The image of the body

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A lot of women who suffer from PCOS look at themselves in the mirror and they don’t like what they see, they don’t find themselves.

They see themselves different, they feel “less woman”, little female. How does this influence their life? Are we just talking about mood? Are the effects much more overspread over the whole quality of life? Is just a matter of being in shape?

Looking at ourselves in the mirror may be quite troublesome. We can’t see as we actually are but, what we see, is the result of a comparison between our personal image and the image of the woman our culture proposes. Nowadays womanliness is a mix between stereotyped stiff features which have been imposed by fashion, fitness and business. Ads propose polished pictures of perfect women’s bodies all the time; but actually all of them are all the same. We have to follow a pattern which has become the only pattern. Every time we look at ourselves in the mirror, we make a comparison between our image and that pattern which does not have any faults-light body hair, thick and shining hair, wasp waistline and generous breast. The women are all delicate. But they are all the same.

Well, the comparison with those top models is a problem for almost all the women with normal bodies, with normal blemishes and irregularities. It may become very difficult and painful for the women who suffer from PCOS. This disease has some symptoms which affects the femininity: the weight and the body shape, the look and the health of the skin-the skin becomes thick, oily with acne, growth of extra hair. A weight gain usually occurs around the waist which is a typical male feature. The mood is affected as well, with sudden changes and excess of responsiveness and aggressiveness, anxiety and depression grow as well. The periods get irregular and unpredictable-the result is reduced fertility. Problems of sexual desire and satisfaction may raise too. As it is a hormonal disorder, it affects the whole working of the body. The women’s body takes male features: the disease is no more only physical, but it psychological as well. Women experience more and more uneasiness; they are fighting against their body which is farther and farther from the ideal ruling model. They feel trapped in their own skin and they experience a gap between their appearance and what they actually are. They think they are different, they think they are ugly. They lose self-esteem and self confidence and shut themselves away. They begin to hate their body. A negative and spoilt imagine prevails. They start having doubts about their unsuitableness. They get overcritical, the body and the physical shape become a constant thought which leads to anxiety and eventually to depression.

What happens?

As a paradox, women with PCOS look for satisfaction somewhere else. They start working harder and harder with much more energy than needed. This may take the women’s mind off the body care. They get hyperactive, very busy; the change of the mood may entail increased competitiveness, lack of scruple, and bent to risk along with the decrease of cooperative skills, of predisposition to listening and of empathy. Conflicts and interpersonal hostility are likely to raise more often. A further increase of stress follows and it affects cognitive performances, interpersonal relationships, and the whole body which is already stressed by the PCOS. Dangerous falls may occur easily and quite easily women could perform gestures of self harm, such as drug abuse. The image is further damaged. Then typically male attitude and behavior are taken on subconsciously to reduce the perception of feeling different. The anxiety linked to the identity (I am a woman, but my physical features resemble those ones of a man) is figured out by taking the identity of the other gender.

So: PCOS makes the body change, but it also produces a huge change in the way we look at ourselves, in the way we think about ourselves and we evaluate ourselves. It is source of pessimism and negativity and the need of constant reassurance and confirmation raises. The image of ourselves is made of physical and psychological features, predispositions, attitudes, way of relating with the other people, character and temper. So it entails both what the mirror reflects and the value we give ourselves, the place we are in the world, the feeling of confidence which is connected to mental stability and balance.

The medicine often just takes care of the merely organic disorder, without understanding how the PCOS symptoms influence a woman. It evaluates them on the hormonal level but it doesn’t care about the psychological side, as lifestyle and change in the quality of life, as image of oneself. Dealing with hormones and physical isn’t enough: curing PCOS means leading women to a new image of themselves. Because their body perception has changed their self esteem, has modified behaviors, attitudes, way of dressing, sexual and social life. It has created anxiety, lack of self confidence, peevishness, tendency to aggressiveness, impulsiveness, and easy dissatisfaction. They may come from the fear of the intimacy with the partner, from the anguish of a refusal, from the thought they are not attractive or they are not able to give the partner satisfaction.

Every medical treatment for PCOS is frustrated by obesity or overweight, which set up the vicious pathogenetic loop of the syndrome. Also the beginning and the constant observance of a new nutritional plan is a source of stress and so it must be kept under control so that women will not give it up. Women have to be helped and supported because they are facing an important change in their lifestyle, which concerns nutrition, exercise, avoiding harmful behaviors (smoke, alcohol, drugs).

The PCOS is often associated to a permanent emotional stress: the pain must be welcomed, understood and figured out. It is a primary point of the syndrome. That’s why the psychotherapy is always considered as a precious allied; a help to take back the joy of living in our body.

About Barbara Alessio

I am Barbara Alessio, I am a psychologist, a psychotherapist and a psycho-diagnotic theraphyst. I have been helping people in their personal growth, and cure for almost 25 years. I talk with women, I want to help them in their journey, I want to make them feel they are not alone, I want to listen to them, to support them, to soothe their pain and make them lead their life and take care of their health.