I can't "unsee" my ugliness and it's killing who I am
April 10, 2018 4:29 PM   Subscribe

My life's a downward spiral. It's important to me that I be sensual and attractive but I am not. What's worse is how I'm so ugly that I attract attention--others remind me that it's a horrible thing and it compounds upon my social awkwardness. People, usually only girls, bully me over my looks. I panic. Fetal positioning instead of attending to my obligations. Yearning for love because that's the certainty that'll save me, I feel, even though it's wrong. How do I climb out of this hell?

Hi, denizens of the hive mind. I need some advice...a new way of seeing. How do you cope living in a world that's incredibly superficial?

I am 23, a student, and a girl.

My life has gone downhill since the moment I was born. The more I learned, the less happy I've become, the more I want the end. I've reached out and tried fixing my issues, but my strength falls away. I lose sight of my hobbies, spend more time on frivolous hopes, and dark thoughts.

I...I am on track to becoming the sort of person I'd hate. Who envies others for their looks. Who has no agency or confidence, who just festers in her own inadequacy.

Understand that it isn't just my appearance...it's my entire life that weighs me down. I won't discuss most of the abuses people have dealt against me, family and beyond (which is full of terminal illness, my dad died early on, and my immediate family is all in a depression, often staying in for weeks at a time)...and how I was always the outcast and socially defunct. All the times I was bullied as a kid and teenager over being ugly and looking like a pig. Never complimented. This all has compounded into something more over time. You could say I have BDD. Except I don't blow up anything--I really do look that bad.

My appearance is the one, true thing that keeps me from even wanting to exist or try. I feel “trapped” in social situations because I am the ugliest girl ever and I look like a zombie.

Trust me. I used to not care that much and was very happy--but that was mainly because I wasn't even aware of how socially awkward and weird I was.

Let me lay out the map.

0-18 I was always overweight, terrible skin, neglected/abused in my childhood, and thanks to my family ate incredibly unhealthy. But I was an academic superstar, top of grade w/o trying...usually got awards, encouraged to go into leadership...was so happy, had hobbies, loved reading...thing is, I didn't think I was ugly. I thought I was cute.

A girl thought I was beautiful in dim lighting and I talked away the Prom night with her…my hair wasn’t done, and I was only wearing a dress. Later on at school she found me and gave my face a look of disgust as she said “Ew, you looked…different.” Difference? The lighting. Literally THAT was it. Then she ignored me forever afterwards while my best friend, who introduced me to her, doubted me “she’s not like that tho. She’s soooo nice!”
I learned looks matter. Like, babies evolved to be cute so their parents wouldn't abandon them on mountainsides. Annnnd...people are biologically inclined to value good looking people more than ugly ones. I hate to say this because it honestly does disgust me, but...science...human nature...

19-22 Begin connecting the dots. Looking back I realized that people always were weirded out by me, etc., and that I'm really ugly. I also fear that I am inherently incapable of making genuine human connections. Around the time where I become unable to go outside without anxiety.

23 Downward spiral continues. Where I realize that being attractive IS important to me, and that just finding love would be everything to me. Lose about 40 pounds, start spending hundreds to fix my skin. My self-esteem gradually gets worse till I'm actively avoid going outside.

Gonna cut out some and put it here, along with some vague pictures showcasing some of my problems without any makeup/filters. Basically about a few people that believe in me but who I can’t really believe in. One friend has gotten sick of talking to me because of my paranoia. Trust me, for most of it I tried to be myself--old me. Minus issues. It shocks everyone I've ever known if I even so much as suggest I have issues.

Also, tl;dr I LITERALLY know what it feels like to be attractive versus ugly. And it hurts because people treat me dramatically different.

I am at about 150, 5"6 right now, trying to lose more weight (even though people have said I have an amazing body, girls say they envy my long, shapely legs and body), but it's hard cuz...I have no reason to believe that I've gotten more attractive because of my weight loss. I’m eating better. Being more active. But, no different. Most disgusted looks from others at my face. Only insults are about my looks...

Basically. I looked "f'ed up", ill, and haggard. Dormmate keeps on saying it looks like I'm dying. I feel like some sort of abomination or a zombie and I have trouble just existing or being around people. My looks alone are a disgusting bother...even to good people. What a horrible feeling.

I have been through months/years of therapy...basically did nothing for me. In fact, it made me feel worse. I've seen great ones, certified ones, that did nothing for me. Wasn't even diagnosed with "BDD" which tells me I must be ugly.

The only time I felt good about myself was in fact when I felt attractive and like I'd not be alone forever, basically. Good and happy. And when I was with people, having fun, feeling like something other than an old virgin rag. I want passion and love and excitement…I want to be able to live my life and not feel this pain crushing into me. I do have a crush on a certain someone but I know it's hopeless. Because along with being irrecovably ugly and looking like an old crackhead, as people have told me, I have become a horrible person.

I don't know what to do now. Therapy hasn't helped, or made things worse. Please help me. I believe plastic surgery is the only way to live a happy life now. I'm so sick of what other girls say to me...what guys have implied...I feel like I'm trapped...and I want out of this nightmare...
posted by Wildernessy to Human Relations (78 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You are NOT ugly and disgusting enough to draw looks of horror from strangers on the street.

Your mental illness IS making you believe things that aren't true.

Your diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder IS proof that you aren't seeing yourself accurately.

Find an excellent therapist...try several until you click with one. Please...don't believe what your perceptions are leading you to believe.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:38 PM on April 10, 2018 [102 favorites]

Therapy, and get a regular practice.

I like kundalini yoga for this exact reason: most of kundalini yoga practice you do with your eyes closed. It makes it really easy to enjoy class because you're not watching anybody else in class and you know they are not watching you.
posted by jbenben at 4:48 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Not only are you not ugly, you're attractive according to general societal standards! PLEASE keep hunting until you find a good therapist. We're all rooting for you.
posted by 8603 at 4:51 PM on April 10, 2018 [18 favorites]

"Enough." Hah. Yeah.

You know...a few months ago, I didn't think it was so bad. Thought that girl in high school was just grossed out by my acne and fatness. But, just two weeks ago, a guy walked by me at a distance and looked at my face and looked like he was going to throw up--he even opened his mouth. A twisted up, horrible expression, looks a bit like what google shows me about disgusted expressions except far worse and more visceral.
(I smell amazing, btw). I recall hurrying away in confusion and taking out my phone...looking in the camera, I looked genuinely f'ed up. Wrinkly sunken eyes, sagging midface, frazzled hair...
I looked 50 and, as people have told me, like I'd been smoking my entire life (I've never smoked or did any drugs).

And I tried several therapists, researched a lot, etc. Waste of time and as I said, only has made me feel worse over the years.

Being told I'm not ugly based off pictures does not help. Really, truly. It's kinda like those horror stories when a guy meets a girl off of Tinder and thinks "Oh god, she's so homely and fugly. Her pictures were so insincere. She's basically lying!"
posted by Wildernessy at 4:52 PM on April 10, 2018

You are not ugly. You are above average and quite pretty. Please find a therapist who specialises in BDD because that is the help you need.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:55 PM on April 10, 2018 [28 favorites]


That message is not just for kids with gender issues. You're really quite pretty. I would've wanted to ask you out if the decades were different. Walk a half hour every single day and get to a gym and get in super fitness, that'll show'em and help with a lot of issues.

posted by sammyo at 4:57 PM on April 10, 2018

I mean, I'll go ahead and be harsh: you're delusional. What you think you are seeing isn't what's actually there. You need psychiatric help. Full stop.

Someone close to me is the same, and I have listened to this exact litany for over 40 years from her. It will not get better until you make a sustained effort at psychiatric help.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2018 [152 favorites]

Being told I'm not ugly based off pictures does not help. Really, truly.

With respect... why bother to show us the pictures, then, if all you're going to do is shoot down anyone who tries to tell you that you're not actually as ugly as you keep telling yourself you are?

What troubled me most about your imgur link is the writing there. Is that yours? Because the super hot successful guy you've put on a pedestal there sounds like a jerk who is drinking up attention from you and negging you to keep you on a string, available for him to boost his ego whenever he needs it.

If you're unwilling to go to therapy, and unwilling to let people who have seen your pictures correct your very incorrect assumptions about how ugly you are, then what kind of help are you looking for here?
posted by palomar at 4:59 PM on April 10, 2018 [46 favorites]

Just in case it isn't clear, plastic surgery will not fix you. Your problems lie within, not without.
posted by hydra77 at 5:00 PM on April 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

Are you hanging out with the wrong people? Some people have very high and non-realistic standards on appearance (mostly privileged teens/young adults who consume a lot of media/social media). Some people are just mean and target people with low self-esteem, no matter how those people actually look like.

