By: Dani Kessel
I’ve been struggling with my body image lately. I’m always hesitant to talk about my body image issues since I have been a mentor and role model to teenagers and my kiddo nieces. I have had to encourage them to improve their self-esteem, especially their body images. I feel like a hypocrite. I am going to be really vulnerable about these struggles I’ve tried to hide.
6 months ago, I had major spine surgery. I suffer from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, CRPS, and had to have a spinal cord stimulator, SCS, implanted in my body to mitigate this nerve disorder. The majority of my problems post-surgery have been the grueling physical recovery and adjusting to the stimuli of having an SCS. There has also been lingering pain at the surgery sites and the still-present problems caused by CRPS. (Unfortunately, the SCS does not take the CRPS away. It only increases my quality of life by decreasing the severity of the symptoms.) There have been a number of things I’ll be coping with for a long, long time that I’ve been relatively transparent about. I haven’t really talked much about the physical impact though.
The surgery left me with a 4 inch scar down the middle of my back and a 2 inch scar with a visible bump from the battery pack of the SCS above my right buttock. It may not seem like this would change my sense of body image, but these scars have plummeted my self-esteem and brought light to some major insecurities which I’d buried.
Growing up, there were very few things I liked about my physical body. My eyes. My smile. My freckles. That’s about it. After I hit puberty, I hated my body even more. It took a long time before I was even mildly okay with how I looked. I eventually found some confidence in my appearance though because I grew to like the look of my back. When showing it off, I actually felt sexy for once. Come senior prom, I chose a backless and one shoulder prom dress for maximum confidence boost. In college, I grew to love wearing cropped shirts and shirts with cutouts. This became increasingly prevalent after my accident which left me disabled, on crutches for years, and wearing a bulky knee brace. If people were going to be staring anyways, I might as well do anything I can to increase my confidence. It was one of the few things I could do to feel in control of the situation. I liked my back so much that I got 2 rib tattoos and touched up a shoulder tattoo I’ve had since I was a teenager. (I have a bunch of tattoos and love them all!) Later, I chose a wedding dress with a deep-V back and lace straps. The cut of the dress made me feel stunning despite my usual discomfort wearing a dress at all.
As you can imagine, having my back cut open gave me a serious emotional reaction for reasons other than just normal surgery effects. After surgery, I was in a wheelchair or using a walker. People stared everywhere I went. I couldn’t wear anything showing off my back. Heck, I couldn’t even look in the mirror at my back since the surgery wounds were covered in gauze and bandaging. Once the dressings came off, my back was visibly battered, bruised, and had giant cuts with a stitches-glue combo. Now, six months later, I want to cry every time I look at my back. I have giant, extremely visible scars. I have only once worn anything which shows off my back since surgery. It was sitting at home on the couch with a friend. I felt self-conscious the whole time despite knowing that she wasn’t looking at my back. I wouldn’t even go swimming when I went on vacation this past Christmas since it would’ve required me to wear a bathing suit and I only have a two-piece.
I keep fending off the irrational thought that my partner doesn’t find me attractive, hot, or sexy anymore. He and I have talked about it. He explicitly told me that isn’t true. I couldn’t initiate sex with him for the first three months out of fear though. I still am flooded by this thought almost every time I try to initiate sex with him. I’ve been able to push through it, but it’s hard on me. I’ve honestly cried myself to sleep because I am afraid that my scars will make him not want me anymore.
Truthfully, I have no idea what to do about this. I am working on finding other things about my appearance to build up my confidence. I cut my hair short, and I feel great about how it looks. I got a large thigh tattoo of a phoenix which I adore (the meaning of which I will touch on in a separate post another time). I wear shorts a lot more now so that I can see my phoenix. But, I still can’t get past the terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I look at or think about my back.
I hope that sharing this very vulnerable reality I’m living in doesn’t change the way people see me or make the things I write/say seem less authentic. When I talk and write about boosting self-esteem, growing as a person, learning to cope, and trying to accept difficult things, I really do mean them. My life has provided me with a lot of experience on these topics. I am just also on this personal journey which requires me to work through the same things.
Thank you for your compassion and willingness to read this post. My goal in sharing this story is to help you know that you aren’t alone when it comes to poor self-esteem, heavy emotions, and insecurities. Remember to be kind to yourself today. I will try my best to do the same.