Actress and TV personality Tami Roman has opened up for the first time about a body image disorder that has left her on a constant pursuit to be skinny.
The 50-year-old shared her experience while guest-hosting on an episode of The Real on Monday (Nov. 22). The ladies were discussing body dysmorphic disorder when Roman admitted she was suffering from the mental health disorder.
“It’s something that I don’t talk about often so this is like the first time because I feel comfortable to talk to you ladies about it. I suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. I’ve been dealing with this since I was 13 years old. And so a lot of people don’t know it’s either hereditary or genetic or comes from a negative experience where your self-image has been annihilated,” she said. For Roman, the life-changing moment came when she was pursuing modeling at the age of 13 in New York City. During a visit to an agency, a modeling agent “ripped me to shreds,” picking apart her less than 120-pound, 5’9″ teenage frame.
“She literally stood me in front of a mirror and said, ‘You’ve got back folds. You’ve got fat over your knees. You need to do something with your chin. Your breasts are sagging,” Roman recalled. “And I went home that night and from that moment, every time I looked at myself in the mirror I could find something wrong with myself.”
Not knowing that she was dealing with body dysmorphic disorder, Roman saw her body as full of flaws — ones that others didn’t see. That didn’t stop her from taking drastic steps to retain a small frame early in her career, including back when she was on The Real World: Los Angeles in the early ’90s.
“I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I just knew ‘Well I’ve got to get skinnier. I’ve got to make myself smaller. I want to be a model,” she said. “I started abusing laxatives, I started not eating, I started throwing up — I started doing everything I could think of to do to be as skinny as I could possibly be, being obsessive about my weight loss. People don’t realize, that’s why I got my mouth wired in 1993, to be skinny when I was already skinny.”
And that desire to be smaller hasn’t been quelled all of these years later. In fact, in the social media age, its been exacerbated by commenters who think they’re alerting Roman about being too skinny when instead, she says they’re affirming her.
“Today at 50 years old, I’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and my weight fluctuates with that. You couple that with the disorder and it’s a hard thing to manage,” she says. “People don’t understand what it is to be a person with this disorder, particularly dealing with the weight issues.”
“They leave negative comments, or what they feel are negative comments, but for me, my mind has such a warped sense of perception, it’s a compliment,” she added. “‘Tammy you look too frail. Tammy you look like a bobblehead. Tammy you look skinny.’ In my mind that goes, ‘Well, I’m on the right track! I’m getting skinny!’ And then I don’t know when to stop.”
Roman’s body dysmorphia may come in the form of her desiring to be as skinny as possible, but in a previous deep dive into the disorder here at ESSENCE, it was made clear that any very negative way of seeing one’s body can be defined as this condition. Modes of treatment for severe cases can involve therapy and medication. In less serious scenarios, experts say it’s important not to get caught up believing there is a preferred body type.
“Many use the pictures they see online as the standard beauty for what they should look like,” said Nia Rennix of the Rennix Weigh nutrition and wellness company in an interview with us in 2018. “What they fail to realize is that there are so many mobile apps and computer programs that alter the appearance of these people to make them look perfect, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. Individuals who suffer from BDD compare themselves to what they think perfection looks like, but in reality there is no such thing.”