It sounds like you're in a spiral, similar to something I went through (and like 80% of women) in their teens. Normal self-help tools haven't helped you so far, so you should remove the negative factor i.e. avoid people giving you that negative (and false) feedback and seek out people who are... normal.
posted by thesockpuppet at 5:02 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Okay, I'm legit homely, and my thing? Big, attention-grabbing glasses and bright lipstick. When people see me all they see are frames and lips. Get some cheap, statement frames with clear glass at zenni.com. And then use that ensemble when you go find some real help. Good psychiatric help is the only thing that will truly help here.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:03 PM on April 10, 2018 [14 favorites]

Therapy! Therapy therapy therapy. And don't give up, because sometimes it takes a few different therapists and/or some time to "click." I also suggest a group of some sort, a twelve-step group for "adult children" like Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics, or a group for trauma survivors. Our families, especially if dysfunctional, are not always the best judges of us, nor is school, because all too often K-12 is "Lord of the Flies" for anyone who doesn't fit in.

You might also want a thorough physical and bloodwork panel by your doctor, because sometimes physical conditions like hypothyroidism (terribly common in women) or PCOS can contribute to depression.

For an at-home stopgap there are apps and websites like MoodGym and HeadSpace.

I concur with other commenters that it would do you good to have supportive people around you, not ones that put you down and mock you. Go to MeetUps, find a fandom or people with a common interest - don't feel you have to settle for a bunch of assholes as friends.

Good luck!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:07 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

You're not ugly - you're clinically depressed. Nthing therapy, and try to go easy on yourself in the meanwhile. There *is* a light at the end of this.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:12 PM on April 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

She needs different therapy. There is no amount of pep-talking we can give the OP. There is no amount of soothing or encouraging or "rah! rah! you can do it!" we can lay on her. Not fashion advice, skin care advice, none of that. She is suffering from serious, sustained mental illness and needs serious, sustained psychiatric help.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:13 PM on April 10, 2018 [102 favorites]

I have been through months/years of therapy...basically did nothing for me. In fact, it made me feel worse. I've seen great ones, certified ones, that did nothing for me. Wasn't even diagnosed with "BDD" which tells me I must be ugly.

Have you ever taken medication for the anxiety that is preventing you from leaving the house, sending you on obsessive ruminations about whether people were "weirded out" by you in childhood and why a girl in high school got cold feet (let's be real: baby queer panic) after connecting with you at prom, and convincing you that you can read the minds of random strangers who pass you on the streets? Because no therapist could reason you out of any of that if it was chemically based, and you can't implement the strategies the therapist is trying to teach you if your anxiety is taking up all of the space in your brain. I think you should tell a doctor that you are so worried that you don't like to leave the house, take the medication they prescribe for some period of time (like an amount of months) and see if you don't feel differently about your appearance.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:13 PM on April 10, 2018 [24 favorites]

It's important to me that I be sensual and attractive but I am not.

Ignoring the chance that you may not be evaluating yourself realistically*, and glossing over the fact that "attractive" and "ugly" are intrinsically subjective descriptions**, I think you should work on reevaluating priorities. Why is it so important that you be beautiful? I certainly hope you don't think other people who you don't find beautiful are horrible wretches who deserve to be treated like dirt. IMO it's way more important to treat people with kindness and respect. Even if they're ugly. Even if they're yourself.

* I didn't even look at your picture, because your problem has nothing to do with how I think you look
** It is absolutely possible to find beauty or ugliness in anyone
posted by aubilenon at 5:17 PM on April 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Argh. Okay, okay I get it.

Maybe look at this more like...people genuinely have hurt me over this. I often feel worn out and distrustful. I have had nice people around me in real, on or off, but virtually no support.
Moreover no guy has ever flirted with me soooo yeah. I was told online that this is basically proof that a girl is ugly..

As for the negativity, it usually slips on.

I am afraid that no matter what I do to improve...I'll never look vibrant, that I'll never be cute or an option for the guy I like.

That guy doesn't bask in my attention or anything, he just likes talking with me--we have so much fun together. talking about ideas and everything. He dislikes getting my attention now because he wants me to actually get my shiz together instead of being codependent. Again, my issues came up, I never follow his advice, annnd yeah...our friendship is in tatters right now. I'm just toxic af now.

I'll try seeing the psychiatrist instead of a therapist this time...
posted by Wildernessy at 5:21 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Have your therapy regimens included meds?

Plastic surgery isn't going to fix this. You say you're 5'6" and 150 pounds, which is well within normal BMI (not a perfect measurement but still) and since I am an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier and I am objectively not massively obese and disgusting, the way you seem to think you are, I really want you to question how thinking that losing FORTY POUNDS (which puts you well into under-ideal-BMI territory) is something that will help fix your "problem."

Your problem is a distorted view of yourself. External changes will not fix this because the problems are not external.
posted by rtha at 5:23 PM on April 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

I think the first thing to do, to assess the difference between what we see and you see, is for you to be on the same level as the girls you envy. Go to a Sephora or other makeup counter, and schedule a full fake makeover. All the stuff you talk about - pale skin, under eye circles, etc - can be covered or mitigated with makeup. You look like you have good bones and a great face shape - but maybe are just actually tired and exhausted because anxiety.

Look at the face once you are made up and assisted. See what you think of it. Take a picture of it. If you still think you don’t look good, I think that’s really clear evidence for you that this is not about how you look but in your head.
posted by corb at 5:28 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

You need to find a therapist and psychiatrist that specializes in Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The truth is that your brain is lying to you. You do not appear to others as you think you appear. You need to not only attend therapy specializing in this but also do the work and possibly try medication. Just going to meetings will not solve it.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:30 PM on April 10, 2018 [23 favorites]

People tend to not flirt with those who are depressed and anxious. I speak from experience.

I'm almost 2 decades older than you. At your age and sadly before and after your age, I was usually convinced that I was desperately homely and wouldn't believe anything to the contrary. At this stage in my life I've gained more confidence and give fewer shits, and I've had the experience of dating some very attractive men. I'm now less worried about my appearance and more interested in how to be a good and kind partner and form meaningful emotional connection.

Your decision to see a psychiatrist is solid. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 5:45 PM on April 10, 2018 [29 favorites]

People call smart people "stupid" all the time, it doesn't mean it's true. It means they want to hurt that person. People call attractive people "ugly" for the same reason. If it succeeds in hurting the person, they will continue to do it.

I have model friends who were told they were ugly when they were in high school, and continue to believe it - despite making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on their modeling contracts five years later. What you feel about yourself is not objective truth, and when it is so far off-base from reality it is truly hurting you, not helping you.

Yes to everyone saying "seek help." There are methods to reframe your internal dialogue to become something that helps you, not hurts you. Learning how to handle criticism (both from others and yourself) without having it upend your whole sense of self, is a crucial life skill that a good therapist can help you attain. Good luck.
posted by egeanin at 5:48 PM on April 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

You really don't look however you imagine you look. On a sensitive MeFite level, or a superficial cishet dude level. You have pretty facial structure and nice hair. Your pic doesn't show your skin that well, but it doesn't look very bad at all. I say that as someone who took a few courses of accutane as a teen (and still has uncooperative skin in my late 30s to the point that I can't fully shave my face because it'll be nothing but angry lumps for weeks).

I am someone who can feel ugly, unpresentable, unattractive or unpolished even though I know objectively that those things aren't true -- except for when I stop trying, and that's a temporary thing. For me, it's about some mix of social anxiety and more general depression. And, yeah, about being an awkward and awkward looking kid in my teens with all that came with that.

You say your whole family is traumatized and depressed? YOU ARE TOO.

tl;dr I LITERALLY know what it feels like to be attractive versus ugly.

tl;dr you LITERALLY do not. You know what it feels like to truly believe you are ugly. It's going to feel fucking fantastic when you realize you're totally not.

Please find a therapist who's willing to treat you for BDD on an evaluative basis, alongside whatever else they may find. If the BDD discussion ebbs and something else works, fine. You aren't a child anymore, you are allowed to direct your own treatment and select a therapist on that basis.

when I was with people, having fun, feeling like something other than an old virgin rag.

You do not need to be in a hurry, and I would wait until you're feeling more better and more stable -- but it's 2018, we have the Internet and if you just want to knock boots with someone who likes the way you look I promise you, you can make that happen.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:48 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

You're not toxic. You have an illness. Please do follow up on seeing the psychiatrist and I'm very proud of you for being so receptive to that idea. You deserve to feel good.
posted by Ruki at 5:50 PM on April 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

I happened to see Wildernessy's first post before it was deleted. My heart went out to her and we exchanged a number of messages on the site before I gave up on trying to help. I think she needs a professional, which she seems to not want to see.

I would characterize her end of our correspondence as very much needing to believe in the belief she's espousing here, even when it's simultaneously hurting her very badly -- and like many of us who live in our heads, she's very good at finding ways to cling to that belief and blinding herself to the contradictions that arise in defense of it. It reminds me of some of the mental semantic knots I used to tie in order to justify my own warped view of the world.

