Feeling Beautiful When You’re Chronically Ill

The hardest part about feeling beautiful when you are chronically ill, is that you actually feel like absolute crap most of the time. 

If you have spent far too much time looking at yourself in the mirror feeling unhappy or disappointed – this is for you.

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Feeling beautiful when you have a chronic illness is a 4-step process that includes:

  1. Embracing who you are and own your identity;
  2. Realising that it’s okay to treat yourself and discover the things that you love to do the most;
  3. Accepting that this will take some effort in the beginning (but it’s fun), and finally
  4. Getting your beauty facts straight - they are so simple.

Never mind trying to keep up with the impossible beauty standards set by the media. Chronic illness makes it feel difficult to relate to the average woman anymore.

It can isolate you in many ways. And feeling comfortable with your appearance or demeanour is definitely one of them.

I don’t know how many times I’ve gone for a basic pedicure and almost burst into tears as the nail polish gets taken off and I look down at my toes.

All it takes for my nails to crack and bleed is a light stub. So, they remain blue and broken.

Or how many times I attempt to shave my legs and I’m still left with a rash. That, for some bizarre reason, always spreads beyond the point where I stopped shaving. I just want to know… how?

But it’s not all about plastering on that clumpy mascara at the back of your cupboard. Beauty is a personal subject, and it’s tied to your mindset.

In the last 11 years that I’ve been chronically ill, I spent quite a bit of it working in the beauty industry.

Here’s what I can tell you straight up:

  1. Using lots of products or makeup doesn’t equate to feeling beautiful.
  2. Yes, the cheesy ‘inner beauty’ quotes have great value. But it’s about more than that, it’s about your mindset towards self-care.
  3. People seem to have two extremes: It’s either an all-out Kardashian approach or the need to shame the beauty industry. Try and avoid these extremes.
  4. A balanced approach is your best bet when it comes to beauty. Like anything else in life. Be discerning, patient and kind to yourself.

So how do you you feel beautiful when you are chronically ill?

Embrace Who You Are and Own Your Own Identity

Do you know why you are worth looking after? It’s not for anyone else. And it’s not meant to be something you do because you’re going out. It’s because you owe it to yourself, and here’s why.

woman looking at herself in the mirror with reassurance

You don’t have to love your body yet. All you need to understand that life comes with challenges.

And while chronic illness isn’t a physical or emotional challenge that any of us want. We need to remember that it doesn’t change the fact that our bodies need and deserve our care.

I know that the smallest tasks can feel monumental. 

There are days (or weeks) that you can’t help but leave your hair unwashed (again). Where you forget to use deodorant. And you have no desire to change your pyjamas. 

I know how it feels to be so tired and unmotivated to do anything because you don’t give a damn right now.

But I also know how bad it feels to look at yourself in the mirror and ask:

“What the f*ck happened?”

These times hit you like a bulldozer – emotionally and physically.

Now, I will tell you how getting out of these emotional ditches affects your confidence and perception of beauty in a bit. But for now, I want to focus on your better days.

On the days where you wake up, wiggle your toes and stretch your arms without it being too taxing…

You need to take a few minutes to learn a bit about your new body.

There are two main things that will help you embrace who you are and define your identity, they include:

  1. Exploring what you like about yourself in practical ways; and
  2. Getting rid of one very bad habit – comparing yourself to others. 

Explore what you like about yourself

You may be at a point where you look at your body and associate it with despair or disappointment. But remember this:

Your body hasn’t intentionally or maliciously betrayed you. This is not your fault and it’s not your body’s fault.

So, you need to try and clear your mind when you’re getting to know yourself again.

3 practical activities that will help you learn more about yourself:

woman painting and man playing the guitar
  1. Take up new classes, hobbies or interests when the opportunity presents itself. 

    When they say that you don’t know what you like until you try it – it’s true!

    Unless there’s a good reason to turn down an opportunity to try something new – just do it.

    This open-minded approach to new experiences showed me a few things. For example, it ignited my passionate about journalism, proved that I’m quite the coffee snob and that I cannot, no matter what, catch a ball to save my life.

  2. Use your passions and interests to understand more about your personality. 

    It’s not easy to figure out who you are, and without life experience it’s near impossible. That’s why this activity is so important.

    Take the time to write down 5 things you love to do. Try to keep them as random or unconnected as possible.

    Now think about what skills and traits you need to execute these tasks.

    For example, if you love baking, you know that it requires: Patience, attention to detail and a flair for creativity.

    That’s three qualities you may immediately relate to and that you will often see in your other interests. 

  3. Set new goals for yourself.

    It’s a great feeling when you find something you love to do because it reveals beautiful qualities about yourself that you didn’t know about before. But try and take it a step further by asking yourself how you can excel.

    The idea is to challenge yourself in ways that help you become a better version of yourself throughout your life.

Now for some mind-clearing tips to take into consideration before you start:

  1. Try to let go of whatever expectations you set for yourself. Your life has changed now, so your goals need to change with it. Remember it’s not a failure if your entire goal post has shifted, it’s evolution.
  2. Being authentic is your most powerful tool. Don’t try to copy others or blend in. It’s a waste of time. Remain true to yourself and you will attract others who celebrate you for who you are.

