How my chronic illness changed my body-image

Updated: Sep 3

...and 6 affirmations for self-acceptance.


My chronic illness taught me many things about life and about myself. One thing that it taught me is to love myself not matter what, and to find acceptance for my body as it is. It drastically changed how I see myself and how I think of myself.

Of course, as it is with acceptance, not every day is the same. On some days acceptance comes easier, on some days it is harder. For those days I use positive self-talk and some affirmations, that you can find at the end of the article. Maybe they are helpful for you too!


Content warning: body image, sexism

Before reading this article, please note, that I will be talking about self-image/ body-image and sexism. If you are struggling with these topics at the moment, there is no pressure read this right now. Self-care always goes first! Don’t hesitate to talk to a friend or get help if you need to.

Maybe this is helpful for you: https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/body-image-self-esteem-and-mental-health



The feeling of not being "enough"

I grew up in a world, where looks are valued extremely highly. And where it's extremely hard to do it "right".

I grew up in a world, where a woman is constantly being judged for her looks, often more than for her words. I learned, that a “serious” and “professional” woman looks a certain way, and if you want to be taken seriously as a woman you need to put on certain clothes that must be fashionable, but never show too much of your body.

When woman show up in public, whether they are politicians, actresses, singers, experts or monarchs - there will be media articles discussing what they were wearing. Putting the focus away from what they were saying to the way they look, as if that was more important.

I grew up in a world where woman's bodies are often sexualized, whether they want that or not. This happens a lot especially to woman with large breasts or large bums, and the narrative is often that only a certain “type of woman” would dress in a way that shows it.

I grew up in a world where everything a woman does with her body is constantly being judged. A woman needs to have smooth skin. No pimples. No wrinkles. No stretch marks, no cellulite. No body hair. No greasy hair, not too much makeup but also no bare face in public because she should have no dark circles or any signs of tiredness on her face.

Be thin- but not too thin. Always be fashionable. But don't come across vain. Always be well-groomed. But don’t seem too superficial. Always look like you put effort into your looks- but not too much!

I grew up feeling like there were so many expectations- and that I could never fulfil them. How could I ever be enough?

Ending the shame

I have a pear-shaped body, so naturally I have quite a big bum and thick thighs, and it’s something I was always uncomfortable with. I realized, that I have carried a lot of shame with me because of that. I was always worried, that, if I wore something that showed too much of my legs and thighs, that I would be too slutty. That if I wore something that accentuates my butt too much, I would be too revealing and leave nothing to the imagination- and that that would be a bad thing.

Whenever I received unsolicited comments about my body, I would feel ashamed and blame myself and think that I must have done something wrong, or worn the wrong thing.


The first time I saw that I had stretch marks, I panicked. I almost cried. I couldn’t believe that I had this sign on my body, that showed that I must have gained weight too fast. I saw it as another "proof" that my thighs must be too large.

What is a perfectly normal thing to have, especially as a woman, I was taught to see as something bad. I wanted to get rid of them so much, as if these stretch marks were somehow a sign that I must have done something wrong.

Just like around 90% of all woman, I have cellulite and stretch marks. I tried all kinds of cellulite creams and body oils that were supposed to make this go away, but nothing helped.

I was ashamed of the way my thighs and bum jiggled when I moved my legs. I was ashamed of how my thighs looked when I sat down. I sometimes looked at my own legs and butt and saw myself as fat. Looking back, I had perfectly normal body, but I somehow thought I needed to change, because I thought that it wasn’t good enough.

I wanted to lose weight, even though my body type was completely normal, I still thought it was abnormal and something that needed to be changed.

I used to do workouts, just for the purpose of making my legs and butt look less “fat”. Because I thought that jiggly legs were something out of the ordinary (newsflash- they’re not. They are legs and they are supposed to jiggle when you move them).

I thought that I would be more “worthy” if I looked thinner and more toned.

When I would see pictures of myself in a bikini, instead of seeing myself having a great day on the beach, I would be horrified about how my bum looked, how my legs looked, how the dimples in my skin looked, how my back looked with acne all over it. How my belly looked when I didn’t suck in or stood perfectly straight. How my face looked when the makeup came off. I was ashamed and shocked that I was “running around looking like this”.

I pretty much never left the house without makeup -let alone post an image of my bare face on social media- because I was so insecure about the way I looked without makeup. If I say my bare face in the mirror, I would be ashamed of my dark circles and my uneven, blemished skin. In my head, I saw myself as two people: the pretty, good Rea with her imperfections covered and clothes that are flattering, and the imperfect Rea, with her pimples, dark circles, jiggly legs and all that stuff that shouldn’t be seen.

It took me a while to realize that there’s only one Rea. All of this is me. It is who I am. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

There were so many times where I wanted to accept myself as I was, but I never fully could.

Since a young age I felt a resistance for having those feelings of not being enough, for the shame I felt for things that were completely normal. Rationally, I knew that there was nothing wrong with having cellulite and jiggly legs. But I still didn’t quite accept them.

And I never quite got rid of the shame I felt for certain parts of my body. Even though people like Kim Kardashian made big butts popular, I never felt quite comfortable having one.

I tried to accept it as it was, but I always thought “if it were different, it would be better. I would be better”.

