How do you love your body with illness or injury? How do you learn to love it again? So much about your body has changed, this can feel like a really hard task. You may have loved what your body enabled you to do previously and/or how you looked.

I feel it’s important to learn how to love your body with illness or injury again. It’s the only body you have. And you have it for the rest of your life. I’m not saying this will be a quick and easy journey for you. We are all different. But who knows, maybe it will be.

Where #bodyimage, #illness or #injury and society’s expectations and stigmas collide can be a potentially destructive place. Read about that here and what you can do to ensure it isn’t. Tell a Friend

Three things made me think of this recently. My own journey back to regular exercise. Through that I was hearing how people speak about their bodies and I felt sad with what I was hearing. And an article I read about weight loss and chronic illness.

Before I go any further, I want to say that this is a really big topic and I am only addressing it from one small angle on this occasion. I may come back to this topic from another angle in the future.

Learning to love your body with illness or injury is determined by body image (before and after the illness or injury), the impact of the illness or injury, and society's expectations and stigmas. It can be a potentially destructive mix. The picture shoes these three concepts as a Venn diagram.

How to love your body with illness or injury

That journey to fall back in love with ourselves and our bodies after a serious illness or injury or alongside a chronic illness has so many parts to it and can take time.

For a time we may be angry with our bodies for betraying us. I see this a lot in cases of cancer and auto-immune conditions where people were leading healthy lives before the illness arrived. Or we are mourning the loss of a part of our bodies due to cancer or injury for example.

We learn to adapt so we can return to favourite or new activities, return to work, and re-engage with our life. But having to adapt may bring its own frustrations as we are reminded of what we can no longer do as easily as we once did.

Having to adapt how we use our bodies so we can re-engage with our lives may bring its own frustrations. We are reminded of what we can no longer do as easily as we once did. #seriousillness #seriousinjury #bodyimage Tell a Friend

Eventually, we hopefully find a way to live in our changed bodies peacefully with a recognition of and appreciation for what it can do. Of course, we may experience setbacks if we experience a flare-up and become ill or injured again. But sometimes these setbacks are due to what people say and do to us. And it can be very hurtful on the being on the receiving end of that.

So what can you do?

There are two things you can do help yourself on your journey to love your changed body with illness or injury

And a lot of what I say here is equally applicable to people who do not have any major health issues. To men as well as women.

Listen to how you speak about your body

Do you say anything like the following?

Oh, my thunder thighs! I hate how they look!

Geez, I suffer from kankle syndrome!

My boobs are too small/big/droopy.

I’ve got man boobs. I’m not man enough.

Why can’t I be slim like her?

I hate how my chin isn’t well defined.

I hate how this bit of my body no longer works.

Oh, this grey hair! I can’t look old!

It’s very common to hear the above. Lots of people say these kind of things. It’s so normal. But should it be?

Listen to the language you use about yourself. Sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves. In what feels to be not a particularly helpful way.

We speak badly about a part of our body -->
We know that part of our body is with us forever -->
We feel worse because we have to deal with it.

I wonder, how does talking this way about yourself help you?

It can be a vicious cycle that repeats. Do you really need to be doing that to yourself?

The picture shows a woman looking into a mirror thinking, "Useless weak left leg." It then shows her saying, "Every day I have to deal with this useless weak left leg." And then it shows her thinking, "This sucks. I'll never have long and lean leg." The woman is in a vicious cycle of body image, the impact of her illness (or injury) and trying to meet society's expectations of having long and lean legs. This makes it hard to love your body with illness.

I have even heard this from staff in clothing shops and stylists, ‘You want to cover up/disguise/distract from this bit of yourself.’ And they talk about our ‘bad bits’.

Can we just love ourselves and our bodies as is?

How about substituting the ‘I don’t like’ with ‘I am grateful’?

You know that gap in your thighs we women are ‘supposed’ to have? I’ll never have that. I’ve got big thighs. My shoulders are sloping. I’ve got big boobs too. Slim ankles? Nope. Don’t have that either. I have chronic pain and a loss of sensory awareness in my hands so it makes it harder to do finer things like doing up my bra and putting in earrings. Otherwise, my hands work ok.

