cardio could wash out delusions.

Recently I took my eyes off the 24/7 updates from women with nicer clothes and better lives than me for just long enough to consider my rank in my own world, not theirs. I completed the previous sentence and realized what a nasty word “rank” is. Unsurprisingly, I’m doing just fine in the middle. I’m slightly above the poverty line (applause, please.) Indeed, I have everything that I need, suffer no real injustices, and keep the company of some amazing people. I haven’t struggled to find male suitors and have been treated to the affection and support of a great boyfriend for the past year and counting. What’s a lucky bitch like me doing feeling sorry for herself?

The answer is dysmorphia. The word is usually found in the context of body dysmorphia, in which the affected develop negative body image that doesn’t match up with reality. I think the current climate for young people, plus modern media (social and otherwise,) put us at risk for Everything Dysmorphia. I’m compelled to worry about things that hardly apply to me and don’t matter. I hate leaving the house without makeup. I curse my hobbit-like height even though it has essentially no effect on my life. I fret about my hair being too thin, even though a couple of stylists have made unsolicited comments about it being thick. A close friend shut down my concerns about how I’m a bad socializer, saying I was way off base. My boyfriend basically laughed in my face when I identified my body type as “curvy.” I might be a straight up waif by average American standards, but that goes out of focus when you grow up in ballet studios and work in an environment notoriously populated with svelte girls. Selling clothes actually gives me a reality check. I’ve seen girls come in with bodies I’d kill for. I admire them, grumble about my own, and then… I realize they’re buying the same size pants as me. The good news is that I look just fine. The bad news is that I’m insane.

If that all sounded like one big humblebrag,  then I guess I’m using the internet right.

Yes, there are young women out there who have wonderful jobs. Some have tons of money. At least one is the human definition of “carefree.” Some eat nothing but junk food and still wear size 24 jeans. A lot of them are gorgeous. Many are hilarious, brilliant, or both. Some party every night. One is dating one of your ex boyfriends right now. Tons of them are in Paris, Rome, and Tokyo. A few are incredible at painting or playing guitar. All you can do is pat them on the back (or, more likely, hit “like”) and let them inspire your next goal. It’s almost certain that the people you envy are busy envying someone else, and that someone is wishing they could be you. It’s a food chain – eat your heart out.

One last thing: Let me go back to that anecdote about the frat boy snidely congratulating me on my garbage-hauling job. When I emerged from the putrid alley, he was waiting to apologize for how his comment sounded. He wasn’t being sarcastic. In fact, he’d seen me making trips all evening between the retail store and its off-site stockroom. He said my job was great because he actually thought I was being paid to walk around modeling the store’s clothing.

Suck it, sadness.

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