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Body Image Changes - And What To Do About It


Body image is about how we feel and our thoughts about how other people see us. Body image generally doesn't relate to how other people actually see us. Even temporary changes that no one can see can affect body image. Even if you do not have any physical effects from a condition or treatment, you may think that other people see you differently and even relate to you differently as if you have become a different person.

A poor body image can cause a variety of feelings including  feelings of angeranxietyfear, embarrassment, insecurity. feeling "damaged,"  feeling frustrated at the constant reminder of your health condition, shame and self-consciousness. It can also lead to problems with respect to sex and sexuality, to dating if you are single, and to problems in a relationship if you have a partner.

For tips to help cope with a change in body image, see below. 

Signs of poor body image

According to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, some signs that a poor body image is affecting qualify of life are:

  • You don't want to leave your house because you don't want people to see you.
  • You don't want to date or meet new people.
  • You shy away from intimacy or sex with your current partner.
  • You are afraid to undress in front of your partner.
  • You won't let your partner see your scars.
  • You are embarrassed because you gained or lost weight.
  • You feel ashamed for having been diagnosed.
  • You feel like you have to put up a front for people.
  • You are unable to accept yourself for who you are now.

Potential causes of poor body image include the following

  • A diagnosis.
  • Changes in the body's appearance.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Physical effects of treatment which can continue after treatment ends. The continuation can be either temporary or permanent.

Tips to help cope with body image changes

THE FOLLOWING TIPS ARE LARGELY BASED ON WORK BY Jennifer Harned Adams, Ph.D., a Psychologist in Denver, CO. Tel.:  jenniferharnedadams at me dot com;; Tel.: 303.325.1633
  • Be proud of your body. It got you through treatment!!
  • Engage in activities that positively stimulate your body such as getting a massage or just about any type of exercise, including walking  - or possibly listening to good music.
  • Stand naked in front of a mirror. 
    • Look for three things you like about your body.
    • Be loving of yourself and accept what you see. 
  • Think of things that help you feel more attractive and confident. For example, 
    • Wear clothes that make you feel good. (You can find tips and clothes for clothing-specific needs at:  offsite linkor call: 800.799.6790).
    • Contact the American Cancer Society about their "Look Good... Feel Better" program. The program is for women, but some areas of the country also include men. If men aren't included in your area, ask American Cancer Society if the person who gives the course in your area will agree to a one-on-one session. See:  offsite linkor call 800.ACS.2345
    • Get a copy of one or both of the following books.  You can likely get an inexpensive used copy through a bookseller such as Barnes and Noble  offsite linkor Amazon offsite link
      • Facing The Mirrow With Cancer: A Guide To Using Makeup To Make A Difference by Lori Ovits, with Joanne Kabak, Belle Press, 2004. You can get a copy through offsite link.
      • Ramy Gafni's Beauty Therapy: The Ultimate Guide To Looking And Feeling Great While Living With Cancer by Ramy Gafni
    • Look at websites such as offsite link
  • Take care of yourself by eating well and getting appropriate exercise. These actions not only help with your health, they also help your mental attitude. (For information, see the articles in "To Learn More.")
  • Engage in previously enjoyed activities or use this as an opportunity to try something new.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and who accept you as you are.
  • As a general matter, focus on the positive. (For tips about how to stay positive while not becoming a pollyanna, click here).
  • Consider talking with other people who have gone through the same thing you have. You can do this by getting in touch one-on-one, in person, on the phone or online, or in a group setting such as a support group. (For information about what a support group can do for you, and how to find one that works for you as an individual, click here.)
  • Reach out to friends and family. They love you. Talking things through with them helps you. It also allows them to feel as if they are helping you.
  • Consider seeking professional counseling to help adjust to physical changes by speaking with a rehabilitation specialist or a mental health professional by yourself and/or with the person you are dating or your partner. 
    • To find a rehabilitation specialist, speak with a member of your health care team. 
    • For mental health professionals: 
      • One-on-one counseling is available from trained professional counselors from AMC Cancer Information and Counseling Line, affiliated with the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Call 800.525.3777 Monday through Friday 8:30AM to 5:00PM, Mountain Standard Time.
      • Body image counselors often use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help patients deal with their self-consciousness. To find a counselor in your area who is an expert in CBT, ask your healthcare provider or go to the website for the American Psychosocial Oncology Society at offsite link
      • For information about mental health professionals, including how to find one, click here. For information about how to choose a mental health professional, click here.)


  • For information for women with cancer about how to use clothing to improve body image, see offsite link
  • Try to avoid focusing on what you do not like about you body or compare yourself with others or with how you looked prior to treatment. It makes it more difficult to accept changes.
  • For information about the related subjects of dating, sex/ intimacy, couples and weight gain or loss and what to do about them, see the articles in "To Learn More."

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