Loving a Broken Body - Body Positivity with a Chronic Illness
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Author: Bethany Dawson
Self confidence and body positivity have never been my forte. I’ve always been soft around the edges and fairly pudgy, and due to being taught - fairly consistently - that that isn’t wonderful, it’s taken me until now to accept and love that about myself.
My autoimmune disease developed after surgery in 2012, when I was just 13, and that meant that I was suddenly living in a body that had 2 new scars (which felt huge), and that was consistently attacking itself. I didn’t know how to start trying to love a body that was broken. The notion that “every body is a good body” was just rather hard to believe.
I spent years adjusting to my new normal, to my chronic illness. I got my walking stick in the summer of 2018, right at the end of my first year of University (in fact, the first day I used it was the day of my final exam). Getting a walking stick before my grandparents didn’t do wonders for my body confidence, and that specific flare up - which lasted for about 2 months - grew, I was less and less able to put on clothes that made me feel pretty, and I didn’t have the energy to do anything to make myself feel good. For a while, I resigned to feeling bad about myself.
I spent a lot of my teens - when I was getting my diagnosis - punishing my body. I had disordered eating habits and would get incredibly anxious around food, I felt like I couldn’t, shouldn’t, look after or nourish my body when it felt like it wouldn’t look after me. I wouldn’t exercise, I felt like it was pointless to build up a body that would just fail. I’d sit in a moody, unhealthy, and angry mentality, just thinking I was destined to be in a body that would punish me.
I had a bad habit of asking my doctor for my prognosis, largely fuelled by the anger of having a chronic illness and the hope that my doctor would suddenly announce a miracle cure. Unsurprisingly, when I asked this question, I’d be told - again - that I was going to be living with chronic pain for my entire life.
When I had received the same answer to this question, and I felt the immense and unsurprising sadness well up in response to the answer, I took a moment to look at where my body had got me. I had passed all of my GCSE and A-Level exams, I’d got myself into University, I’d met some wonderful people and made incredible friends, I’d created BVisible with one of my best friends, and I’ve gone on some wonderful adventures, all with a slightly broken body. I began to, when I looked in the mirror, not see just a broken vessel that hurts a lot, but began to recognise my body as something that really is trying its best and is getting me far.
I won’t pretend that from there I was on a purely positive path in relationship with my body. These feelings would come in waves. However, when I got my walking stick and felt particularly bad about myself, I also realised that this simply was going to be my new normal. That I couldn’t hate my body and my illness forever. So I started trying, trying to like my body.
I exercised, a little. Not much, but I walked places, I swam, and I tried. I stopped calorie counting. I stopped punishing my body by withholding food and I ate what I wanted. That included a lot of cake, and lots of veg that I loved. I tried to see my body as my friend that, whilst not wholly functional, had got me so far in my life.
I’m not my body’s best friend and sometimes I still get very low, I get very angry at the genes that mean I have an autoimmune disease that gifted me with a walking stick at 19. But I still am grateful, I keep trying to help it.
As a take away message, know that whatever body you live in, whether it is fully abled, whether it is one with a visible or invisible disability, whether it is large or small: it has got you here. It has got you here in one piece and has - and will continue to - carry you through all of life's adventures. Loving yourself isn’t easy, and sometimes neither is liking yourself, but being able to be kind to yourself, to your body, is such an important step towards self-acceptance and love.