Hair loss can have a significant impact on one’s body image. The 2 are inextricably linked. Body image, or the way we see and feel about ourselves, has implications when it comes to self-esteem and confidence. Poor self-esteem can be so pervasive in our everyday lives that it impacts our mood, thoughts, interactions with others, and even keenness to pursue opportunities.
When it comes to hair loss, many Alopecians are self-conscious of their scalp showing, of people noticing their thinning, wondering if people can tell they are wearing a wig, or if they look unfeminine (this is not to say those without hair are unfeminine, but ask the hair loss community and this subject comes up often!). Many have spoken of avoiding certain events or activities due to their hair. Think water activities, bright lights, dating, speaking engagements and more!
Sure, we all have things we don’t like about ourselves or our bodies. But too heavy a focus on those vulnerabilities or perceived flaws, can cause our self-esteem to take a hit. This can cause a whole host of issues including low energy, low mood, isolation, avoidance, loss of motivation, disinterest in pleasurable activities, negative self-talk, and much more!
There is growing awareness around body positivity and self-love in the media, social media, in schools, amongst parenting circles, and social discourse. There is so much amazing work being done to positively influence youngsters in particular, but as adults, it can be more difficult to shift our thinking in order to accept our bodies as they are because we have been immersed in a certain mindset for a longer period. Breaking those self-berating habits takes practice!
SO! Whether you are young or old, tall or short, big or small, hairy, bald or somewhere in between, this post is for anyone who is struggling with their body image or struggling to cope with hair loss. These tips will not resolve issues overnight, but a little practice everyday will put you on a path to a better view of yourself! Self-love and self-acceptance is a marathon, not a sprint!
- PRACTICE GRATITUDE- We hear this all the time. But what does it actually mean? It is a shift in our mindset to focus on those things in our life that bring us joy, that teach us a lesson, that make us who we are. It is being grateful for opportunities, for loved ones, for lessons learned. It is good to be grateful for what we have, but a focus on materialistic things is not the intent and will not improve your body image. Of course there will always be circumstances that we lament, but even these can present opportunities for learning and growth for which we can later be grateful. Learning to quietly revel in small victories like a hot cup of coffee, a good laugh with a friend, stillness in nature, can set the stage for a more positive outlook. Gratitude needs to be intentional and authentic, so you will need to focus your energy on the things that are meaningful to YOU!
- SET GOALS- We cannot overcome body image issues overnight. But we can set goals to help get us there. It also feels satisfying to achieve goals whether they are related to our body image or not. It is important when setting body image goals to really understand where the issue is coming from: were you bullied; has society taught you that you don’t “fit the mould”; has your body let you down in some way; are you overly occupied with what others think of you? Resolving these issues takes a great deal of self-reflection which can be difficult but necessary to grow. Before you can overcome these issues, you must first acknowledge and accept the significance of your suffering. You have to understand the depths of your pain and grief to move forward. Once you have figured out where the issue(s) stems from and how profoundly present they have been in your life, it’s time to make a game plan to take back control. Set your goals such that you can slowly chip away at them instead of tackling everything at once. Establish long-term goals and short-term objectives that will help you get there. You will want to use self-compassion when setting your goals…berating yourself will only stifle your progress. Keep the mindset of “thriving in spite of”. You acknowledge your challenges, and you chase your dreams anyway. Hair loss related goals may include: becoming more open about hair loss; leaving the house with or without your wig/wrap, etc); coming to terms with and accepting your loss; educating others/raising awareness; reconnecting with interests you have set aside; and so on.
- HAVE SELF-COMPASSION- In other words, be kind to yourself! Accept that you are flawed as we all are, but you don’t need to beat yourself up about it. Part of being compassionate to oneself is learning to love, accept, and respect oneself solely because you are choosing to do so. By relying on ourselves for our own validation, we are sure to get it. When we love, accept and respect ourselves, we put our own needs first. We begin to see that even if we make mistakes, we are still worthy of self-love. We learn to forgive ourselves for making mistakes. Take some of the empathy you have for others, and direct it inward. This leads to gentler, more productive self-talk which stimulates more positivity.
- CELEBRATE WHAT YOUR BODY CAN DO. Maybe your body isn’t the shape you want, doesn’t have the hair you desire, doesn’t have the skin you see in beauty advertisements. Maybe you have wrinkles or cellulite or freckles you don’t love. But that body has been there for you through it all. Try to treat it the way you would treat a dear friend. Focus on the things your body has done and can do instead of the things it lacks and can’t do. Every body is good at some things and every body has its challenges. When we’re constantly comparing and competing with others, it is easy to dismiss what our own bodies need, excel at and are capable of. This is your chance to shed all those long held “should” beliefs about your body and instead, give it the credit it deserves for all that it is and can do.
- CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD- We all have those people in our lives that make us feel lousy. That one person you know will make an undermining comment that will get under your skin. It is no wonder that this impacts our emotional well-being and feelings of self-worth and it’s impact is directly correlated with the amount of exposure to this person. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Those who are there to be your cheerleaders and support your ventures. The ones who are as happy for you for pursuing your dreams as they are to pursue their own. Don’t have anybody like this in your life? Set yourself a goal to meet new people and spark some friendships.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to improve your coping, nor are they cure-alls for existing insecurities. But by prioritizing these things, you are making space for progress and acceptance.