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Mahalia Handley has a face you might recognise; she's an internationally regarded model who has has worked for some of the world's biggest brands, and she's also an activist who tirelessly campaigns for more diversity and inclusion in the modelling industry. But this interview is about something else: Body Dysmorphic Disorder. BDD is an illness that makes people who experience it incredibly anxious about perceived flaws in their appearance, and Mahalia is open and candid about her diagnosis and treatment. In this interview which was recorded pre-lockdown Em and Lucy discuss with Mahalia about how she manages her BDD when modelling, how social media plays into it and why she still loves her job. Trigger Warning: we discuss eating disorders extensively in this episode. If you need any support please visit visit The Butterfly Foundation at butterfly.


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Friends loved hearing about my inability to find a partner but I realised that spilling all perpetuated this narrative. Not talking about my love life has been empowering. I railed against it, resenting the fact that I was alone.

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Why had someone I really liked rejected me? Why did all my friends have husbands or boyfriends and kids, while I spent ages lurching from lust to loneliness and back again? Each time I had a bad experience, or a good one, I had a tendency to tell all my female friends, providing endless information about the man who said I was awesome but kept cancelling, the date whose dog was more interested in me than he was, or the bloke I knew as a teenager with whom my mother set me up as an adult predictably, a disaster.

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With many of my friends settled in long-term relationships, they naturally turned to me to hear about adventures in single-land, or would ask to see a photo of whomever I had been on a date with the night before. I took that as a compliment — as a writer, my job is to tell stories. Deep down, all I really wanted was for my stories to end with love and happiness. Then one day last autumn, I had a revelation: I was the one who had perpetuated these narratives, prepared to spill everything to anyone who asked. Telling all and sundry about my love life meant people would — kindly — follow up, asking how things were going.

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So I decided to start keeping my love life private, choosing how much to reveal and to whom. Actually, no.

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Boundaries are good. When recently a single friend needed help writing a dating profile, she asked to see mine.

Bonus: how is my body your business? mahalia handley on body dysmorphic disorder

But it felt like a step too far and I politely declined. It sometimes felt harsh to shut down questions from people who cared about me, because we were used to discussing everything, but the more I got used to it, the easier it became. I am sure that my lack of oversharing has benefited my friendships, too; it may be a relief for friends not to feel they have to ask about my love life or provide a sympathetic ear all the time. I also discovered that always talking about dating, or discussing my lack of a relationship, was making me define myself solely as a single woman.

Telling people that I have decided to talk less about my love life, and even hearing myself say it out loud, has helped me stick to my decision. Now that I keep that side of me relatively private, I am embracing other aspects of my personality and life: my work, the joy of having two gorgeous nephews, my newfound fitness regime and a love of being outdoors.

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I have also started to really appreciate my independence and I absolutely relish a day to myself. Now, when something funny or exciting happens in my dating life, I smile to myself and maybe just text one close single friend about it. And if something sad occurs, instead of group texting, I sit with the feeling, sleep on it and then contact one or two people if it feels right. I know that from a mental health perspective, allowing those emotions to percolate is a good thing for me; texting a million friends might have resulted in lo of sympathy, but it only served to distract me from my feelings.

Ultimately, the only person who can decide whether someone I am dating is the right kind of man to have a relationship with is me.

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The one change that worked Life and style. I shared stories of my disastrous dates for laughs.

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Keeping them private has made me happier to be single. Lucy Handley. Mon 9 Mar Reuse this content.

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