I wish you the best, Wildernessy, but in the end, it's only going to be you who can make that decision to get the help you need to stop hurting and start living -- especially if you are going to fight what people are telling you here. I know it's not what you want to hear. But the fact that the viewpoint is so universally shared should help guide you towards a better understanding of what voice is telling you the truth and what voice is lying.
posted by WCityMike at 5:50 PM on April 10, 2018 [30 favorites]

Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked 'female.' - Diana Vreeland.

When you get older, you'll realize that you are so much more than just a face/body. Sure, pretty faces/bodies get catcalled by strangers and more attention from the opposite sex, but what happens when they get pregnant/older and lose their physical appeal? Lots of issues crop up then.

Many women have fought for your right to be more than just something good to look at.
posted by thesockpuppet at 5:53 PM on April 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

The way you are shooting down people trying to help, you sound more like you are having a depressive episode than anything else. Your brain is not your friend right now & is telling you a whole bunch of lies about how you look & motivations of people from years ago as you mull over every single bad thing ever. Please please please, Go get help. People on the internet aren't going to help you with this. At least, when you see a professional give them a chance & try to believe what they say, & do what they advise don't let your brain chemistry get in the way. Because right now you are looking at yourself through filter and it is not letting you see what is actually there.
posted by wwax at 5:55 PM on April 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

Your problem is absolutely a distorted view of yourself. I have had this problem, all through my twenties. Like you I had some early trauma, was great at school and encountered hatred and repulsion that people attributed to my appearance. Like you I was fairly fat and lost weight down to about your size. Like you, I'd had people say extraordinarily cruel things to me about my appearance.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I was horribly, painfully obsessed with how I looked. I hated how I looked and rarely thought of anything else. Anything bad that happened to me, any bad interaction I had, I attributed to my appearance. I read all social interactions through my appearance - No one sat next to me on the bus? Instead of rejoicing that I got the extra space, I took it as proof that I was so gross that no one wanted to come near.

In retrospect, looking at photos, I see that there was nothing wrong with me, and I was averagely proportioned even though my scale weight was not a "thin" weight. (And I assure you that my features are not as nice and regular as yours.) I was kind of hideous in my early teens, like a lot of people, but by the time I was a young adult, I looked fine - except that my misery and fear made me act standoffish and hostile, and my expectation that people would hate me and treat me badly drew some awful people to me.

Also, if you are 23 years old and peers are insulting your looks, your peers are the weird ones, not you. That's bizarre and childish and really strange, and probably the reason that they're feeling free to insult your looks is because they are fucked up people who are seeking out people to attack. They're not picking you because you're ugly, they're picking you because you are visibly sad and upset.

You can get through this.

I got through it. I didn't really finish with it until my late thirties, when I finally got therapy, though. I was miserable for my twenties, grew out of some of it and didn't really get better until years later. I wish I'd gotten therapy much, much sooner.

But now - sure, I have some bad days where I get into a spiral about my appearance, but most of the time I don't think about it too much. When you think about this, try to think about being better - not about if you felt beautiful, but if you weren't in such enormous pain all the time, if you could think about other things. Or if you could do appearance stuff without feeling so much anxiety, even.

Here is what I bet: I bet that if you get some immediate help (probably meds) to break this obsessive rumination, and you can get some real rest and experience some real enjoyment (of just ordinary things), that will buy you enough time and emotional space to start getting regular therapy and beginning to heal.
posted by Frowner at 6:05 PM on April 10, 2018 [51 favorites]

I believe you that people have been horrible to you and talked about appearance, because people can be dickheads. But, along with everyone here, I just can’t see what you (or I guess they) were talking about.

Is thesockpuppet onto something, is there something unusual about your peer group? It really sounds like it. In particular, I get the impression that they might all have a homogeneous look. (How do I put this... or I’ll just join in asking the question- what were beauty standards like where you were growing up? Because, I grew up feeling like an odd duck, which messed with me a bit, until I moved somewhere with more diversity and realized there were lots of ways to be attractive.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:13 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Check out the cockeyed.com height-weight chart for photos of people with the same height/weight numbers as you to see how much variation there can be in the human body. Those numbers you have stuck in your head are meaningless.
posted by bendy at 6:17 PM on April 10, 2018

If I could favorite Frowner's comment ten more times, I would.

Also, your dormmate is an asshole, and I hate to play into this thinking, but in case it's helpful 'you look like you're dying' is the sort of thing an insensitive person says when you don't look the way they think you can and should look, and they are expressing some weakly felt obligation to voice that you're not taking care of yourself.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:17 PM on April 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you need some healthy perspective.
Being attractive fixes NONE OF THIS. NONE WHATSOEVER. Nothing you've listed is excluded in the lives of "attractive" people.
In fact, it often compounds these issues:

1. Partnered women won't often befriend you because they're insecure about you being around their partners
2. Single women won't often befriend you because you get the attention when you go out together
3. Single people pretend to like you to use you for sex. Often. Much of your dating and love life is trying to determine people's true motives and intentions and continually being played.
4. People ignore your personality completely
5. You get into relationships with shallow people who want a trophy/arm candy, and who will leave you or become resentful if you gain a few pounds or become ill.
6. You get into relationships with insecure people who don't trust that you like them or will stay, or who dont want you around their friends because you get attention and who can become abusive and controlling over it.
7. People assume, as you do, that your attractiveness gains you privileges in life and you are then are given less opportunity and credit academically, socially, and for your employability and abilities/talents.
8. People assume that you're stuck up, entitled,  conceited, unintelligent, lazy, spoiled, and act like you're being manipulative, critical of and judging them or all of the above and more and treat you as such.
9. Sexual harassment. All of the fking time.
10. You are judged harshly for any slip, bad presentation or upkeep in your appearance and for things like pigging out on pizza. You are also accused of either eating disorders or drug habits constantly.
11. People assume you're promiscuous, which you are then judged and attacked for both being and not being, no matter if you are or aren't.
12. You'd really just like to go somewhere where you are NOT staired at or harassed, and often just stay home instead.
13. People will pretend to befriend you just for peripheral attention, social reasons, or influence.
14. When relationships don't work out, or are terrible, you receive zero support and much eye rolling because "you can have anyone you want."
15. You often just wish that you were unattractive so you could make real friends or find someone who actually likes you for you.

Please do not surgically alter your body. It won't fix this. Learn to be okay with yourself in whatever way possible. You sound miserable, but that's because you're criticising, bullying and emotionally and verbally abusing yourself. It's heartbreaking, life is harsh enough. Be kind to yourself always.
posted by OnefortheLast at 6:36 PM on April 10, 2018 [15 favorites]

These cruel things that your brain is telling you about yourself are all very familiar to me. What helped me was cognitive behavioral therapy: specifically, reading through Feeling Good and learning how to identify and combat every distorted thought I had over a period of several months. I know you've done therapy, so you may want to discard this idea, but I'm not talking about talking to someone once a week for an hour -- I'm talking about spending 1-3 hours every day examining how common distortions in the way that people think apply to the way you think, too. It is grueling, time-consuming, tiring work... but thinking about yourself in the way you are now is a hundred times more grueling, time-consuming and tiring. A good therapist can help you along the way for sure, but they can't do the work for you.

For me, being comfortable with my body and appearance and learning to believe on a bone-deep level that I was valuable and worthy of my own love was incredibly freeing. I remember realizing that not only did I feel good about how I looked, but looking good didn't even feel all that important anymore. CBT was my lifeline out of a hell similar to yours, and I hope you'll give it a shot.

I sense a whiff of MRA garbage in the things you say about yourself and what you say other people say about you. If you do nothing else, I hope you'll get that poison out of your life -- if you're reading blogs or message boards about it, or talking to people who buy into it, you are amplifying the distorted messages that your brain is sending to yourself. You might be telling yourself that it's helping you see things as they really are, but so far it doesn't seem to have helped you love yourself and has made your distorted image of yourself worse. You're worth so much more than that!
posted by shirobara at 6:45 PM on April 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

It lies about different things to different people, but depression lies. Wishing you all best.
posted by moogs at 6:46 PM on April 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

Lots going on here, just throwing this out in case it helps:
Attractiveness is like 10% how pretty your face is. Max. You say people compliment you on a nice body, and they are probably right.

Attitude, mindset, carriage, and style are all things that can make you highly attractive. These are things that are under your control and are part of you- far more than the genetics of your physiology. And they matter way more than what shape your cheekbones or nose or eyes or chin have.

Many people find solace in this insight, I hope it might help you some small amount.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:58 PM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Can you take one hour a day off from this? Like, from 10-11AM every day. If you start remembering you're supposed to be ugly during that hour, just table it until 11. If you're afraid to go out or take care of some chores or whatever, just do it until 11. If you have some hobby you want to take up again, just practice it until 11. If some supposed friend or anyone else starts talking about your looks, just tell them you're all booked until 11. (Even if you're conspicuously not doing anything at the time. Especially if you're conspicuously not doing anything at the time.) If someone starts to flirt with you during that hour, just take note of it and leave them be (until, if you want, 11).

