7 Ways to Love Your Body When You Have Psoriasis
The term “body positivity” gets thrown around a lot these days—but what does it mean when you have psoriasis? Many people mistakenly believe that body positivity focuses only on weight, but the term has come to encompass a much broader message: All people have the right to feel happy and confident in their own skin, regardless of prevailing attitudes about what is and is not beautiful. In other words, you can love your body—plaques, pustules, and all. When we embrace body positivity, we not only push society toward a place where differences are celebrated, we sow the seeds of our own self-confidence.
1. Explore What Body Positivity Means to You
The first step toward embracing body positivity in our own lives is to understand the movement. Try searching #bodypositivity on Instagram, for example. You’ll find that the body-positivity movement is incredibly inclusive. In addition to a plethora of body shapes, sizes, and colors, you’ll see photos showing a variety of skin conditions, mobility challenges, scars, and other so-called “imperfections.”
According to Patricia Celan, M.D., a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, “Body positivity involves reflecting on and challenging extreme beauty standards, accepting all bodies, regardless of their variations, and finding the confidence to love one's own body unconditionally.”
Everyone has their own take on body positivity. Take some time to think about what it means to you.
2. Learn to Accept Your Psoriasis for What It Is
It’s important to recognize that while body positivity may be an inclusive movement, individual experiences contain nuance, says Jaime Zuckerman, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who regularly treats patients with chronic illnesses like psoriasis.
“Typically, when we discuss body positivity, we are referring to one’s perception of either their weight, specific body areas, or facial features,” says Zuckerman. She points out that with those typical examples, she usually helps her patients understand that the extra pounds or unique features aren’t as obvious or unappealing as they think.
But psoriasis is a little different in that it’s not just about one’s own misperception of their own appearance.
“Psoriasis is unique to body positivity in that it is objectively visible and often attracts the attention of others,” says Zuckerman.
Unfortunately, having psoriasis is undeniable, and it’s true there are some people that will find it unattractive. The key to reaching body positivity in this case is acceptance.
There are three things Zuckerman recommends working toward:
- Accepting that you have a chronic disease and making that part of your self-identity.
- Accepting that having noticeable psoriasis symptoms is part of your physical self, and that that part of your appearance is in constant flux, based on whether you’re flaring up.
- Accepting that others may judge and be uninformed about your condition, and that their judgments and comments are out of your control.
Once we learn to accept these things for what they are, we can begin to build a healthy level of self-confidence.
3. Remind Yourself That You’re a Work in Progress
If there was a body positivity switch that you could turn on, or a magic potion that could provide self-confidence, life would be a lot easier. Unfortunately, it takes time to accept the things we can’t change, and it takes work to build our self-esteem in spite of those things. Give yourself a break if you still have days where you struggle.
“Body positivity takes practice. It is just like learning to do anything new, like learning to ride a bike,” says Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Niantic, Connecticut. “It takes time to practice body positivity, but you can practice being positive and loving yourself every day.”
4. Practice Gratitude
To help cultivate your sense of body positivity, Celan recommends building a gratitude list.
“Find five things that you like about your body—whether it's a patch of skin that you find particularly interesting, admiring your own eyes, or appreciating your hair color. Anyone with the strongest self-criticism is capable of finding aspects for self-love,” Celan says. “Write this list down. Try doing this a few times a week—daily, if possible.”
5. Shut Out the Negativity
Between advertisements, TV, the internet, and social media, the number of images we see on any given day is truly mind-boggling. And so many of those images are airbrushed, Photoshopped, or the person’s appearance is otherwise altered—for example, with makeup and professional lighting. That constant exposure to unrealistic bodies and skin tricks our brain into thinking that “perfection” is normal.
“The impossible ideal of perfection that is promoted through social media has devastating consequences for a person’s self-esteem,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, California. “When a person compares their body to another person’s body—which is a very common issue in negative body image—depressive thoughts can easily set in.”
Manly says cutting back on social media can help. “I’ve worked with many clients who have had incredible decreases in anxiety and depression when they reduced or eliminated their use of social media,” she says. Once they were no longer bombarded with “perfect” Photoshopped and filtered images, their self-esteem and body perception improved.
6. Seek Out Inspiration
Not ready to give up social media entirely? Try adopting a more targeted approach. It may help to simply edit your feed to not include those accounts that make you feel inferior. Instead, try following people with psoriasis and others who inspire you to love and respect yourself. Look for people who post unfiltered pics of their plaques, their dimpled thighs, or their backne. Follow psychologists who post uplifting messages or nutritionists who post healthy recipes.
And consider branching out from the typical Instagram and Facebook. Check out places like Medium, the blog-hosting platform where people get a lot more real about their lives. Or check out the Kopa for Psoriasis app, where people are constantly sharing their experiences with psoriasis.
7. Consider Talking to a Professional
“If you are unable to let go of your poor body image, a therapist can help with diminishing those thoughts so they’re not taking control of your life,” says Celan. “And you can find a way to function outside of being hyper-focused on your appearance.”
Not sure where to start? Look for a mental health provider that has training in clinical health psychology and who understands the interplay between physical health and psychological symptoms, says Zuckerman.
Someone with those qualifications can role-play with you, so that you can educate others around you about psoriasis, which can be empowering. “Also, a therapist can help with relaxation strategies to reduce anxiety and subsequent psoriasis flare-ups,” says Zuckerman.
Learning to love our bodies is not easy—really, it goes against the social conditioning that’s always telling us we should try to “improve” our appearance. So, cut yourself some slack if body positivity is tough, at times. As much as you can, be mindful of what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. With practice, you can learn to silence that inner critic and embrace your inner cheerleader.