I immediately struggled with body image once I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis because I was started on Prednisone right away and saw the effects of that quickly. I had the “moon face” or “chipmunk cheeks” as my friends teased me. I gained weight in my face, chin, and stomach. I was in undergrad at the time and I often had people ask me when I was due (they thought I was pregnant!). My clothes started to fit differently. When I went into the hospital a year later, I was 120 lbs. When I left the hospital a month later (without my colon and a new ostomy) I was 90 lbs. I was skin and bones. I was cachectic and none of my clothes fit me anymore.
Did you look at your body different?
I definitely looked at my body different. I remember the nurses weighing me every day in the hospital and I hated it because the number kept getting lower. I refused to look at myself in the mirror because I was disgusted. My face was bony and my eyes were huge. You could see every bone in my body. I was embarrassed. I remember my mom taking me to get a pedicure and the lady doing my nails commented on how thin I was and that I needed to eat a burger. I was absolutely mortified.
Did it take time for your body image to improve?
It took a long time for my body image to improve. There were months where I hated to look at myself in the mirror. I hated buying clothes because nothing fitted me. I was wearing drawstring pants for the longest time because none of my pants pre-surgery fit me anymore. I wore baggy clothes to hide my ostomy. I just wanted to disappear and almost felt like I was. My body image slowly improved but I still struggle with it today (8 years after my first major surgery). I no longer have a scale because I don’t think it is healthy to weigh yourself on a regular basis, at least not for me. I finally have a healthy diet that works for me. I still haven’t been able to gain all my weight back but I have come to terms that it may never happen. I am learning to be happy with how I am and realize that this body suffered A LOT and to appreciate it for all it has been through. Even though I am below my average weight, I am healthy and working closely with my IBD team helps a lot.
What would you say to yourself back then when you felt insecure or what would you say to someone struggling with his or her body image now?
I would tell myself that I am beautiful and strong. I would tell myself to give myself a break; that I almost died from an illness I had no control over. I would tell myself to appreciate my body and to care for it the best that I can. To everyone who is struggling with his or her body image now, I want you to know that it’s okay. I still struggle. There are days where I think I’m freaking hot and totally feeling myself. Then there are days where it’s the complete opposite. I think many people struggle with body image even if they don’t have an ostomy or a chronic illness. Just know you are not alone and that it’s normal to have good days and bad. You are strong and you are beautiful.