By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center
Developing a healthy body image is something we could all use help with. You don’t have to feel alone if you are worried or insecure about how you look; it's a common thought for many people. But we want to help you realize that you have nothing to be ashamed of. At the end of the day, there’s only one of you — and that’s beautiful.
While it's important to be aware of the changes to your mental and physical health and do your best to live a healthy lifestyle, being body positive is equally as important.
Body positivity is about accepting you and your body, no matter what anyone else says. No matter your gender or size, it's important to develop and maintain a positive body image.
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How does HIV affect body positivity?
When living with HIV, the negative social stigmas and stress can feel overwhelming at times — especially when dealing with the mental effects of viewing your body as being a problem.
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more common among people living with HIV. Side effects of meds can also affect your mood. Some people may experience fatigue, nightmares, or see changes in their sex drive.
With the stress and side effects that may come from medications and from living with HIV in general, it can be easy to forget or take for granted how amazing our bodies are. After all, they get us to where we need to go, allow us to move around, and even give us the ability to read this blog.
Of course, these may be completely normal activities for the majority of us, but remembering that not everyone is able to do even those simple things in life can help us appreciate our bodies for all that they allow us to experience in everyday life.
Many people also see their weight as a problem after an HIV diagnosis. Sure, you might benefit from losing a few pounds if you haven’t been super active lately, but this doesn’t take away from your worth as a human being. Wanting to be healthy is one thing, but shaming yourself for the way your body is won’t do any help.
Body positivity is about more than just having a positive and appreciative attitude about your body — and it doesn’t matter if you’re in top model shape or not. The important thing to remember is that your value and worth as a human being doesn’t come from how your body looks.
Sometimes, people who just found out that they’re living with HIV may have a dip in their sex drive. Let’s face it — there may be lots of other things on your mind besides getting some sexy time. Talking with other people who have learned how to live with HIV and have healthy relationships and sex lives can help you remember that living with HIV doesn’t mean you can’t have a sex life anymore. After all, we’re sex-positive, too!
How to improve your body image
Grab a notebook and write down a list of things that make you a special person. Think of a few things that you like about yourself. The physical action of writing will cause your mind to focus on the positive, which can definitely help you remember how awesome you are.
Self-care is the most important part of having a positive image. So do something nice for yourself. Take a long hot shower, bubble bath —something that makes you happy. Therapy is also a way to help you build that positive image, think about taking advantage of it if you can.
Check out books and movies that focus on a positive body image. Don't pay any attention to purposely offensive or negative outlets. And you know that Instagram account with the pictures that always make you feel worse about yourself? It might be time to unfollow.
Meditation and yoga can help you deal with anxiety issues that can come from living with HIV, and life in general. You can find “how-to” videos online for beginners.
Being body positive doesn't mean letting yourself go and not caring about your health. It means speaking positive about your body and having an appreciation for it. You can treat your body with respect by exercising, practicing self-care, and showing yourself love.
You are amazing and you can get through this. Living with HIV isn't an end; it's a new beginning.