It’s really tempting to hate your own body when you’re chronically ill, especially when you have autoimmune diseases. I mean, when you have autoimmune problems, you’re body isn’t even trying to ward off an outside invader…your body is literally attacking itself!
I had a very short stint with basketball in the 7th grade, and during one game, I accidentally scored a basket against my own team. I felt great about myself until my teammates were all glaring at me and I had realized my mistake. That basketball game was a pretty accurate metaphor for autoimmune disease, except your body doesn’t usually have that “a-hah moment” where it realizes that it’s working against its own teammates. It just continues to screw you over, unaware that it’s trashing your body instead of trashing the enemy.
When we talk about body image we usually think about our weight, cellulite, body shape, acne,
muscle definition, teeth, or complexion. And don’t get me wrong, I have just as many body insecurities as much as the next 21th century woman. I started out as a gangly, awkward teenager (see the photo below) and I experienced cycle of disordered eating and exercise patterns during college, so I understand the struggle to meet an unattainable body ideal.
But there is another side to the body-image coin that I’ve found is way harder to deal than “appearance based” insecurities. Not to minimize the body image struggles of healthy people, but I do want to emphasize there is a difference between being self-conscious because you think you look bad, and losing your independence because basic body functions are failing you.
For me, being sick has really turned the whole concept of “body love” on it’s head.
The revelation that I should love my body, even when it seemed like it was trying to kill me, was not an easy one to come by. And I still struggle with body-love every day, but I also developed a few techniques that I use to combat any body-loathing that rears its ugly head. And even if you have a healthy body, you can still use these ideas when you’re having an “I hate how I look” moment.
1. Realize you are More than Just a Body
Despite what the media and the beauty industry would have us think, we are most than just a walking flesh-suit that needs to be plucked and powdered until it meets some outrageous ideal. Yes, your body and your mind are intricately connected, but that doesn’t mean you are any less valuable if you’re body doesn’t “look right” or doesn’t “work right” according to cultural standards.
While your body is a part of your identity, it is not all that you are. You are also a mind, and a spirit, and a personality. So, even if you don’t have the body you want (in terms of appearance or function) you still have so much going for you. Why spend all your time worrying about the 10% of you that isn’t perfect when there is a whole other 90% that is waiting to be developed and appreciated. So treat your mind, emotions, and spirit with just as much care as you would your physical body.
2. Speak Kindly to Yourself and about Yourself
I have always been my own worst critic. How many times per day do you have a negative thought about your body? For most people, I would estimate at least 3 or 4 bad thoughts a day, if not way more.
In high school, I would be lucky if I made it through a single hour without thinking “ugh, my hair is always so frizzy,” “ugh, another zit,” “ugh, why can’t I have boobs like Shannon.” But since we already spend so much time obsessing over ourselves, why not think positive thoughts instead?
Instead of using self-deprecation as a humor tactic or as a source of bonding with others, (come on, girls, we’re all guilty of this) try speaking nicely about yourself to others. This also goes for “self-talk.” The way you speak to your own body (via negative internal dialogue) carries more weight than you’d think. Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophesy? Well, it’s been scientifically proven that the way we think about ourselves translates directly to how we perform socially and how view ourselves in every day life.
3. Unplug from Negative Influences
This one may be easier said than done, because old habits die hard, but it can be one of the best ways to rehabilitate the way you see your body. If you’re anything like me, Instagram and similar social media apps may be your body-image worst nightmare. I used to follow all these hot fitness models on Instagram, even when I was too ill and exhausted to work out, because I thought that if I “kept my eye on the prize” long enough I would eventually become that way, too. Pro tip: it doesn’t work like that for most people.
Some folks do find that following models and athletes on social media can serve as a source of work-out motivation. But it wasn’t doing me any favors to cry over images of these perfectly sculpted, glowing, photo-shopped women, when I was stuck in bed all day. Letting go of this perceived “ideal” I had in burned into my mind changed the way I saw myself.
Instead of pining after something that wasn’t achievable for me, I unfollowed the Instagram models and only kept up with my friends, family, and other Spoonies like me on social media. It felt like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. So, if you think that social media is a self-esteem killer for you like it was for me, then you might want to reevaluate things. If exposure to a certain website, magazine, supermodel, or person in your life makes you feel bad about yourself, then unplug from that source!
Thank you all for reading. Now let’s go and love ourselves fully: mind, body, and spirit!
Em the Silver Spoonie