This year I want to end the shame. I made an active choice to rid myself of feelings of shame that are connected to my body, that concern things that I cannot choose. That I have no control over. Because the thing is: feeling shame for things that you have no control over is a complete waste of energy. And if there’s one thing I do not want to do anymore is waste my valuable, limited energy.


I don’t want to be ashamed of an illness I didn’t choose. I don’t want to be ashamed for a body I didn’t choose.



So, how did my chronic illness help me in finding new self- acceptance?

Loving a chronically ill body is not easy – but incredibly powerful


In an ableist society, loving yourself as you are is an act of rebellion.

Around the time I got my diagnosis I hated my body. I wanted to be healthy so bad.

I hated being trapped in a body that could do so little. I was envious of people who had healthy, fit bodies that allowed them to do all the things they wanted to do.

I wanted to have what they had.

But as time went on and I started working on finding acceptance for my situation, I realized, that in order to let go and give myself time to heal, I also needed to learn to accept my own body as it is.

I felt like I couldn’t make healing possible for my body, if I hated it.

I realized how much power lies in the act of loving my body, even when it doesn’t fulfil society’s expectations. I am not here to please other people, I am only here to please myself.

And if acceptance and love for my body is not there on one day, I try to be ok with that too.

I don’t want it to be another thing I have to do “right”. I try to talk positively to myself, be encouraging and gentle with myself, but also not force myself into feeling fine, when I’m not. Positivity is important, but only when it’s authentic. Positivity can get toxic if you force it and deny yourself your true feelings. So if negative feelings come around- they are ok too.

Always know that all your feelings are valid.

As I learned to love myself with all my imperfections, living in a body that can’t fulfil society’s expectations, I went on a journey of ridding myself from perfectionism.

I gained new confidence knowing, that, no matter what happens, I no longer seek validation from outside. I try to seek validation from within.

I went on a journey of finding love and acceptance for myself, no matter what I look like, no matter what my achievements are, no matter how productive I am. I started to learn to love myself just for being me. It made me gain new confidence for myself, and in who I am as a person.

As hard as it was in the beginning, with time, I learned to find confidence in myself again as a chronically ill woman. Read my last article on confidence here!

How did my chronic illness change the way I see myself?

I think most people will agree that if you become ill, your priorities will change. The way you see the world might make a shift. Your perspectives in life may change.

When I became ill, my wellbeing became my number one priority in life. You have only one body. I wanted to treat my body with love, and focus on healing instead of being self-critical.

I realized how unimportant it is, if you have cellulite, a small butt or a big butt, small breasts or big breasts, stretch marks, wrinkles and pimples or smooth skin- none of it really makes a difference in how you feel in your body. I literally had more important things to worry about.


I was confronted with dealing with these horrible symptoms, accepting this chronic diagnosis, all those existential fears, all those uncertainties when it comes to living with a chronic illness. The way my body looked suddenly seemed so unimportant to me.

I started leaving my house without makeup for the first time in my life as an adult woman, without caring about what other people may think. It happened because I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have the energy to do my makeup, I needed to prioritize other things. And it made me realize that it didn’t matter. I realized how stupid I was for wasting so much energy on hating parts of my body, when in reality my body was always ok the way it was.


Years ago, I couldn’t imagine letting anyone see my bare face. I saw all these imperfections that I needed to conceal. Now I realize that I don’t need to conceal anything in order to be seen as worthy and beautiful.

My ‘imperfections’ are a part of me. But they don’t make me who I am. And they don’t dictate, how much respect I deserve.

Nothing about my body is inherently wrong

No part of my body needs to change in order for me to become more worthy.

Nothing about my body is a sign that I did anything wrong.

No part of my body is inherently sexual. Nobody gets to sexualize my body if I don’t want that. My butt looks the way it looks- that doesn’t say anything about how I am as a person.

If anybody makes unsolicited comments about it, it’s not my fault, it’s theirs for not being respectful. No matter what I choose to wear, or what I choose to post on social media, it does not give anybody the permission to say or do things that I do not want.

Respect is not connected to looks. No matter what I look like, I deserve respect.

And no matter if I am healthy or not- I deserve respect.

Whenever I struggle with these things, I use these affirmations to allow myself to love me for me:


I was not put on this planet to please others. I am here to please myself.
I am allowed to love myself for me, no matter what.
The amount of respect I deserve is not connected to my looks.
I am grateful for the things, that my body does for me, despite all of its limitations.
It’s not me against my body. We are in this together.
There is so much about me, that deserves to be loved.

Do you have other affirmations for self-love? Please let me know!

Remember: No matter if you are healthy or ill- you are worthy and you deserve to be loved and appreciated. Especially by yourself.

Self-image is such an important topic, but yet so hard to speak about.

I want to make clear, that I can only write about my own experience, but every single experience in every single body is completetly different. Everyone goes their own journey when it comes to body-image. And every single journey is valid.


If you have a healthy body- please appreciate it. I wish I didn’t waste my energy on hating those unimportant details back when I was healthier. I had something so amazing that I didn’t see and appreciate for what it was. Be thankful that your body carries you through the world and allows you to experience amazing things.

Focus your energy on how you feel, and not on how you look.

With love, Rea.


If you found this article helpful, please feel free to share it!

I would love to hear your feedback, so don't hesitate to comment or find me on social media! (@rea.strawhill)

#mecfs #spoonie #chronic illness #awareness #acceptance

 

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