You deserve to feel beautiful and celebrate the body you are in. It may not always be easy, but it is worth the work.
It can be hard to feel good about yourself if you feel betrayed by your body. If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or psoriatic arthritis (PsA), you likely know how it feels for your body to double-cross you.
One day you are capable of many things, and the next day you may find those same tasks nearly impossible. You may see changes in your skin, hair, weight, and even the style of clothing you can wear due to your diagnosis.
You may find yourself re-evaluating your self-worth.
Sometimes low self-worth is triggered by the physical effects that arthritis brings. Other times, it’s caused by the unpredictable future that comes as a result of living with a chronic condition.
According to a 2013 study, changes in appearance and functional limitations of young people with chronic illness put them at higher risk for negative body image. This same research showed that following a special diet to manage a chronic condition may also put the young person at higher risk for disordered eating, which can seriously complicate their condition.
A 2018 study suggests that persistent pain is often associated with a distorted body image.
Another 2014 study states that one-third of Americans report dissatisfaction with their bodies. Having overweight or obesity, two states commonly associated with chronic health conditions, makes body dissatisfaction more likely.
The effects of RA and PsA do not just stop at personal worth. The combination of chronic pain and poor body image can significantly challenge sexual intimacy.
In a 2014 study on the effect of inflammatory and arthritic conditions on sexuality, respondents cited both the physical limitations and the emotional toll of their condition as predominant contributors to sexual challenges.
Whether you have limitations in an elbow or knee, or a smaller joint like a hand or wrist, this can make intimacy really challenging.
A 2010 study suggests that RA can impact self-esteem, functionality, and even quality of life. The skin changes with PsA can make you self-conscious, too.
Even if you are extremely comfortable with your partner, the emotional effects of an ever-changing appearance can make consistent confidence extremely challenging.
Some people were very active — even athletic — before they got a diagnosis. While some can maintain that, many people cannot.
When you have physical limitations, it is OK to experience big emotions around the use of assistive aids.
Using a cane, walker, wheelchair, or motorized scooter can be difficult for many reasons. Socially, there can be stigma surrounding the use of assistive aids, especially among teens and young adults. The need to use a cane or walker as a young adult can result in insecurity, both about physical ability and overall appearance.
According to a 2007 study, appearance concerns are strongly related to depression in patients with rheumatic disease. This article shows the importance of medical screenings for depression.
Improvements in body image can actually improve symptoms, according to a 2016 study. You may manage your pain and other symptoms of your autoimmune disease better if you feel good about yourself overall.
According to a 2020 study, coping with pain is more impactful than controlling pain. The mind is very powerful. Although most people cannot think pain-free thoughts and have zero pain, the ability to cope with the pain does put you at an advantage.
Find ways to manage your thoughts through therapy, meditation, yoga, counseling, and self-reflection.
Let yourself mourn. Let yourself grieve the loss of the abilities you once had. Let yourself process all of the emotions that come with this. It will be messy, but you have to take the steps to get through it. You cannot go from hating your body to loving every square inch.
Try to change your thoughts about your body from negative to neutral. Keep note of unaffected body parts, too. Notice the working knee, elbow, and wrist that you do have. Imagine life without those, and it may just give you a new perspective.
While it may require some extra effort, try to invest time and energy into picking out clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident.
Choose materials that don’t irritate your skin, and take the time to get dressed each day in something that makes you feel good, both physically and mentally.
If you are using an assistive device, try to find one you like to look at and is easy to use. Canes come in many colors and sizes now. Walkers do, too. The possibilities are endless.
Spend time with others like you. Support groups are great for this! You will see so much beauty, love, and kindness in others with similar medical conditions. Being around them may just change your perception of yourself.
Who doesn’t want to be beautiful? With the power of social media, filters, and editing of photos, it seems as though everyone wants to look good. However, it’s up to you to define what beauty is to you. Do what works for you, and try your best to ignore the rest.
Expect emotional ups and downs. A bad day is not a bad life. You will have good days and bad days and everything in between. Be kind to yourself in the hard times. Treat yourself with compassion and forgiveness always.
Chronic conditions affect much of your life, but they do not get to steal your confidence. You deserve to feel beautiful and celebrate the body you are in. It may not always be easy, but it is worth the work.
Medically reviewed on August 30, 2022
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