The Difference Between Dysphoria and Negative Body Image
Most people understand body dysphoria as a dissonance between sense of self and body. But what does that mean?
Is dysphoria the same as feeling uncomfortable after gaining weight? Is it the same as hating your big honking nose? Or is there a fundamental difference between dysphoria and other feelings of bodily discomfort? I think about this quite often. Am I dysphoric about my hips, or do I just feel inadequate in a world where femaleness is defined as possessing childbearing hips? Am I dysphoric about my facial hair, or am I self-conscious because the rest of the world judges hairy women? When is discomfort over my body a result of testosterone poisoning, and when is it a desire to be more attractive? Is it possible to tell the two apart?
Ok, this is Wordpress once again spamming my Tumblr when I update tags on old posts, but I’m gonna leave it here anyway. This is currently my most popular post, and one I’m proud of.
Excellent post is most excellent.
I remember when I was a teenager, the first time I had a dream where I was walking, and I knew that my body was female, and everything felt perfectly right, my hips moved just the way my brain expected them to go, my entire center of gravity was shifted from what I experience in the waking world, but it was supremely, sublimely normal…and then I woke up. I was disoriented for a long time. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I still can’t, as you might have guessed, decades later.
People think to themselves, “well, but you can’t ever really know exactly what you would have felt like walking if you’re body had been differently shaped”. But, then I remember other dreams I had as a teenager. I remember that I also dreamed about vaginal intercourse long before I ever experienced it, and that when I finally did, it felt exactly the way it had in my dreams. To the point where I thought to myself, “oh, hey…I’ve done this before”.
You might then say, “yes, well, but your body does have some experience of sensory input, and perhaps your sleeping brain just extrapolated the experiences you describe”. At which point I will remind you that I am the one living in this body, and that I am the expert on what it is like to live in this body, as you are not, so I would appreciate it if you would respect these facts and understand, furthermore, that not all experiences can be accurately described, or even described at all. Still this does not make such experiences inherently invalid.
I’ve always tried to describe dysphoria to other people who do not experience it as sort of feeling as if your nerves didn’t actually end at the tips of your fingers, but a little further beyond, or a little short of.
In related fashion, I joke that my feet are so far away from my brain that my mind loses track of them, and that’s why I’m sometimes slightly lacking in grace. Were I not trans, I’d not have been so tall, and maybe, just maybe, my feet would be exactly where my brain thinks they ought to be attached, and not several inches further away. Imagine, if you will, that you’d spent your entire adult life walking on stilts that could never, ever be taken off.
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