Being a woman can be pretty awesome; we can wear dresses and skirts (or not), have children (or not) and do just about anything we want. But being a woman can also mean internalising a lot of potential harmful stereotypes about what’s beautiful—and what isn’t. I’m sure we’ve all been made to feel less than beautiful (hello, high school), even if it’s just by the ubiquity of one unrealistic type of body being paraded through the media as the ideal.
But there’s a whole different set of self-esteem and body issues that come up when you’re chronically ill. Some of my favourites (that was sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell): steroid weight gain and associated
fat moon face and breakouts; nail pitting and bed separation from psoriasis; psoriasis in general, because who doesn’t love flakey, itchy and sometimes bloody skin; the fried, damaged hair that is the hallmark of repeated use of a coal tar shampoo (it also smells just lovely); swollen hands and feet (and just about anything else) from arthritis; and brain fog, which isn’t necessarily physical, but it’s certainly let to some bat-shit insane wacky off-beat choices in make-up, hair and clothes. (What did I miss?)
Why should we feel ashamed of any of that? Why should I wear nail polish to hide my freaky nails, wear light clothes and long sleeves to hide my psoriasis or elastic waist-band pants (ugh) on days my hands are flaring? I guess that’s really a question only each of us can answer for ourselves. I think there’s a fine line between accepting ourselves as we are and giving up, and between looking good to feel better and just plain covering up the truth.
As for me, I’m sure I’ll continue to care about my appearance, to wear flattering clothes and paint my nails fun colours and eschew elastic-waist pants. But I do it to express who I am, instead of hiding it. Yes, I have psoriasis and, yes, I have psoriatic arthritis, but I’m also young and interested in style, and looking good helps my self-esteem. So, take that media and take that, chronic illness; I am beautiful despite all of that.
(Also, since the last time I used a song lyric as a title, I got tons of people finding my site by Googling that lyric—and, in fact, still do—the song from my title is “Bullet” by Steel Train. You’re welcome.)