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Body Image After Surgery

How we feel about our body is complicated and doesn't automatically improve after weight loss. It can often take time to feel more body positive.

Posted on Wednesday October 11, 2023

Body Image After Surgery

We can’t get away from messages about the perfect body, they are everywhere. So if we do not fit in with those ideals it can make us feel self-conscious, unattractive and as if we are not good enough. If we live with obesity, messages about our body size being 'unacceptable' are distressing.

Research tells us when we worry about how we look, we can stop ourself from taking part in activities that we enjoy and things that might benefit our health and well-being, which in turn can impact on our mental health. Exercise is a good example. Many people would like to start or get back to exercise but they feel too embarrassed about their body to try. We imagine people will be thinking the most critical and judgemental thoughts about us. And so, believing that to be true, we avoid. But as with all slippery slopes, the more we avoid situations the more anxious we become about them, making it harder to try, and we end up feeling worse about our body.

An improvement in health and mobility are frequently described as reasons to lose weight but underneath that is often a desire to feel more body confident; to feel an acceptable size (whatever that really means). But this does not automatically happen with weight loss. Sometimes people get tangled in the number of their weight or BMI. If we lose weight but our BMI remains outside of the 'healthy' range, we can dismiss the really important changes that has come from weight loss.

How Does Bariatric Surgery Effect Body Image?

Bariatric surgery can impact body image in two different ways: forgetting how much your body has changed, and the impact of loose skin. For many people weight loss after surgery is so rapid that it takes time to adjust. Our psychologists tell us that people don't always see a difference when they look in the mirror, even after losing a great deal of weight. It takes time to adjust. If we have spent many years knowing our body in a particular way, seeing it differently is hard.

We see so many amazing ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos on social media but they only tell part of the story. They show us how a person’s body shape has changed, not how they feel about it. If we take the position that being slimmer is the ‘ideal’ to achieve we might automatically assume that people will be happier in their body in the ‘after’ photo, but we know that is not always the case.

Need help?

So, what can we do to enhance our body image? Searching Google reveals so many different ‘top tip’ lists: we can focus on the positive aspects of our body, it’s strength and ability and remind ourselves of the journey our body has carried us through life. We can notice self-criticism and replace it with positive thoughts or stop comparing ourselves to others. And the list goes on.

But as with many strategies, whilst they make rational sense, we don’t always feel able to apply them.

The reality is that after surgery how you feel about your body will change and change again.

Some days you will feel fantastic and body confident, then other days you will feel self-conscious and this can fluctuate for a long while. Like so many other things after surgery, there is a transition, a coming to accept how things are: not always as we might like them to be but good enough and hopefully better than how we have previously felt.

Sometimes we need help along the way, particularly when how we feel about our body is overwhelming making it difficult to hold a broader perspective.

  • Talk to people you trust about how you feel.
  • Notice the way that you think about your body, would you talk to anyone else like this? Use the same care and compassion you have for others, for yourself.
  • Has being critical about your body helped in any way? Probably not, so why are you continuing to do it?
  • Remember, the voice we hear most often is our own, so be kind!
  • Remind yourself how far you've come and how many changes you've made.
  • Stop avoiding looking in the mirror or having photos taken. This just continues the problem. Instead, practice noticing the parts of your body that are ok.
  • Speak to a professional if you need help with this.

We support people to feel more comfortable about their body after surgery. If you would like to speak to one of our clinical psychologists you can arrange a meeting to find out more or email our team .

Let us know how we can support you

0117 235 5354

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