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From Your Navigator

Body Image: A Battle with Ourselves

Do you ever look at yourself and think you would be happier if a certain body part or parts looked different or “better”? Ever feel that your self-worth is contingent on how you believe others perceive you, such as how physically attractive you are?
December 2016 Vol 2 No 6
Christina R. Heffren, LCSW

Do you ever look at yourself and think you would be happier if a certain body part or parts looked different or “better”? Ever feel that your self-worth is contingent on how you believe others perceive you, such as how physically attractive you are? Many women and men struggle with their looks and regularly assess their sense of worth based on their perception of how physically attractive they are. 

Body image is the perception that we have about our physical self. Body image issues usually include not feeling physically attractive enough; not feeling comfortable in your skin; believing that if parts of your physical-self changed, your life would be happier; and being disgusted with parts of your body. Having a negative body image usually correlates to having low self-worth. 

Cancer Treatment

Some patients with cancer may experience physical alterations in their appearance with certain cancer treatments. These visual reminders may heighten your distress over physical appearance, which can make you feel increasingly self-conscious. 

Physical changes related to cancer treatment may cause distress, such as feeling more anxious, depressed, and the need to isolate. You are certainly not alone if you find yourself struggling with appearance, whether it has been a long-standing issue or an issue that surfaced after undergoing treatment. 

Improving Your Body Image

Improving your body image starts by evaluating how you determine your worth. If your physical appearance is the base block to build your self-worth on, it will regularly go up and down, like a seesaw. If this is the case, I encourage you to begin a new foundation on which to build your self-worth. For example, think of the positive traits you possess as a human being. 

You want your foundation to consist not on one block but many, to have more stability and less opportunity for fluctuation. Examples of building blocks could be: “my intelligence,” “my creativity,” “my witty sense of humor,” “I have a loving heart,” or “I am loved by a great group of family and/or friends.”

As your self-worth improves, continue to add more building blocks based on positive traits about yourself. 

Body Appreciation

One additional tool to combating negative body image is moving from a place of body dissatisfaction to body appreciation. Many of us are pros at viewing our bodies as a collection of parts that need improvement. 

One client I had struggled with negative body image for years, and when looking in the mirror, she would always see a part of herself that “needed fixing” or was “ugly.” As she worked toward improving her body image, she took up running. She enjoyed the challenge and eventually embraced her strength and her body’s abilities. 

Over time, she developed body appreciation. She was able to see the positive aspects that her body provides, and have a thankfulness for what it does, instead of being unhappy with how she felt it did not measure up. 

For cancer survivors, this may be developing an appreciation for your body’s ability to endure difficult treatments and surgeries, being here in the moment, being able to hold the hand of a loved one, and appreciating the healthy parts that have enabled you to keep moving forward.

It Takes Time

Improving one’s body image takes time and requires being deliberate in changing your thought process. There are no quick fixes when it comes to improving body image, but you are worth the hard work. 

As someone once said, “Body confidence does not come from trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ body; it comes from embracing the one you’ve already got.” (Source unknown.) 

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