Coping with IBS and Body Image
Last updated: February 2019
I recently had the opportunity to pose for a photographer. This particular photographer specializes in beautiful nude portraits; however, this was not what initially brought us together. She recently made the news regarding a series she’d created wherein men and women posed nude with a plastic mannequin. This amazing project, aptly named the "Mannequin Series," was created to battle body shaming. Men and women, of all shapes, sizes, and colors who did not ‘fit the mold’ were photographed with faces of laughter and strength. Alas, after becoming acquainted with this wonderful artist, I was asked to participate -to which I quickly shouted, ‘hell yes!’
The short story is, I did it, and I had a blast. The long story, however, is that I worried, constantly, daily, until the shoot. What exactly did I worry about, you ask? I worried not simply about my body and how people would react, but also, about my IBS. How would it affect my experience? Would I be bloated and uncomfortable? Should I not eat for 24 hours before the shoot? These questions were further exacerbated by the fact that I’ve been experimenting with my dietary restrictions.
Alas, though being asked to participate in this project should have boosted my confidence, I felt a major blow to my self-esteem and my body image. And then, something magical happened… I realized that not only was this the entire point of this series, but also, that I didn’t have a issue with body image -society did! I -we, aren’t the problem; we are the solution. So, in the days leading up to the shoot I tried to make some changes in how I lived my life and how I viewed the world. I decided that I could wear high-waisted jeans with a cute tank top. I embraced my natural chub. I spent several hours changes the groups, people, and companies I followed on social media. I surrounded myself with beautiful, healthy people of all shapes, sizes and colors. After all, if social media has taught us anything, it’s that seeing something every day -no matter its size or color (*cough* orange) -it can eventually seem normal to us. Though a negative aspect in some ways, in terms of body image this is an amazing tool. We can change how we see body image by not only eating healthy, going to the gym, buying better-fitting clothes, or having a new outlook on life, but also by changes how we see social media; by changing how we see the world.
Ultimately, this upheaval worked. Though IBS still wreaks havoc on my life, and constantly affects my body, mood, and image, I am better equipped to deal with it. I did the photo shoot and had a blast. I actually enjoyed seeing myself in the proofs, bloated belly and all! So, what did this experience teach me? Here’s a few things I’ve come to live by:
You are not alone
There is a support network out there. Online hubs, like IrritableBowelSyndrome.net, magazines, and journalists do discuss the issues we face. You simply have to be willing to look for them. If your friends are not supportive and constantly make you feel shameful about your body or your symptoms, then surround yourself with different people.
Social media has a place
Body image is what you make of it, but it is also what you see. So, surround yourself with positive images, people and companies. If the movies, tv shows, and magazines you consume do not echo your natural shape, then look for media outlets that do. If you like to follow celebrities or models, make sure you include some curvy girls too. Seeing chubby bellies and smiling faces can do wonders on your self-esteem.
Question your motives
If you get upset about your body image, ask yourself if it is simply because you’re not feeling well physically or mentally? Is it because your IBS symptoms are getting you down or because body shaming is? Are you upset at your IBS because of how it affects your physical appearance or because of what people will think?
Re-imagine yourself and your image
Look at your body, your clothes, yourself more carefully and realize that you can do/wear/be whatever you would like. If you’re worried about what people think, discover why that is and accept or change it. If you’re worried about what clothes you can wear because your IBS has you feeling a little uncomfortable or bloated, realize that comfort and style do not need to be in opposition. Your body is normal, because it is your body. Your bloating and IBS symptoms are normal, because they are yours. You are not your body, but your body is yours. Do with it what you would like. Eat a little healthier, exercise, and learn to be comfortable in your own skin. You can be chubby, bloated or uncomfortable and still be healthy. You can still have fun and wear the clothes you’d like. Though fashion, social media, and support networks can be damaging, they can also help you find what you’ve been missing: yourself.
Do you suffer from IBS-C, IBS-D, or IBS-Mixed/Alternating?