Q&A: Maintaining Positive Body Image
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) can impact how you view your body. In this Q&A, Elena shares her personal experience with body image.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with IBD?
Elena: I was diagnosed when I was 13, during eighth grade.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?
Elena: I felt a strange combination of overwhelmed and relieved. I had been sick for more than three years, so finally having a diagnosis meant I could potentially feel better. However, the prospect of having a lifelong illness was overwhelming and scary, and I had a really hard time wrapping my head around that.
When you have a flare, how does it change how you view your body?
Elena: It definitely makes me more aware of my body. Normally I’m very comfortable in my body but having to be so aware of everything that’s happening physically really messes with my head, and often leads to negative self-talk about my body. It also means that I’m dressing differently to accommodate my changing body (wearing looser clothes, or dressing down because I’m tired), so I don’t feel like I’m presenting myself to the world in the way I want to.
How does the way you view your body affect other aspects of your life?
Elena: I think being so self-conscious about my body really affected my confidence, especially in high school. I felt like my body was so gross, and I was afraid that people would think I was gross because of my disease. Thankfully, I have had wonderful partners and friends who have encouraged me and loved me, even when I stink up their bathrooms.
What do you do to try to keep a positive body image? Do you do anything differently when you have a flare versus when your IBD is under control?
Elena: Something I’ve been focusing on the past few years is thinking about what my body can do, and not what it looks like or how it feels. Sometimes I feel terrible and sometimes I don’t like how I look, but my body is working her hardest to keep me here so I try to give it as much love as I can.
Has anyone in your life helped you keep your body confidence up?
Elena: MY FRIENDS ARE AMAZING. They have been so wonderful in supporting me and loving me, even when I’m feeling terrible. For anyone who is struggling with any aspect of IBD, having a positive support network can make all the difference.
Do you have any advice for other young people with IBD for how to keep a positive body image?
Elena: For me, thinking about my body as something that is there to help me instead of something that is supposed to look a certain way or feel a certain way has helped me immensely. My body causes me pain, but my body also keeps me alive and lets me express myself, so I try to be as kind to it as I can be.