Bathing suits and beyond: 7 tips to improve your body image

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tips to improve your body image_Desiree.JPGBy Desirée Gonzales Phillips

Desirée Gonzales Phillips is a senior health education specialist in the Patient Education Office and has worked at MD Anderson 10 years.

Bathing suit season is over, thank goodness! Time to put the suit and cover-up back in the drawer until next season's magazine cover says "10 Tips to Get Bathing Suit Ready." When summer rolls around again -- no pun intended -- I will need 25 tips.

Like most people, I often complain or criticize my body or want to change something about it. But for many of our patients, body image can go much deeper. It can be a lifetime concern.

Whether due to hair loss, scars, lymphedema or other treatment side effects, some people have a hard time dealing with appearance and body image changes.

Are you placing unrealistic demands on your body to look the way it did before cancer?

Learn to like yourself
MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Service offers these suggestions to improve your relationship with your body.

  1. Be kind to yourself. It's OK not to like the way you look sometimes.
  2. Be accepting. Know what you like and dislike, but be willing to accept yourself "as is."
  3. Replace critical thoughts about your body with neutral ones. Ask yourself, "How can I be more accurate?" For example, instead of saying, "My breast looks strange," you could say, "I have scars on my breasts from surgery. One breast is smaller, but no one can tell. I notice changes more than other people do."
  4. Exercise to manage stress and improve your mood. Find fun activities that make you feel good. If you can't do certain things because of treatment or recovery, do things that are easy. For example, try light stretching, beginners' yoga or walking.
  5. Enhance your senses. For example, have a massage, enjoy nature, take a bath or wear soft clothing. 
  6. If it's fun for you, spend time on your clothing, hair, make-up or jewelry. (If this takes up too much time or causes you stress, then do something else you enjoy.)
  7. Praise your efforts and compliment yourself for being more accepting of yourself.
To learn more
The following books are available in The Learning Center:
  • "The Body Image Workbook: An Eight-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks," by Thomas Cash
  • "Waiting for Wings: A Woman's Metamorphosis Through Cancer," by Heidi Marble
  • "Meeting the Challenges of Oral Head and Neck Cancer: A Survivor's Guide," edited by Nancy Leupold and James Sciubba
  • "A Singular View: The Art of Seeing With One Eye," by Frank Brady
  • "Turning Heads: Portraits of Grace, Inspiration and Possibilities," edited by Jackson Hunsicker
  • "Face Value: Coping With Facial Disfigurement," by Linda Shafritz
  • "Heroes With a Thousand Faces: True Stories of People with Facial Deformities and Their Quest for Acceptance," by Laura Greenwald
Look Good ... Feel Better program
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