I recently did a 3-part series on some of the common side-effects of endo, including UTIs, thrush and constipation. Now I want to do some on the emotional side-effects, beginning with guilt, and talk about reframing the way we think about things to combat these negative emotions. Please bear in mind I am not a psychologist or mental-health expert – these are just some strategies that I have employed to deal with my own feelings.
Today I want to talk about body image, which is something I struggle with all the time.
My pre-endo body was hot. I never would have phrased it so blatantly at the time but now she’s practically a different woman so I have no problem singing her praises. I was long and lean but still curvy – think a less muscular Xena. Just before my 25th birthday I was in really peak condition, working out almost daily, going for 5km runs and swinging kettlebells round my head.
Now my thighs are bigger, my tummy is chubbier, even when it isn’t distended, and I don’t fit into my fantastic red bootcut Cue trousers. I’m learning to deal with my heartbreak about the trousers but the grieving process is long. I’ve already discussed how I don’t like this body because it doesn’t feel like mine. For a while, though, I actually despised the fatness (it’s not very fat, it just felt that way) because this society really hammers into us that you can’t be pretty and fat. Even though we’ve made some strides towards body positivity by showcasing more fat models, they often don’t show “real” fat. They are the idealised fat, where everything is still a super smooth, cellulite-free curve, just on a larger, rounder scale. Real fat tends to be jiggly and has lumps rather than being a perfect curve. It’s not taut and smooth, and mine definitely isn’t sun-bronzed. If I go out in the sun and expose anything other than my face and hands people tend to be blinded by the whiteness.
So how did I learn to move past that and learn to accept my body even though it isn’t the one I want?
1) I was exhausted by hating it
It is a very tiring thing to wake up and look at your body and think, “I hate you,” every day. I already hate that it causes me so much pain and seems to be failing in its job to carry me from point A to B and sustain itself properly. Hating the way it looks is extra energy that I really don’t have.
2) I forced myself to confront it
These days I have to wear clothes that accommodate a painful, tender pelvis, so I stopped wearing a lot of the awesome trousers I used to have that would highlight my neat little waist and long legs. I still wear clothes that show off the bits I like, but a side-effect was that I was hiding the bits I didn’t like, which also meant I could hide from them. Unfortunately, pretending they weren’t there didn’t make them go away, so I forced myself not to rush into getting changed. I forced myself to look at my body without those comforting layers. And you know what? When I looked at it, really looked at it, it wasn’t actually as bad as I thought. Self-hatred has a tendency to magnify your flaws and downplay your assets, but when I made myself stare at myself and get reaquainted with parts I was avoiding, I could go, “Ok, so the thighs aren’t what they were, but I still have nice calves. My hips don’t fit into some of my clothes anymore but they don’t actually look any bigger. I still go in at the waist. My face is still pretty.”
It’s probably not that healthy because I was still looking for things in my body that conformed with the idealised standard of beauty that gets plastered over magazine covers. I’m told a healthier mindset might be to ditch all that and say, “my hands are dexterous, my legs let me stand, etc.” That kind of body positvity focused on functionality, though, doesn’t really work for people whose bodies aren’t functional but still don’t want to hate themselves. Am I supposed to look at my stomach and go, “Yeah, nothing inside this bad boy actually ever functions how it should, but it sure is great!” It’s a common tactic for encouraging self-love but it is unintentionally ableist.
I don’t really have a solution to how we navigate that line, given that bodies are really only “assessable”, for lack of a better word, based on looks and function. If anyone has a healthier approach to that, please let me know. I went with looks because I was hating my looks, so finding things about my looks that I did like was a good antidote for me.
3) I treated it well
The best thing I have every done to learn to love my body is treating as if it deserves love. If you treat something with care and respect, it is very hard to hate it; if you treat it like it doesn’t matter, it is very hard to love it.
So, I exercise when I can, not to get all slenderised, but to feel my muscles rebuild and protect myself. I eat well (mostly) because I like to think my body goes, “Ooh, nourishment.” I have a super elaborate skin-care ritual because if I pretend I deserve it (or my face does), I begin to believe that is true. So treat yo’self. Treat your body well. It may not give you anything in return when it is still riddled with disease, but it will help you shift your mindset into liking it again.
4) I gave myself a break
If I see my friends have a bit of a tummy, I don’t fixate on it and go, “ew.” If I see acne on someone’s face, I don’t recoil in disgust. So why do I put myself through that? Why can’t I love myself the way I love my friends? Also, if I feel that way about their bodies, chances are they feel that way about mine, and don’t notice my gradual expansion (except when I can’t shut up about it). I think they are beautiful, inside and out. I am fairly certain they believe that about me (they certainly say they do). So I can learn to believe it about myself.
5) I tried to change my thinking
Instead of seeing the weight gain as a symbol of a battle lost, I am trying to see it as a mark of a battle fought. It remind me that I have endo, yes, but it also reminds me that I am taking steps to fight it as much as I can. Today I had a third piece of plastic injected into me (into that wobbly little tum, of all places) to induce menopause at just 27 years of age. I’m going to great lengths to give my body back its health.
I also tried to see my body as an ally instead of the enemy. It hasn’t actually done anything wrong. It has been invaded by endometriosis and taken over. Endo is the enemy. My body is fighting back against it, and it can’t win every battle, but it is on my side and you can’t hate people who are on your side. Those are the rules.
One thing I haven’t talked about in this article is trying to get away from the notion that prettiness or looking a certain way determines your self-worth. I know it doesn’t. For me, the battle hasn’t been about self-worth. It’s been about self-love. I haven’t struggled to like my body because I think it devalues me as a person; I have struggled to like it because it wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t equate my value with how I look (mostly. I’m not totally over that. Is anyone?), but I do equate my happiness with it. My fight has not been to change my priorities, but the way I view my body.
Have you experienced a change in the way you feel about your body since having endometriosis? How have you dealt with that? Is it still a struggle for you? Please let me know in the comments.