I say "just" as though it's easy, and I know it's not. But when your brain starts insisting that it really does have to keep repeating the same exact scripts every hour of every day, fight back. Even the most negative or most supposedly true of scripts can make do with 23 hours out of 24. Give yourself an hour a day of peace.
posted by trig at 6:59 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm not a therapist but this sounds like one of the most severe cases of BDD I've ever heard of! Try to focus on this: What you see in the mirror is literally not what other people are seeing.

By the mainstream standards of 2018 America, you are an exceptionally attractive young woman. Would it help you feel better if I said I envied the hell out of your looks, that I'd do almost anything to look like you? Is that what you need to hear? Because, seriously, it's the truth. Even if that's the most flattering picture you've ever taken, you are still obviously far more conventionally attractive than I will ever be. I'm trans and I feel kind of ugly a lot of the time, but I cope. I'm nine feet tall with a big nose and a dong, but I can still feel pretty sometimes and when I don't I try not to dwell on it. Feeling attractive is awesome, but it's not all there is to life!

Double down on therapy, I beg you. You are tearing yourself apart, convinced that you're something you're not. People are not swallowing their puke when they see you. Your looks aren't making them disgusted, or depressed. Attractiveness is subjective so I can't say that every person who sees you thinks you're gorgeous, but anybody who tells you that you're ugly is either envious, delusional or just a nasty jerk you don't need in your life. Talk to a good therapist ASAP and do the work. You are a beauty insisting she's a beast, and that's no way to spend life.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:11 PM on April 10, 2018 [13 favorites]

Therapy is not a cure. Therapists can't do magic, it is actually YOU that do all the hard work with them as a coach. But talk therapy may not go anywhere if there is an underlying illness stopping you from fully participating. That is where medication can get you to a place where you are able to do the hard, hard work in therapy and hopefully taper off or end the medication. It is scary, because although how you feel right now feels awful, at least it feels familiar; with practise, feeling good about yourself will in time feel familiar. You deserve to feel good, you are worth all that work.
posted by saucysault at 7:20 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

What everybody said about BDD and therapy, for sure. But also wanted to add ... specifically, your lips are fabulous! I'm not saying that in a sexual way, I dig guys. I'm just another lady out here in the world saying DAMN I'm impressed with those nice, full lips and I'm jealous and wish my thin lips looked more like that. :)
posted by mccxxiii at 7:29 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wasn't able to view the picture you attached until after my post, but are you sure that any negative comments you've received aren't out of jealousy, from abusive or toxic people, or due to one of the reasons on my extensive "I'm jaded because being considered attractive has made me feel objectified and invisible" list there, because I don't see how you or anyone wouldn't consider yourself to be in fact quite beautiful. Not that that's my point, but it makes my post less less relevant and more rant-y like.
Do you always think this way about yourself or is it episodic? Because you've included a pic, do you find that it changes they way you feel to have others give you feedback? There's quite a distorted discrepancy between your self description and reality. Like a big problematic one.
You've mentioned suspected mental health issues... So I'm wondering if what you need to do is have a thorough psych evaluation so you can receive a targegeted treatment plan. And appropriate help for this. Imagine for a second if simply finding the correct medication or type of therapy (not all work for eveyone and everything) could help change either the way you see yourself, break your obsessive thought pattern, or shift your focus onto something that's non destructive and self defeating.
posted by OnefortheLast at 7:41 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Moreover no guy has ever flirted with me soooo yeah. I was told online that this is basically proof that a girl is ugly..

Nah. Guys don't flirt with me either. It's my personality. I look decent enough, but I give off an unflirtable vibe. If you can manage to be more comfortable in your own skin and not hate yourself so much, that will help.

I hope you are able to find a psychiatrist that can help because your view of yourself is so badly distorted. And no, we aren't just saying that to be nice.
posted by wondermouse at 7:43 PM on April 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Oh, sweetie. I had a male friend go through this in college. He developed a sort of paranoia that everyone thought he was ugly. This isn't him, but he looked very much like this man, who most people would say is objectively handsome. He seriously could have been a model. But no amount of telling him that made any difference. People didn't dislike him because of his looks; they left him alone because he projected anxiety and desperation, and later because he'd developed a substance abuse issue to cope with his dysmorphia. That addiction nearly killed him.

It doesn't have to end that way. You are young, your life is just beginning, and there is hope if you seek help.
posted by AFABulous at 7:45 PM on April 10, 2018 [17 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear that you're in such a difficult place - it does sound like you may be struggling with BDD.

This is coming from a slightly different perspective, but I find that women your age who are kind of socially isolated or who didn't experience a certain sort of stereotypical female socialization have a lot of trouble with feeling ugly because they don't always realize that they're comparing themselves to other women who perform prettiness differently. They sometimes exacerbate their body image issues by comparing their rolled-out-of-bed look to another woman's carefully curated my-face-but-better look. This is true even when, like you, they're typically attractive people.

For example, when people talk about men not understanding when women are wearing "natural-looking" makeup, sometimes that extends to girls and women in your situation. And even for women who don't wear makeup, sometimes they may have had a head start on you in terms of learning grooming practices that work best for their features. For a lot of women, learning to work with what we have is a 10,000 hours kind of project that we learned alongside other girls and women - but that's a consequence of having non-traumatic relationships with your peers.

I'm certainly not saying that you or anyone should wear makeup or take on a higher-maintenance self-care routine. But you shouldn't compare your "befores" to other women's "afters", and part of getting there is about being able to recognize "afters" for what they are - the product of labour. While that can be trickier when haven't spent your adolescence and early adulthood close to peers whose beauty-related labour is visible to you, it's not too late to develop that perspective.
posted by blerghamot at 7:45 PM on April 10, 2018 [25 favorites]

But you shouldn't compare your "befores" to other women's "afters", and part of getting there is about being able to recognize "afters" for what they are - the product of labour.

This. Here are some before and after makeup photos, some of which before pictures look a lot like the photo you showed us.
posted by corb at 7:58 PM on April 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

Well. Essentially...being desired is the sweetest feeling to me. After all the use of feeling like a troll, it's catharatic, really. The antithesis to all my pain. But desired, as in considered beautiful, rather than just another hot bod. I felt it before and...oh god, was it amazing. Made all my pain go away. And I did believe I was cute for a time then it all faded away.

As for my body...well, I wanted to lose 20 pounds. I'm 150 and I have huge flabby arms (not even exaggerating, the flab distends at least two inches from my forearms), as well as a very broad belly (doesn't stick out THAT much but the fat's everywhere. Lots of unhealthy waist/stress fat, muffin top. But, to be frank, I have mad potential. I see why girls tell me they envy my bod all the time. Best legs I've ever seen.

I feel worn out a lot and it's quite depressing. Sit in a coffee shop all day, still feel bad. Go work out...or do yoga...actually genuinely makes me feel worse.

See the doctor and nothing's really wrong. Try eating healthy. Healthy fats. Veggies. Quality protein. Fruit. Cutting out all added sugars. Nothing. I mention this because it feeds into my complex like nothing else. I feel worn out and I genuinely, 100% look worn out. People comment on it and degrade me for it. It's a feedback loop of doom.

And it's true--I can take a ""normal"" picture with good lighting sure. See https://imgur.com/a/7ULpC, my bare face, but even then I can't help fixating on the flaws that still shine through...even with the incredibly flattering lighting I can't help seeing the sunken, f'ed up eye area...the skin flaws that refuse to go away even with endless skincare...
and I don't really want to artificially make me look okay, I just want to be comfortable in my own skin. Not look like I'm "dying" or something. >.<
posted by Wildernessy at 8:27 PM on April 10, 2018

On a slightly different take, I think I look extremely average. I’ve had people tell me I was gorgeous and people tell me I was unquestionably a dog. So how do I look?

It is truly in the eye of the beholder.

And yeah, people who said the latter obviously hurt me and it certainly made it much harder to believe people who said the former. And frankly I have my own ideas about female beauty and I don’t think I match up to them either, by a long shot. That being said, I do have some nice features. I think you need to think about the fact that you can’t pick out one nice thing about your looks. Why are you so determined to frame yourself as being a disgusting hag? I could actually ask myself this question when I find myself in a loop of particularly negative self-talk. (I am also one of those people who gives off an anti-flirt vibe.) Who is actually speaking, when you hear that nagging voice in your mind?

Not to be an asshole, but genuinely ugly people find love all the time, with people who find them attractive, so it’s not like that’s a real barrier if you decided to develop the winningest personality you were capable of. But you are clearly not emotionally healthy and you have an extremely negative narrative that brings everyone’s attention to your absolute worst qualities—including the fact that you posted here, and are insistently telling everyone, “No, really, I’m totally Medusa, you would turn to stone if you saw me in person, that’s why my photos don’t show my whole face, I tried it and it broke the camera” (exaggerating for a little levity there of course). Nobody reacts positively to anyone or anything where you lead with the most negative part of the story. Even in marketing, advertisers lead with the best features, not with “Cord is annoyingly short” or “Screen has tons of glare in direct sunlight” or “Awful battery life”. You’re telling a story about yourself that puts you in the worst possible light, where even if specific facts are true (e.g. some asshole made a face because you had a breakout on your face), it creates a much more powerful, negative narrative than is actually true.

