Body Image and Chronic Illness

The relationship between chronic illness and body image is complex and can significantly impact an individual’s well-being. Chronic illness is a long-term medical condition that requires ongoing management. Body image is how individuals perceive and feel about their own bodies.

Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to body image dissatisfaction, like girls and young women. People whose parents (or other primary caregiver) diet or have negative body image are also at risk. You might experience body image dissatisfaction if you were teased about your appearance as a child or you’ve been criticized about body shape or size. Exposure to social media images that result in negative feelings about yourself is another factor.

Woman with chronic illness and good body image

Chronic illness can further complicate feelings about your body. Chronic illness often brings physical changes to the body. You might experience changes caused by your illness or by treatment, including include weight fluctuations, visible symptoms, or scarring. These changes can lead to body dissatisfaction and negative body image as individuals compare themselves to societal ideals or struggle to accept their altered appearance.

Influences on Body Image

Functional limitations resulting from chronic illness, such as mobility issues or dependence on assistive devices, can also affect body image. Inability to engage in certain activities or fluctuations in ability can add to self-consciousness or dissatisfaction with one’s body.

Social comparison plays a role as well. Individuals with chronic illness may compare themselves to others without similar health conditions, which can worsen self-perception. It’s challenging if you feel different or less capable compared to peers, especially when societal standards and others’ expectations are considered.

The psychological impact of chronic illness can be significant. Like physical changes, your mental health can be affected by your illness or treatment you receive, leading to depression, anxiety, and body image-related issues. Coping with the emotional aspects of illness, like grief, loss, or fear, can improve body image perception and overall wellbeing.

Healthcare settings and interactions with providers can also play a role in shaping body image for those with chronic illness. Positive interactions with sensitive and supportive healthcare professionals can have a beneficial impact. On the other hand, negative experiences or insensitive comments from healthcare providers may negatively affect body image.

Developing coping strategies is crucial for managing body image concerns associated with chronic illness. When you focus on aspects of your body that are appreciated, seek support from others, and engage in activities that promote body acceptance and confidence, you can enhance your body image. For people whose body image dissatisfaction is affecting overall wellbeing, therapy can be helpful. This is especially true for people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a diagnosis that indicates body image issues are interfering with mental health, relationships, and ability to function.

Final Thoughts

Chronic illness is interconnected with body image. Physical changes, functional limitations, social comparison, psychological factors, healthcare experiences, and coping strategies all contribute to the complex relationship between the two. Addressing self-perception, accessing support, managing exposure to negative influences when possible, and increasing exposure to confidence-building influences can boost overall wellbeing of people with chronic illness.

Learn more about therapy for people with chronic illness and body image issues. You can schedule a consult, first appointment, or contact me here.