Today I would like to address how important it is to get dressed and make ourselves look good when we’re suffering from chronic illness. Especially when we’re suffering from chronic illness!
Why? Because when we look better, we tend to feel better!
This may sound slightly off topic, but it is something that has made a big difference to my mental health and anxiety levels.
When we’re feeling horrible due to chronic illness, being as comfortable as we can is important. When it comes to clothes, PJs or sweatpants are an obvious choice. We probably don’t have much energy to do much or go out anyways, so what does it matter how we look?!
Well, it actually does matter…
When I was at my worst, my standard attire was PJ bottoms and a comfy sweater. I could not be arsed to do my hair or make-up and I didn’t see the point either. I also followed the GAPS protocol (a special gut healing protocol) that required a lot of cooking from scratch, therefore it was easier to just wear clothes that could get dirty.
My partner wasn’t impressed by the outfit but I was too tired to care. I just wanted to be comfortable!!
But here is the thing: every time I saw myself in the mirror, I hated what I saw. I hated how ill and tired I looked and how scruffy.
I hated it when we had visitors coming round, which was inevitable as both my partner and me work from home.
I just wanted to hide.
I didn’t want people to see me this way.
And it made me more depressed than I already was.
Body Image, Anxiety and Depression
I was not only ill, I also looked it. I told myself I didn’t care what I looked like but at the same time I hated what I saw in the mirror.
And my perception of what I looked like actually made me feel more ill and tired.
It caused me social anxiety – I was scared about what people would think of what had become of me.
And it caused me depression – I felt ugly and invisible.
And I think therefore I kind of became invisible.
A few studies have looked at the connection between body image and depression. A Korean study from 2003 found that as the perceived body image and self-esteem of female college students went down, depression went up and vice versa . Another study from 2014 looked at post-menopausal women: those who perceived themselves as ‘unattractive’ had higher odds of clinical depression .
The question remains whether the poor body image actually caused depression, or vice versa.
For me personally though, not feeling attractive because of my comfy PJ attire and lack of make-up did indeed negatively affect my mental health.
Look Good, Feel Good
Most of us are probably aware of the fact that looking good tends to increase confidence levels, which in turn positively affects the way others perceive us.
Dressing well and making the best of what we’ve got has probably the same effect. Even if we’re not ‘classically beautiful’, wearing something that makes us feel beautiful and confident will automatically make us attractive.
And even if we’re really ill and looking tired, we can always make ourselves look healthier with the help of make-up. Even if I’m a fan of natural beauty and I’d always prefer using less make-up I think this can help us feel healthier.
This concept has been tested in women with cancer who took part in ‘Look Good Feel Better’ workshops designed to help women manage appearance-related side effects of cancer and its treatment. The workshops increased the women’s self-image and in turn reduced anxiety and improved social interactions .
It took me a while to realize that not getting ‘ready’ and dressed properly had a negative impact on my health. At some point my partner’s complaints got to me and I decided to buy some new clothes – comfortable but nice. Wearing proper clothes again made me feel more alive and reduced my social anxiety and depression.
Take off those PJs and get dressed!
I know that for many chronically ill (and healthy) people, PJs are the ultimate comfort clothes.
They signify leisure, sleep, comfort, relaxation and ‘being done for the day’.
Now those are certainly positive attributes. But on the other hand, if you wear them all day they can be perceived as laziness, not being ready to do anything or go anywhere and they are also connected to sleep and tiredness.
Could wearing PJs even make us more tired and lethargic? Perhaps.
How to be fashionable without sacrificing comfort
Back when I was suffering from interstitial cystitis, IBS and debilitating fatigue I just could not face wearing my old jeans as they were just too tight and uncomfortable. I was cold all the time and needed something warm and since the time I struggled with kidney infections I also always needed my kidneys covered up.
Luckily there’s a few options that are comfortable whilst still being fashionable:
- Leggings and oversized sweaters
- Harem pants
- Leggings and tunics
- Dresses and cotton tights
More recently I also started wearing (stretch) jeans again as my IBS-related bloating has improved and I could tolerate the tight fit a bit better.
I still often sacrifice fashion for comfort, but overall I’ve found a spot where I can have both until maybe one day I don’t need the comfort part even less.
A case for natural fibres
Natural fibres let the skin breathe, which is important for detoxification and thus health.
It is also important to create a healthy crotch area in cases of IC or chronic cystitis.
Cotton is sprayed with a lot of pesticides these days, which we can absorb from clothes through the skin. These chemicals can add to the disease burden.
Therefore, I’d try and opt for natural fibres.
Organic cotton and bamboo are great choices.
I’m no expert on make-up but I’ve recently gone from hardly wearing any to trying out a few different minimal looks.
This has positively improved the way I look at myself.
A bit of concealer and blush can make all the difference by instantly creating a more healthy and vibrant complexion.
As with the clothes I would avoid toxic products that add to the body’s burden and opt for natural and organic products.
Spoonie Blogs with fashion and Make-Up Tips
There’s a ton of beauty and fashion blogs out there, too many to list, but I quickly wanted to mention a few of my fellow chronic illness bloggers that write about fashion and make-up:
- A Southern Celiac: A Celiac blogging about food, fashion and fainting. She publishes a weekly fashion post.
- La princesse qui etudie: A Blog about chronic illness and beauty/make-up.
- Chronically royal: 18 year old spoonie blogging about lifestyle and make-up.
- Ship With No Sails: Blog by a chronically ill make-up artist with ‘spoon friendly’ make-up tips.
Do you know what a ‘spoonie’ is? If not, check out Claire’s explanation over at the Pain Pals Blog!
Now I’d love to hear from you: do you wear PJs all the time? How does it make you feel? Does looking good make you feel better? Let me know in the comments!
Pin it for later:
- Shin, HS et al Body image, self-esteem and depression in college female students: normal and overweight Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2003 [Jun;33(3):331-8.] available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.secure.sci-hub.cc/pubmed/15314431
- Australian Menopause Society Body image and depression October 2014 https://www.menopause.org.au/members/ims-menopause-live/913-body-image-and-depression
- Taggart, Linda R. et al Look Good Feel Better Workshops: A “Big Lift” for Women with Cancer Journal of Cancer Education 2009 [24 (2): 94-99] available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08858190802664594