Your body image is how you perceive yourself when you look at your reflection in the mirror or when you think about the way you look. How accurately your body image matches the way others actually see you is dependent on many factors such as gender, media and cultural influences and illness.
Having a skin condition like psoriasis, vitiligo or eczema will most definitely affect your body image. It’s important because a negative body image is associated with an increased risk of depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders and even suicide.
In people with psoriasis, a negative body image can have even more adverse consequences. In 2014, researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital interviewed 8 people with psoriasis to see how the condition affected body image. They found a link between a negative body image and increased tendency to cover up, sexual inhibitions and reduced exercise.
Research in the general population suggests body image is remarkably stable throughout life, despite changes in appearance as we age. When you have a skin condition like psoriasis your physical appearance can change drastically from month to month. Sometimes your condition may be in remission but even then it’s likely your body image will remain negative rather than improving as your skin does.
Research tells us that people who develop psoriasis later in life are far less likely to be affected by anxiety, stress and depression than those who were diagnosed in their teens and one theory for this is their body image developed before their skin was affected. If this is the case, then your body image is based on the way your skin looked during your formative years. If your psoriasis was severe in your youth, you may be left feeling badly about the way you look even when a treatment has been successful and your skin has improved.
But if you have a negative body image can you do anything to change it? The answer is a definitive yes, but it will take a bit of work and effort. There are many self help books (try Cash as a good starting point) and Changing Faces is a good resource for anyone with concerns about their body image. Visit my blog www.copingwithpsoriasis.com for more advice on how to cope with psoriasis.
It’s also encouraging to know that whilst body image doesn’t seem to change over time – unless we actively engage in strategies to change it – as we age we place less importance on appearance and thus may be less unhappy about the way we look as we mature. Well that’s something to look forward to.
Cash, T. (2008) The Body Image Workbook: An Eight-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks. New Harbinger.