Both healthy and sick women can get caught up in a cycle of self-hate. When a woman complains that she’s too short, oftentimes her friend will say something like, “You’re not too short. I’m too tall.” But what does this accomplish? We unconsciously perpetuate a message that we’ve learned from society: We’re never good enough. Hogwash! The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was last week. I saw a lot of posts on Facebook from women that said, “time to diet “or “I feel like sh*t.” It breaks my heart to think about the world my nieces will live in when they’re older. I give them positive reinforcement—I tell them they are kind, smart, and beautiful. At a very young age, they have developed healthy self-esteem.
Autoimmune Disease, PCOS, Bipolar Disorder
When I was young, I never struggled with self-hate. Sure, sometimes I thought about common issues like creating that elusive gap between the thighs. (Is there even a word for that?) But overall, before Myasthenia Gravis (MG) invaded my life when I was 24, I was happy with my appearance. MG, a neuromuscular autoimmune illness, doesn’t play nice. I went from doing yoga daily to being bedridden for a year, having medical procedures, and gaining ten dress sizes (oh Prednisone!). My meds for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) weren’t helping either. And some people who knew I was sick intentionally insulted my appearance. The psychological effects of medicine-induced changes are tremendous. I’ve known women with cancer who stopped taking Prednisone because of weight gain, which didn’t end well. Similarly, as someone with Bipolar II, I also know people with mental illnesses who stopped taking prescribed meds to lose weight—never a good idea.
I had an epiphany when I was 25. One night, I saw scars on my neck from my thymectomy. The scars, my long hair chopped, and my bloated face were too much. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize myself. I sobbed, “I’m ugly now.” My mom hugged me and said, “No you’re not.” Later I had dinner at my favorite French restaurant with my cousin Shelly. Unlike a lot of friends who told me back then, “You haven’t changed at all” but now say, “You look so great—not like before,” Shelly kept it real. She said, “You look different. But different isn’t bad. It’s just different.” Something clicked. Since that night, I have never disliked my appearance. For three years, I took notes on how to dress and do makeup if you’re chronically ill, which inspired me to start this blog.
4 Suggestions for Fighting Self-Hate:
- Avoid the propaganda—Ladies, it’s not necessary to watch The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show or read myopic fashion magazines.
- Resist unhelpful messages from loved ones—Studies have shown that a mother’s self-image has a greater impact on her daughter’s self-image than the media. The other day, my mom and I were talking about a Filipina actress who had plastic surgery. She joked, “If you got a nose job, you could have been like her.” I told my mom, “No thanks. I’m happy with the way I look.” Every culture has its hang ups. Some Filipinos care about “the straightness of the nose” the way Hollywood cares about a woman’s bra size. My mom’s said stuff like that before. I’ve tried to explain that it’s self-hate. I know she loves me. I don’t let her words get to me. (But other times, like that night in the mirror, she gets it.)
- Realign your thinking—A reader asked me how I deal with Prednisone-induced weight gain. I said, “I don’t weigh myself. My philosophy is: Try your best. Be happy. Eat right, exercise (if you can), and ignore the white noise.” She said she’d never thought of it like that before.
- Encourage each other—Last year at an awards ceremony, during picture taking, a friend said, “I feel so fat next to you.” I didn’t insult myself in response. Instead, I told her, “You look great.” She’s beautiful and so are you.
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