And none of us are equipped to talk you out of it. You need a professional and also the willingness to look at the issue from other perspectives.

The fact is that some people will consider you attractive and others will not. That’s just the reality of human variety. Depending on external validation by the majority of people around you (by which I mean being considered attractive enough to garner positive attention from strangers) is a losing game. Even the most gorgeous people in the WORLD have legions of shitheads bagging on their looks for the tiniest flaw. People inevitably age and/or deal with some kind of skin thing that makes them not perfect. But perfection is not required. Are you really going to spend your life apologizing for being a human being? Are these guys talking shit stunningly gorgeous themselves, or are they basically one of a hundred million average bros who have no room to talk about anyone’s looks? I’d bet money that it’s the latter.

So, all things considered, I think that at the minimum you need to spend some serious time thinking about the kind of person you want to be and why. Are you going to let this hold you back, other people’s opinions of how you look at a given moment? Nobody is entitled to be continually surrounded by physically gorgeous people and certainly nobody has the right to expect that of you personally. Instead of asking yourself why you can’t meet that expectation, maybe ask yourself how people have the nerve to expect it in the first place. I’ve looked at your photos and you have conventionally attractive features as far as I can tell, but you have a right to move in this world even if you decided to dump a bucket of mud over yourself and walk around with boxer briefs on your head. Neon orange hair? Covered in tattoos? Put a dozen piercings in your face? Go to 7-11 in a ball gown? You are allowed to express your appearance however you please and everyone can just deal with it. [Barring the real world requirements of company dress codes and “No shirt, no shoes, no service”] You do NOT owe it to the world to be beautiful. That is NOT our price as women for moving within society. Anyone who says otherwise can fuck right off.

Misogyny and entitlement are a social epidemic and although it is something we all have to deal with in some way, it is not an objective truth. It is a mechanism for keeping you from moving forward with your own talents and abilities.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:28 PM on April 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

[Wildernessy, this question absolutely needs to not become an ongoing back-and-forth. Just take in the answers you get, and ignore the ones that don't work for you. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:40 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

You look like Disney’s Cinderella in the morning. You are that beautiful. I am not telling you this to blow smoke up your ass; in fact, I know you won’t believe me. I just want you to understand that your perceptions are that distant from reality right now, and you need serious help.

People have hurt you badly because lots of them think it’s fun to hurt women, especially pretty ones. It’s not because they have any objective truth on their side at all. Please, please get mental health assistance. We are all pulling for you so hard.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:50 PM on April 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

And also EVERYONE takes decent photos in good lighting with an appropriate lens! That’s why the field of photography exists! Have you ever seen this photo, where a model uses different lenses to demonstrate how they can emphasize or distort different parts of your face? Phone cameras have come a long way, but they still have tiny lenses and can emphasize your nose or forehead or some other feature that can throw the proportions of your face off, and that’s IF you aren’t trying to take a photo with tons of light directly overhead to showcase every wrinkle and eye bag. Angles, lenses and lighting make all the difference.

And now that I see your full face photo...okay. You have classically attractive features. Your tear trough area is totally normal and tons of people have exactly the same thing going on, myself included. (And it’s not my favorite feature, either, but at this point I have better things to spend $800 on than Restalyne in my tear troughs.) I could go on at length but the fact of the matter is that, at 23, you are basically at the age where everyone is the most hypercritical of everyone’s looks. You say you’re in a dorm so I’m presuming college? Once you get out of that environment and into the working world where you are among a much wider age range, that microcosm of criticism will largely disappear.

Are there specific techniques and products to address these physical things? Sure, I could say, “Get some filler for the tear troughs,” or “Chemical peels do great things for your skin” (I would highly recommend those to anyone whose skin tolerated them well, but I digress), and “Becoming leaner and lifting weights will help eliminate the flab you’re not happy with” but you know all those things—and the bottom line is really what is going to make you happy with yourself. What do you need? What would you like in your life that being a regulation hottie (so to speak) would supposedly provide? I think that would be a good question to start with. You don’t have to answer that question here, but I think answering it for yourself would be helpful.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:50 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

So, here's the thing: it's a lot easier for some people to tell themselves that their looks, rather than their brain chemistry, are their major barrier to building connections with others. I'd guess that that's because, if you're a person who values your intelligence and insight, it's difficult to come to terms with the possibility that your brain can hold you back so much. You keep telling yourself, and the rest of the internet that you're ugly, so you're not afraid of being ugly. The fact that you don't want to acknowledge that you may have a mental health issue tells me that the implications of your mind betraying you are a lot scarier to you than ugliness.

I suspect that deep down, you recognize on some level that you're objectively attractive. However, you know that your attractiveness hasn't translated into or contributed towards you having the life you want, and you find that really difficult to reconcile. That's understandable, because you've probably spent your entirely life hearing that ugliness is more of a liability than sadness, which happens to be total bullshit.

You're 23, and the reality is that guys your age - or at least the well-adjusted ones - don't really flirt with women who are palpably depressed. (They also don't pursue women who don't seem to have healthy social lives, but let's not get into that aspect now.) Attractive women who are obviously depressed either don't get attention from their peers who can figure out that they're depressed or...they punch way below their weight. They date guys who are abusive, or unwilling to commit, or are otherwise unappealing. Sometimes, best case scenario, they have a series of relationships with well-meaning guys who ultimately get fed up with their unwillingness to address their body image and mental health issues. (Ask me how I know!) There's no level of hotness that, in the long run especially, compensates for emotional health issues that have been left untreated.

At 25, or 27, or 29, it'll become increasingly obvious the problem is not your looks. But hopefully, long before then, you'll have acknowledged that.
posted by blerghamot at 8:57 PM on April 10, 2018 [23 favorites]

I’d wager that you’re exhausted all the time because you’re deeply depressed. That’s, like, classic symptom number one of depression, which is treatable with talk therapy and possibly medication. But it could also be thyroid issues — a wonky thyroid can make you feel physically tired, can contribute to weight gain, and can contribute to depression.

When was the last time you had a physical and blood tests? I think you should see a doctor to rule out any underlying medical issue that’s contributing to your erroneous beliefs about your worth and attractiveness, in addition to seeing a psychiatrist.
posted by palomar at 9:03 PM on April 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh, and the reason dudes don’t flirt with you? Actually good, worthwhile dudes are capable of picking up the vibe women send out subconsciously when they think they’re not worth loving. That’s why. It’s not because you’re not physically attractive, it’s that your self-loathing is palpable and an emotionally healthy guy isn’t going to pursue someone who hates themselves. The kind of guy that pursues a woman in your current state of mind? That’s a predator, girl. That kind of guy is the furthest thing from what you need in your life.
posted by palomar at 9:06 PM on April 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

And bear in mind that a worthless person would not have this many strangers trying so hard to help them.
posted by palomar at 9:09 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

"an emotionally healthy guy isn’t going to pursue someone who hates themselves"

Thinking this was true is what made me think I couldn't/shouldn't date anyone, shouldn't inflict myself on anyone, until I sorted out my mental health issues. My now-boyfriend - who is lovely, and who thinks I am too - had to work pretty hard to talk me out of that mindset. Just as people who aren't conventionally physically attractive can and do find love, so too can those of us with mental health issues.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:41 PM on April 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

Sweetheart, I am so sorry you’re going through this.
I am going to say, as gently as I can, that your peers are picking up on something real, but that neither they nor you really understand what it is that they’re noticing. Most people can sense when somebody is in acute emotional distress, but they do not all have the tools to describe or react to this. The people who you describe as flinching at what you are imagining to be your “ugliness” are reacting to your social anxiety. You perceive that they’re having a negative reaction to you and become more miserable, they register that and get more uncomfortable, it’s a self reinforcing negative feedback loop. We don’t teach people the language or the tools to deal with this kind of situation, or even to describe it to ourselves as it’s happening, it’s something that we have to pick up on our own and that a lot of people don’t understand until they are well into adulthood. The kind of social skills people typically have in high school and college — forget about it. We don’t teach people to say, it looks like you are really unhappy to be having in this social interaction, and I don’t know if you’re mad at me, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and don’t know what to do. We don’t teach people to say, or recognize, I talked with this girl for hours last night but today she seems like she’s really struggling with something and I’m not sure how to respond or help. Your extreme, paranoid-delusion-level self loathing and social anxiety is what people are picking up on when they meet you in social settings and back off, not the effects of sunlight or fluorescent lighting. You are sending them signals, and they are responding to those signals. The way out of the loop isn’t plastic surgery, it’s taking care of your mental health so that social encounters are not as agonizing for you.