And you know what. I’m ok with all that. It’s my body. I can walk. Not great sometimes due to arthritis and poor walking habits due to old knees injuries (which I’m working on changing through physiotherapy). I can exercise. I can kayak. I can cook. My ankles, knees, thighs, hands and shoulders all enable me to do that. I enjoy those activities. I am grateful.

That is the key point around listening to how we speak about our bodies. Changing that ‘I don’t like’ or even hate relationship with parts of your bodies to one of gratefulness for what those parts of your body enable you to do.

The ‘I don’t like’ or even hate relationships with parts of our body often originate in society’s standards for health and beauty. So on to my next point.

The ‘I don’t like’ or even hate relationships with parts of our body often originate in society’s standards for #health and beauty. #bodyimage #seriousillness #seriousinjury Tell a Friend

Be mindful of how society’s standards of health and beauty for men and women do not help

Society standards are not very forgiving. Companies constantly push an ideal body shape for men and women, beauty standards and products at us to encourage us conform to these standards. Bu the standards can be difficult or even impossible for some of us to obtain. And the time it takes out of our schedules to meet those standards!

For example, a couple of years ago Avon had this campaign about ‘getting rid of your morning face’ by using their make-up of course. In a sense, we were being told our morning face is tired looking, that that isn’t good and we should not be looking like that, but hey, Avon can fix that with their products.

Barbara Babcock with no make-up. Learn to love your body with illness or injury.

I felt sad when I saw that commercial. I love seeing my face in the morning! I don’t care how tired I look. I smile at myself in the mirror because I think that is a great way to start my day. So I tweeted my lovely morning face with no make-up to Avon.

It can also be difficult to maintain these standards too. It may not be cheap money-wise. We also age. Our skin will change, our boobs may sag, our tummies may not be as tight, our hair goes grey, and more. That’s a normal process and we all go through it. But Western society has taught us that it’s not natural and we should fight it every step of the way. At what point in our lives can we just be at peace with our bodies?

A serious illness or injury can make it even more difficult to live with society’s standards

This article about how body and weight shaming negatively impacts women living with chronic illness poignantly demonstrates this.

Weight loss can be glorified at a time when it should be raising alarm bells. But society’s standards are even dictating how medical and healthcare professionals approach weight loss and treat people who may weigh more than is desired for their body shape/age. From reading this article, you get the sense the medical and healthcare professionals weren’t making the connection between weight gain or loss with the health issue.

Your energy may not be well spent on conforming to society’s standards

I am not saying don’t ever wear make-up, colour your hair, enjoy fashion, see a stylist, etc. You may enjoy experimenting with hair colour, make-up, and fashion because it helps you express a part of yourself. Or you follow a diet and/or exercise plan to lose weight because it would be the right thing for you to do for your health and wellness.

I’m cautioning against blind acceptance and following of society’s standards for beauty and what it considers healthy. Because it may not be what is right for you and so may not help you love your body with illness or injury. Also, if you have limited energy due to being in a caring/supporting role or the illness/injury you have, you’ve got to spend that energy wisely.

So double check if what you are doing is healthy for you, your body and your sense of wellness. And if you are embarking on making changes in your diet or exercise be sure to get the ok from a suitably qualified professional, such as a GP or nutritionist. Just to make sure the changes you want to make and how you want to make them are healthy for you, won’t adversley impact on medication dosages, etc.

Pic of two tips on developing a balanced body image so you can love your body with illness or injury. Tip 1: Spend time getting to know the body part you don't like. What does it enable you to do in your life? (even if it functions differently from before) Does it enable you to do necessary activities and activities you enjoy? Practice saying, "I am grateful you help me do XYZ." Tip 2: Consume society's standards mindfully. Pick and choose what works for you and your health and sense of wellness. To ensure you expend your energy wisely and productive for you.

What’s it like for you?

How do you love your body with illness or injury? How has the relationship with your body changed? What has helped you or would help to develop a good enough relationship with your body? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to develop a new relationship with your body, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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