Feeling great about our bodies is no easy task, and negative perceptions of the way we look run rampant among all women. Add the side-effects of chemo, radiation, surgeries, drugs and medical probing into the mix and it’s no surprise that most women diagnosed with cancer also struggle to love and embrace their bodies.
But body image is less about the way you look and more about the way you feel about your body. It is a core component of self-worth and impacts the ways in which we relate to ourselves and others. It is also key to sexual functioning, and positive body image is positively correlated with levels of desire, orgasm and sexual satisfaction.
An overwhelming number of women living with cancer diagnoses report a decline in sexual desire, and many connect body image issues with this side effect. And while sex may be the farthest thing from your mind during treatment and recovery, feeling as comfortable and confident as possible in your own skin is always important.
So, whether you’re feeling randy as a rabbit or desire nothing more than a warm snuggle, take some time to nurture a healthy relationship with your body.
Here are a few tips to promote positive body-image post-cancer diagnosis.
1. Allow Your Body to Perform
After a cancer diagnosis, it is common to feel that your body has let you down. And in some ways, it most certainly has. However, it has also fought a hard fight along the way and can still perform in a variety of powerful capacities, so be sure to use it and show it some love.
Since your body has likely undergone significant changes post-diagnosis, it is essential to re-cultivate your relationship with it and find its new (and sometimes) improved strengths. Whether you enjoy yoga, salsa dancing, kickboxing or strolls in the park, look for physical activities that not only keep you fit, but allow your body to show off its strengths.
2. Employ “Balanced Thinking.”
It’s easy to get down on your body and though positive thinking can keep you afloat, sometimes being unreservedly positive is unrealistic. However, balanced thinking can take you to new heights as you accept some of your perceived imperfections and focus on highlighting the positive.
Here’s how it works: every time a negative thought crosses your mind, or you begin to focus on something you’d like to change about your body, be sure to balance it out with a positive thought. So, if you’re hard on yourself for your love handles, remind yourself how much you love your ripe, round bum. And if you find yourself missing your long, luscious locks, be sure to spend an equal amount of time enjoying your long, fleshy thighs.
3. Minimize Negative Triggers
We all have our ups and downs, and it would be futile to attempt to eliminate all sources of negativity. However, we can minimize exposure to unnecessary triggers that tend to promote a less-than-positive attitude toward our bodies.
If certain social circles, individuals, television shows or even social media updates leave you feeling inadequate, you may want to reframe or reconsider how often you embrace these connections. Surrounding yourself with people who focus on their positive attributes while acknowledging that their body is only one component of their whole selves will help you to do the same.
4. Accept a Little Jealousy!
In our culture, we tend to view jealousy as unconditionally negative. It is often dismissed as a sign of weakness or low self-esteem, when this is not always the case. In fact, we all experience some feelings of jealousy and since it is difficult (near-impossible) to directly control our feelings, we need to focus on our jealously-motivated thoughts and behavior. In other words, it’s not about eliminating jealousy altogether, but managing it.
So, if you find yourself experiencing feelings of jealousy, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, recognize what it is you covet, set achievable goals for yourself that reflect this desire and reward yourself for each stage of success.
5. Stay Off the Scale
Weighing yourself is an inaccurate measure of health and fitness, as it only looks at one dimension of your body. Not only is it unhealthy to allow any number to determine your self-worth, but research actually indicates that keeping a scale in the house can have a negative impact on your self-esteem, body image and even your mood.
So, unless your health practitioner has asked you to track your weight, ditch the scale and focus on how you feel as opposed to how much you weigh.
6. Accept Compliments
You are your own worst critic, so open your ears to other sources. If a friend, loved one or stranger offers you a compliment, accept it graciously and let it sink in. Even small compliments are worth relishing in, so do your best to remember them or jot them down so you can refer back to them when you need a pick-me-up.
If your partner isn’t the gushy type, tell him you need a little extra encouragement and accept his compliments at face value. Research with cancer survivors shows that our husbands are far more satisfied with our bodies than we think they are, so be sure to tap into this source of support.
Feeling great about your body is linked to your overall self-esteem and healthy relationships. So, love your body, be kind to yourself and indulge a little whenever possible. Like any love affair, your passionate relationship with your body will be filled with ups and downs that make life exciting and worth celebrating. This article by Dr. Jess was originally published in Pink and Teal.