Both of the people that you have described being in intense, romantic online friendships with have actually told you this explicitly. The guy with the loft and the fluffy white cat told you that you sometimes look “f’d up“ a.k.a. visibly disturbed. The engineering student who loves you enough to hunt down your anonymous self-hate rants online told you flat out that he finds your appearance “lovely and adorable” and that it is your behavior, not any aspect of how you look, that he has a problem with: “My behavior has made him hold me at a distance.” This is the exact same thing that your dorm mates and other peers are telling you, although crudely, when they say that you look like you are dying; I work in an industry where crack use still happens, and saying someone looks like a crackhead, while a horrible thing to say, translates to saying that they look mentally unwell, not physically unattractive. You even admit, “One friend has gotten sick of talking to me because of my paranoia,” only to immediately double down and attribute his setting serious boundaries with you to the exact paranoid delusion of ugliness that he kept trying to tell you about.

We don’t always know how to interpret the signals our own bodies are sending us. For a few years in my early 20s, I could predict when I was going to get my period based on a sudden, irrational conviction that I was pregnant. Whether or not I had been anywhere near a man’s penis within the last year, four hours before I started to menstruate, I would be absolutely consumed with “oh my God, I’m pregnant“ like clockwork. I’ve been trapped in the ugliness loop too, and I think it is a similar kind of crossed wire. Your body is trying to tell you very desperately that something is wrong. The message you are getting from this alarm going off is being twisted by depression into “Something is horribly and immutably wrong with me, it must be physical, it must be that I am hideous.” Ugliness and unattractiveness are incredibly tempting metaphors when we know what we are depressed and don’t know how to change it. They are one of the most convincing ways to articulate that inner feeling of being wrong, bad, flawed, hopeless that I know of. When your life is spiraling out of your control and you don’t know how to get it back, it makes you feel like you have some measure of control or at least understanding of the situation to say, You see, I’m ugly, it’s something intrinsic to me, I understand why I am so isolated and feel so hopeless, I know the rules, people have evolved to value beauty, it’s science. You are trying so, so hard to fit everything you’ve experienced into this consuming narrative of being socially rejected because you are ugly, even when people you trust tell you that this is not true. But I think some deeper part of you knows that junk science is just a way to rationalize not listening to what the people who care about you are telling you: that you are ill, and that you need and deserve help to be able to accept their love and to thrive.

I also want to point out that you say that you’re experiencing severe agoraphobia, and at this is something that runs in your immediate family, that you have parents or siblings who kept themselves shut up in the house while you were growing up and now: “My immediate family is all in a depression, all staying in for weeks at a time.” You are describing inherited mental illness.

I think your decision to see a psychiatrist is a solid one. You are objectively beautiful, and I hope you can find a way out of the hell of this obsession. Please believe your friends when they tell you to keep trying, that you deserve to be loved, and that you deserve help.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:06 PM on April 10, 2018 [54 favorites]

Just as people who aren't conventionally physically attractive can and do find love, so too can those of us with mental health issues.

And no one has said that people with mental health issues can't find love. Please don't fight a straw man you've made out of my words. I stand by my statement: OP thinks that guys don't flirt with her because of her looks, and that's not why at all.
posted by palomar at 10:21 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a data point rthday may help your thinking. People say weird stuff about looks. I'm generally reasonably attractive but:
- I was bullied in school for having weird hair and how I dressed.
- I have had random young men come up to me in the street to tell me how ugly I am
- in arguments as an adult other women have insulted my looks.

These things were all shocking and upsetting at the time but that doesn't make them true.
posted by kadia_a at 10:35 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I am not a psychiatrist, but I do suffer from intermittent depression and anxiety, and like others above I believe you are experiencing a pretty strong major depressive episode, as well as body dysmorphia. These are cognitive distortions that alter the way you perceive yourself and the world around you in ways that are not true. This story you tell is illustrative:

But, just two weeks ago, a guy walked by me at a distance and looked at my face and looked like he was going to throw up--he even opened his mouth. A twisted up, horrible expression, looks a bit like what google shows me about disgusted expressions except far worse and more visceral.

This is not something that people do. You have built layers of interpretation on top of a fleeting interaction that serve to reinforce your belief that you are hideously ugly, but those layers of interpretation are coming entirely from your own mind. What you know is that you saw a stranger walking past at a distance, and, while looking in your direction, he made a strange face. What you believe is that he saw your face and made the face out of disgust at your looks. But in reality, you don't actually even know that he was looking at you; it is a known psychological phenomenon that people tend to believe others are looking at them even when they're really looking at something else nearby, and for people suffering from body dysmorphia this effect is heightened dramatically. And if he was looking at you, you also don't know why he made a strange face. If he noticed you looking at him, he may have become uncomfortable with eye contact with a stranger and made a face in response. He may be someone who deals with his own mental health difficulties and was expressing this on his face. The point is, the interpretation that you have put on this story is something you created, and it is something that serves only to reinforce your psychological distress, and it is not a true representation of external reality. This one story is an illustrative example, but I think the same process of deconstruction can be applied to some of the other stories you have related here. I think it would be a good exercise for you to try to do this; take examples of cases when you think others have reacted to your looks but they didn't actually say so explicitly, and try to consider alternative explanations for their behavior. Then try to play the role of a dispassionate judge and evaluate which version of events seems more likely. Imagine you're doing it about someone else, if it helps.

I am glad you have decided to see a psychiatrist, and I hope you will call one to make an appointment as soon as possible. It took me much longer than it should have to seek medication for my own anxiety, and I wish I had done it years sooner. Antidepressants are not an instant fix, and not perfect by a long stretch, and will not cure you of the underlying cognitive distortions you're experiencing, and there's no guarantee they'll work for you at all. But what they can do, once you've found the right one, is give you the resilience you need to be able to tackle the work at a cognitive level.

Best of luck to you. You don't deserve the torment you're experiencing.
posted by biogeo at 10:37 PM on April 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

> but even then I can't help fixating on the flaws that still shine through

THIS is the problem. The problem is not that you *have* flaws - everyone has flaws! The problem is that you cannot see anything except the flaws.
posted by rtha at 10:38 PM on April 10, 2018 [14 favorites]

Please contact the International OCD Foundation* because they can get you working with someone who specializes in BDD, which is considered a type of obsessive thinking.

I want to share this and ask you to note how completely inline it is with what you say:

"What are the common signs and symptoms of BDD?

Frequent thoughts about appearance (at least an hour a day)
Spending a lot of time staring in a mirror and/or reflective surface fixated on the flaw, or in some cases, a complete avoidance of mirrors/reflective surfaces
Covering up the “affected area.” (for example, using hats, scarves, make-up)
Repeatedly asking others to tell you that you look okay (also referred to as ‘reassurance seeking’).
Frequent appointments with medical professionals/cosmetic surgeons
Repeated plastic surgery
Compulsive skin picking, which includes using fingernails and tweezers are to remove blemishes and/or hair.
Avoiding social situations, public places, work, school, etc.
Leaving the house less often or only going out at night to prevent others from seeing the “flaw.”
Keeping your obsessions and compulsions secret due to feelings of shame
Emotional problems, such as feelings of disgust, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc."

Medication and CBT can be very helpful in coming to terms with this. I really believe that you asked this question here not for reassurance seeking, but knowing that MeFites would point you in the direction of genuine help.

*The International OCD Foundation advises in many anxiety-based disorders, not just OCD. They legitimately saved my son's life. If you contact them, get someone they recommend, within a few months you will honestly be able to glance in a mirror and say, "I may be the ugliest person in the entire world right now, and that's fine. Time for new shoes!" You will learn to deal with distressing thoughts and continue to move on with your life. You'll learn why you're reassurance seeking. You'll learn how to deal with the tension that comes when you're asking a question for reassurance and not getting the answer you want (which is what's happening here).

Seriously, you have NO IDEA how much you will learn and how quickly you will feel better, but you need to contact them.

You NEED to find someone who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and anxiety-based disorders, because otherwise, yes, you will feel like you're spinning your wheels and get frustrated.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:47 AM on April 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

I hope the overwhelming surge of advice above makes some impression, and others have covered the body-focused thought distortions from a variety of angles. I just wanted to point out one other stark example *just on the face of your post* in hopes maybe it gives you a sense of how your brain is fooling you.

You start near the top of your post by saying: My life has gone downhill since the moment I was born. The more I learned, the less happy I've become, the more I want the end.

Then, you give a detailed timeline in which you say that from 0 to 18, ...I was an academic superstar, top of grade w/o trying...usually got awards, encouraged to go into leadership...was so happy, had hobbies, loved reading...thing is, I didn't think I was ugly. I thought I was cute.

These are not compatible. By your own account, your life has not been on a downward trajectory from the moment you were born: this is a current belief, not a fixed truth. You had years of happiness. You now have a disease that is trying to keep you from re-finding that. Please, please, please find the treatment that will help you understand and account for these distortions.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 4:48 AM on April 11, 2018 [13 favorites]

You see an ugly girl. Here's what I see from your photos.

