Improving body image in the new year

a female cancer patient trying on wigs
Cancer not only threatens patients’ physical health; for many, it changes how they thrive in their everyday environment. Here are some ways to find new joy and a reinvented sense of self in 2018.

Body image is a hot-button topic that means different things to different people, with much of its definition influenced by the fashion-model figures gracing magazine covers and red carpet runways. But body perception can take on a whole new meaning if you are undergoing treatment for an illness like cancer. The disease not only threatens patients’ physical health; for many, it changes how they thrive in their everyday environment.

Here are some ways to find new joy and a reinvented sense of self in 2018:

Re-evaluate how you use social media. When scanning through Facebook or Instagram, do you close your phone feeling better or worse than when you opened it? Does following fitness coaches and swimsuit models inspire you or make you feel like a failure? What you put into this experience is what you should expect to get out it, so make a point to only allow helpful, strong and life-building messages into your life. If you are dealing with an illness or difficult life situation, find other people who are sharing their stories by using relevant hashtags. For cancer patients, hashtags such as #endcancer, #cancerawareness, #cancercure or #fightcancer may be helpful.

Recalibrate your closet. What do you see when you open your closet? Is it full of clothes you’re holding onto that define an unobtainable goal? Do its contents make you pine for the things that once were or the things that “could be”? Get rid of it. Live in the here and now. Embrace the new normal for the power it’s given you. Sell the clothes that don’t “give” to you, and then hold onto the cash for something that gives back to you, like a day with your family or supplies for an art project.

Build a list of things that bring you joy. Like everyone, you may find that your “go get ‘em juice” runs dry and you just need a quick escape. Keep a note of activities that restore you. The experiences that perk you up may come in a group setting, like going to a movie, heading to the farmer’s market or joining a support group. Or they may be things you do alone, like

Adopt an attitude of gratefulness. Something significant happens to people after they are diagnosed with cancer. That one small “c” word has the power to ignite more fear than many other circumstances in your life. It forces you to evaluate just about everything you thought you could control, drastically changing your perception of everyday events. Simple things like going grocery shopping, talking with neighbors or having dinner with your kids become cherished experiences.

Making your mind up to be more present and observant may help build a sense of gratitude. A quiet mental note to say “thank you” and “I appreciate you” can send the message of gratitude throughout the day, creating an environment of appreciation. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come.

Give your body credit. Your body probably isn’t what it was before cancer; actually, it may be completely different. It may have been battered by radiation, biopsies and/or powerful chemotherapy. It may have been through traumas that other people wouldn’t dream of, but that’s just it. You underwent an entire series of treatments that attacked your body in order to save it. You built it back from the brink of destruction, which may even make it stronger. That tenacity and resiliency is a new badge you earned. It’s something to be proud of and to wear with honor.

Find meaning in the change. This time and effort and fight have not been in vain. Get everything you can out of the experience. You are part of a special club now. How has this process empowered you? How have you grown? What would you tell others? What do you wish you had known before you started this journey? How has it changed your relationships? What are new goals you’ve set with your fresh perspective? Understand and take advantage of the resiliency you’ve developed.

In short, don’t let cancer define you. Instead, let the strength you’ve built and the lessons you’ve learned guide your way forward. Honor the time and feelings you’ve dedicated to protecting yourself and your body. Your sense of self can never be measured against the people around you, because your journeys are on different roads. Strength isn’t measured by how much you weigh or what you look like in your clothes. It’s measured by wiping tears, connecting with yourself and rediscovering a sense of pride through determination—and that is immeasurable.

Learn more about how cancer may impact your self-image.