1. Your hair looks soft and touchable, and is a lovely shade of brown.
2. Your eyebrows have just the right hint of arch, and are wonderfully defined without looking at all heavy.
3. Are your eyes hazel? They're a gorgeous color, surrounded by long butterfly lashes and the tiniest crinkles that suggest you must have a beautiful laugh.
4. Your nose has that aristocratic length that ends in a boopable little tip. It makes you look sophisticated and approachable at the same time.
5. I'm going to be very candid here: I would kill to have a mouth like yours. Yours forms that tiny little heart-shape where they meet in the middle. Guys love that.
6. You have full, round cheeks that add a sweet character to your face.
7. And bringing it all together is a well-defined, well-shaped chin and jaw-line that adds a quiet strength to your face.

You're stunning to look at. And that's just your FACE!

If you don't see any of this, then something is definitely very, very wrong. Please, please heed the advice here and seek out help as soon as you possibly can. Please keep trying. Please believe that you deserve all the best things in life.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:04 AM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was you at your age.

Seconding all of the great responses above. Wow, you have lovely eyes, great cheekbones, to-die-for lips. And your expression in the second non-fragmented photo is open, approachable and lovely.

My take on your situation with guys is that they can tell you're self-obsessed. That's a turn off. Guys are people, they want their dates to be interested in them. It's not complicated.

You are self-obsessed because of your age, so I don't fault you for that. It's a phase. Also, and this is more serious, you are bleeding from an emotional wound constantly, so you're not available for relationships right now. Take care of your wound. Fix yourself first. The relationships will follow.

Twenty-three is very young. The rest of your life won't be like your childhood. The rest of your life is going to be adulthood, and whatever that will turn out to be. Don't fear the present because you think it's going to be the past over and over again. It won't. Stay open to how you're changing inside. These changes are happening so that you can meet the new challenges of adulthood. You're up for it.

I rediscovered some of my college diaries. I was totally fixated on guys who really, really, didn't deserve the emotion I was lavishing on them. This isn't about the guys you know. Try to let them go. Focus on yourself right now, but NOT on how you look! That part is just fine! Focus on how to feel better. Again, you're not emotionally available right now. Treat guys cordially, but don't give them extra importance. Love has to wait. There will always be guys.

I suffered as you're doing now for a couple of decades, and in many ways I am still hard on myself. I wish I could get back those years, relive them with the knowledge I now have, that I was lovely, talented, bright, and had a lot to offer.

At 23 you don't realize it, but life is short. Don't waste any more time being miserable! You can't get it back.

Sending you healing thoughts.
posted by cartoonella at 9:33 AM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

okay i have not read any of the answers already posted. but....

if you look haggard and "like a smoker" and "old" according to other people...maybe you do really look that way!

when i was on death's door for a few months with an diagnosed illness, i apparently looked awful. now, people didn't tell me that until AFTER i started getting better, but... after i slowly started recovering i don't have that same "look" about me.

go to the doctor. have your "levels" checked. go to a dermatologist, see what they have to say.

now, i have similar problems to you. i feel like i am the ugliest piece of shit and am worthless and that no one should care about me and anyone who says they do is lying. here's the thing: MY DEPRESSION IS REALLY BAD RIGHT NOW. so get that checked out too.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2018

You don't NEED to go to one specific kind of therapist or therapy, and you don't need to do it entirely on your own. You have permission to find someone to help you do so, to help you organize it or make calls. You also have permission not to do it now, if you're not ready. That's considered inappropriate, but it's not. Don't fall into the hole of "you are the only one who can help yourself", this is a team effort. I'm sorry you're getting kind of a lot of Tough Love borne out of genuine concern here, but which has a tendency to make anxiety worse. Please know that while I am another internet stranger who wants you to feel better, you are a person with both agency and freedom and part of that agency and freedom is that "getting help" isn't as black and white and simple as all that. Feel free to MeMail me if you want.
posted by colorblock sock at 9:50 AM on April 11, 2018

being desired is the sweetest feeling to me... I felt it before and...oh god, was it amazing. Made all my pain go away. And I did believe I was cute for a time then it all faded away.

I feel like everyone's done a thorough job here of emphasising that your body/face issues are not real, and it's going to be important and worthwhile for you to seek help.

But your final update here included the above line, and I want to suggest that, as part of the work you're doing (you must be trying to do something about how you feel, or I guess you wouldn't have posted this question), you gently but firmly examine it.

Basing your happiness on being desired is something to avoid. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's extremely human, not to mention kind of a feature for most of us from our teens to late twenties? But it's never, ever, going to lead you to where you want to be, or how you want to feel.

So perhaps an exercise you could start to try, would be that when you feel a thought come into your mind, such as "I wish someone wanted me, or would tell me I am beautiful", to acnowledge it, understand that your mind is seeking something to create ... spiritual satiety? I hope you know what I mean... in your life. Then seek something that actually will give you that feeling. Create art. Explore somewhere you do not know. Learn a skill. Give your time to help people. Travel.

In summary: build your happiness on things that are good, real foundations for it. Not on other people's opinions (or your perceptions of them).
posted by greenish at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

With respect... why bother to show us the pictures, then, if all you're going to do is shoot down anyone who tries to tell you that you're not actually as ugly as you keep telling yourself you are?

I think this commenter caught something very interesting about your post, and their question might contain its own answer. I wonder if the point of posting pictures of yourself is to do exactly what this commenter suggets, so as to reaffirm the story that you must truly be as ugly as you say you are, and that that is the source of all your suffering.

This is not to say you're doing this deliberately or even consciously -- I don't think you are. It's just that if there's a general truism I've learned about people, it's that no matter how painful and self-destructive a story someone has about themself, it takes hold because it serves as a beachhead against some other possibility, even more painful and obliterating, lurking just beneath the surface.

Without going too hard at it, you reference what sounds like a traumatic upbringing, full of terrible loss and abuse, and otherwise characterized by being neglected, ignored and isolated from others. Given that, it makes perfect sense that you believe love and connection is the cure to that (and to some extent, it is). And given the culture we live in, it makes just as much sense that physical attractiveness and romantic relationships seem like the gatekeeper to that love. With all respect, I can't help but wonder if this is somehow a less-terrible-of-two-terrible-options situation; after all, if your looks were the issue, there is a psychologically straightforward solution that you yourself mentioned, i.e., plastic surgery, where I imagine expense would be the biggest if not only obstacle. But if it weren't? What then? That question would invite only despair, I imagine.

I hope you do go back to therapy, but not only to address the BDD. If you do go back, I hope you can muster up the courage to face what stalks behind the body dysmorphia -- all those painful experiences that shaped you from your earliest years. It is very common to feel worse before you feel better in therapy, especially when addressing such long-standing issues such as you write about. Let any future therapist know about that, and go at a pace that works for you. Be as honest as you can about how you think the therapist must be feeling about you, if and when you run into roadblocks. I think it will take a lot of time and hard work to heal yourself and build up the strength to love, but it will be worth it when you get there.
posted by obliterati at 11:25 AM on April 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you realize that if you're ugly and fat and unattractive and weird, then there is a reason that you're unhappy, and it's not something you can control--not your fault.

There are multiple reasons you're unhappy. (1) You're depressed. This is not under your control. There are steps you could take to mitigate the damage it does to you, but it's an insidious disease that fights hard to stick around. (2) You live in a society that rewards viciousness. This is also not under your control. (3) Everyone is unhappy sometimes. Again, not something you get to opt out of.

We can't shout out the lies in your head. You have to realize they're lying to you on your own, or accept that they might be lying - and after that, you can get help figuring out how to cope with them.

If your goal is to be not-ugly, as you define it, plastic surgery might help. If your goal is to be not-miserably-unhappy, changing your body alone won't help with that at all.

(I can join the chorus who says you're not ugly. You have acne, and there are methods for minimizing that, but mostly, you're likely to outgrow it - teens and early-20's are full of hormones and body changes, and those show up as acne in a lot of people.)

Regarding being fat: My all-time favorite photo of a "morbidly obese" woman from the Illustrated BMI Categories collection on Flickr.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be a bit harsher than others, not to be unkind, just to be blunt and put this out there:

From my perspective, I think you are here trying to get us to tell you that you are not really ugly, so that you can insist even more stridently that you are. Well, you're not, but that's not my point. You loathe yourself right now, for reasons probably unrelated to your appearance, and it feels good to you, because you loathe yourself, to turn back people's reassurances that you are not ugly, by insisting that you are, as a form of self-punishment and self-infliction of pain not unlike, according to my best friend who at your age who went through something similar to what you are going through right now, the feeling that accompanies doing actual physical harm to oneself. It's sort of cathartic in a very, very distorted and dangerous way, to rub in to your own psyche about how ugly you are, but the thing is this. It's self-indulgence, and you need to stop it. It is also taking advantage of the people who sincerely are here trying to reassure you that you are not ugly. You are not. Nobody here believes you are. Please, take a good long look at why you feel the need to punish yourself. And then, take the steps to get the help you need to get out of that mindset. You are a very attractive young woman with some seriously distorted thinking that is hurting you and is putting you at the risk of being the prey of very abusive potential partners, who can and will take advantage of you hating on yourself. You are your own best ally in life. Hurting and hating that ally and seeking reassurance from strangers online, it may feel good now, but what is way more important than reassurance, is that you do the work on yourself, with the help of professionals, to get better.
posted by Crystal Fox at 1:38 PM on April 11, 2018 [24 favorites]

This is fairly beside the point (I agree that you would probably find the best help with therapy and psychiatric help) but you look the way I, a reasonably cute person, have looked during depressive episodes, and the way my beautiful close friend looked recently during a time when she was not feeling good mentally. Our faces were somewhat drained of color and we looked unhappy, and it became a cycle of blahness.

The quickest, most fun fix is to drink a bunch of water--put fruit in it! or do fizzy water!--and get a good lipstick in a flattering color on your face. If I were you, I'd try a warm nude like Clinique's Tenderheart. Dab a little across your cheekbones and blend it with a good moisturizer. I would also get a kickass concealer, like Boi-ing by Benefit. If you're really feeling it, put on some mascara and an eyebrow pencil and then GO OUTSIDE. Buy yourself flowers or go see a matinee. If the weather is nice, take a blanket to a park and sit out with a book. Give yourself a compliment. Give yourself permission to enjoy a thing, if that seems doable.

And still go take care of your mental health, because it absolutely 1000% sounds like your brain is lying to you. I've been there.
posted by witchen at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2018

Oh, and another huge tip that has saved me from feeling weird in public: unless you're at a job interview, every single person you encounter is thinking about their own shit more than they're probing yours. So don't work too hard for their benefit.
posted by witchen at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I don't really want to artificially make me look okay, I just want to be comfortable in my own skin.

To be clear, that comfort needs to come from within your own mind, not from changing your actual skin. Even the most beautiful women in the world can find things to hate about their appearance if they pick themselves apart enough. And if you're hanging around people who tell you you're ugly and otherwise make you feel bad about how you look, well, don't.
posted by wondermouse at 3:14 PM on April 11, 2018

the less happy I've become, the more I want the end.
If you are at all thinking of hurting yourself, There Is Help.

You grew up with terrible messages about yourself; that's not easy to overcome. You're smart and able to excel academically. That's a strength. You have been given the message that you are ugly. I'm a stranger on the Internet. Objectively, you are not ugly, you are pretty. But hearing that from Internet strangers is not enough to reverse years of negative thoughts and messages. You need a highly skilled therapist; they are not easy to find. Consider a PhD psychologist.

You deserve a good life. You deserve to have happiness. I am wrong about stuff plenty of the time, but not about this.
posted by theora55 at 5:18 PM on April 11, 2018

Thousandthing everyone's urges to seek therapy.

Also, I feel like this should be articulated: by seeking praise and validation from the outside, from others, you are not healing your inner wound. You have a wound within you from lack of genuine, authentic love from your upbringing. You should not have to perform well in school to feel validated, loved, and cared for (as I did growing up); nor should you have to look any certain way to be validated, loved, and cared for. Every time you seek validation of your appearances, all of the compliments and praise are being thrown into a black hole within you, which is why people's praise of you is not having a positive impact on you. The problem isn't your appearances, the society we live in (although that has its own set of issues), or anyone liking you enough or not. The problem is, you are confusing external validation to heal an internal wound. This does not work. Confront the darkness in you that is hurting you so badly, the hole where love should be, where love should have been poured into you from childhood, which it seems wasn't. That emptiness, the darkness you feel, the PAIN, is what is driving your anxiety, is what is seeking an answer to your suffering, and looking at the physical body is the wound's convenient way of not having to face itself- it's like a mirage, your wound makes you feel shameful and so your wound does not want to be seen, while desperately also wants to be seen and loved. So your wound's convenient outlet of expressing pain is to loathe your physical appearances, and you're probably feeling some anxiety because your wound doesn't want to be seen, all that shame, sadness, pain, emptiness.

You have a choice. You don't have to be empty forever. You are lovable, people DO love you already, and you can choose to heal yourself and love yourself and fill that wound with positive warmth.

Confront and embrace your inner wound; the longer you reject it, the longer your anxiety and suffering will go on. Do not be ashamed. Do not be ashamed to feel shame, sadness, fear of rejection, neediness, etc. Do not judge yourself. You have been hurt, and it is not your fault. You deserve more love, both from your family, and from yourself. I know this sounds crazy, but I am speaking from personal experience, as one who wasn't loved and who was sexually abused as a kid. I had to do it myself, to stop blaming my environment, my body, the people around me, and to start addressing the source of the pain. It is very hard work. You are up to the task. You are your own witness. Good luck.
posted by erattacorrige at 7:18 PM on April 11, 2018 [13 favorites]

I'll pile on because you probably can't hear it enough: It's fairly obvious from the pictures you're really pretty.

I'm going to recommend going to the gym. Not to lose weight, but because physical health is often more effective than therapy or drugs in treating depression. Also, you should do some things that make you feel good and beautiful. If that's a cute dress and make-up or whatever, do it. You're in a slump. Apply good habits regularly. Sign up for some classes if that will help you discipline yourself. I'm kind of in the same boat. It's not easy, but please try.
posted by xammerboy at 11:47 PM on April 11, 2018

I didn’t get the pic linked to work but it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Why is being pretty or ugly the most defining or important thing about you?

I literally refuse to be friends with women who only talk about their bodies in terms of attractiveness. It’s SO BORING. Surely you have something else about you that’s interesting? Or maybe your strong legs are able to carry you on runs, or hiking or playing with friends? What are you hobbies? What do you like to do? If the answer is “sit at home and obsess over how I look” it wouldn’t be shocking that you don’t have many people that want to hang with you.

IDK that boy called “Wonder” got a whole movie and book about him and many would consider him “ugly.” He still sounds like an interesting person I’d like to hang out with.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:47 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

OK so, others have covered that your logic doesn't track (you were always ugly, you've never known love, but the only time you were happy was when you were pretty and loved?) and your perceptions aren't squaring with reality, and that your whole presentation is that of someone who is not fully engaged with reality in a healthy way. So, that.

BUT. I admit I initially read your post and was like "oh, yeah, so like, her problem is she's 23, 23 is an insane time." It resonated very strongly with my memories of that time, and the people saying your observations are "clearly" delusional, I think, are off the mark -- albeit only slightly.

I'm not very physically attractive, objectively speaking. (I'm much less attractive, objectively, than you are, in fact.) Like frowner described above, I did not have a handle on my looks at all for a long time, either. Youth did not look good on me.

And in college, people (men mostly, but also women) were terrrrrrrible to me. I fully believe that people say terrible offhand things about you being undateable and gross and all, because they said the same things to me. People who did flirt with me in drunk bar/party situations were embarrassed after the fact and shunned me. This was all real -- many of the people involved have confirmed this (and some have even apologized) years later.

But here's the thing. In college people are terrible. They just are! They're mean, insecure, drunk with independence and usually with booze also, full of themselves, often contending with untreated or badly-treated mental illness, and cooking in a toxic hormone stew. And if you're someone who's already a bit on an edge, it is hard to take garden-variety human shittiness in stride.

So while I fully believe that the things you say are happening to you ARE in some regard happening, two things:

1) They are not meaningful, as in, they are not true in a real sense. They are reflections of other peoples' issues that you are unfortunately having to be exposed to.

2) Their impact and meaning are being distorted by your own mental health situation which does not sound real stable.

The combination of my own untreated issues, and years of poor treatment by others, and whatever is just naturally going on in a still-developing brain, meant that by 23 I was pretty much psychotically depressed, and that is when my inner monologue sounded like your post does. I did not get help fast enough to prevent my 20s from being a nuclear wasteland of fuckery, but even so, that person seems like someone else to me now. It gets better, but it needs your help to do so.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:13 AM on April 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I totally believe that you feel repulsively ugly and that you wholeheartedly believe that people irl are interacting cruelly with you based on your looks. I suspect that this thread could have ten times as many people telling you that you're pretty and you would still believe that this is based on flattering lighting in your photos which doesn't affect how people see you irl.

Your belief in your ugliness is not going to vanish easily, although I also believe that you are not fated to feel like this forever. For you this belief is based on objective reality, others believe it's the product of dysmorphia. But as it's not going to go away overnight, perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is 'regardless of why I feel this way, are there any concrete steps I can take to manage how bad I feel about it?'

I'm not talking about changing your moisturiser, more like finding ways to accept that you have these awful feelings and put them aside for long enough to enjoy other things. What I'm trying to say is, rather than looking for a fix for the big problem, can you first work on smaller things to feel more in control of your life?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:38 AM on April 16, 2018

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