  3. No matter how small, relish in the encouragement and positive feedback you get about yourself. Use it to harness your skills. No one’s judging you here.

When you’re paid a compliment – write it down! When you achieve something – commemorate it. And when you’re given constructive criticism – use it to grow. 

These words joining together and become a boost of powerful encouragement. After all, in this world, you have to be your own cheerleader.

Stop comparing yourself to others 

Comparing yourself to others is not a good idea no matter who you are. It’s never going to be a fair comparison because you’re never going to be exactly the same as anyone else.

Here’s what you need to remember:

It's okay not to be perfect. None of us can be.

When it comes to beauty, unrealistic and fake expectations are set by the media – and even our friends and family – all the time.

The best thing to do is to avoid your triggers.

These triggers can be any encounters with others that make you feel unworthy of being beautiful.

If you find yourself demotivated while looking at influencer profiles on Instagram – unfollow them. 

If you have friends who always make you question your self-image – don’t let them take up your time.  You don’t need that kind of bad energy around you.

If you have to compare yourself with someone – it should only be with yourself.

Always strive to be the best version of yourself and only use comparisons to reflect on how far you’ve come from your last goal post.

Everyone around you should only be used as inspiration.

Try to encourage others to do the same. There’s a huge sense of achievement when you help others with the same issue that you have.

It also means you’re increasing your circle of self-aware, confident friends. I.e. the kind of friends that celebrate the things that make you beautiful instead of tearing you down.

Treat Yourself with the Beauty Rituals You Like – You Deserve It

Treating yourself shouldn’t be something you feel guilty about. It shouldn’t be something you put off because it’s not a luxury. It means you look after yourself. And you deserve to be looked after.

woman using spa feeling beautiful when you're chronically ill

Like I mentioned earlier, your body deserves your respect and love. And if some pampering or self-love is new to you – the first step is making the time for it.

The second step is avoiding any tasks that seem intimidating or impractical for you. The idea is to figure out a few things that you do like, and then find ways to personalise it to your needs.

Here are a few affordable, practical and low-key ideas you try:

Create a home spa for your own comfort

You don’t need to step out of the house to be pampered. And trust me - there are perks to setting up a ‘home spa’ instead of paying the big bucks in a fancy establishment.

Here are some tips for creating the best home spa that’s affordable:

  1. Go online to do your beauty shopping – you can take your time to choose the products you like, and it means you can hold out for specials.

  2. Choose products that are non-messy. The idea is to relax so you shouldn’t get products that you need to hassle over. A good example would be pre-made foot soaks that come in a disposable sock. No water baths or scrubbing necessary. Just put on the socks and chill.

  3. Get one or two items that make the experience extra comfortable. Three things I love are:

    Pillow spray – it helps you relax and feel sleepy when you lie back.
    Bath milk – it feels very luxurious and gives your skin a real glow.
    A Bathrobe – find the fluffiest one you can, and you’ll feel like you’re floating on a cloud.


  4. Support brands that don’t use toxic ingredients in their products. You have the liberty to choose any product you want. So, make it one that doesn’t have nasty hidden stuff that could aggravate your chronic illness.

  5. Make a morning of this with a friend (try and do it with someone that is super chilled who enjoys this kind of thing). This way you have a helping hand and gives you a chance to bond over face masks and tea.

  6. See if any junior OT’s or massage therapists need to get some practical hours. It’s a great way to get a decent massage without paying a ridiculous fee.

Online retail therapy

The internet has benefited society in so many ways, and online shopping is definitely one of them. Here’s how to take advantage of it:

  1. Be fussy about fabrics. Remember that you need to be comfortable. Look for items that are lighter, softer and more breathable. So, remember to filter your search.
  2. Stick to brands that you know and trust, especially if you have chronic pain. It’s difficult to feel comfortable without any clothes on - so you don’t want to make things worse unless you have to.
  3. Look for items that will make your life easier. Next time you’re out and you find yourself stumbling to answer your phone, that’s at the bottom of your handbag, while you’re walking on crutches…

Remember that moment and think about what you can do to make your life more comfortable. You may find a smaller, crossbody bag could be more practical.

Oh, and here’s a fun fact for you:

If you like the colour red – wear it! It’s a colour that represents passion, power and sensuality. Psychologically it can bring out the confidence in you that radiates to others.

Follow the #HospitalGlam movement

If you haven’t caught onto this trend yet - you should look into it! It’s something that speaks to chronic illness patients everywhere.

With the slogan:

“Taking the shame out of being in treatment one selfie at a time.”

It’s worth following and participating in if you’re tired of the same artificial social posts hitting your news feed.

Who says you can’t use your hospital stays to your advantage to show off your inner and outer beauty?

Marina at the hospital

Next time you’re in the hospital:

  1. Remember to wash your hair and have the best / longest shower of your life before you are admitted. There’s something about feeling clean that feels beautiful too. (And you’re going to need it while you’re there.)
  2. Bring a big pack of baby wipes and a good multi-use body oil. Baby wipes are gentle on your skin and easy to use to clean your face, underarms etc.

    A hard, natural body oil is an amazing product that can be used to moisturise your lips, hands, face… ole body. You don’t need a lot and it doesn’t take up any space.
  3. Your most comfortable (but favourite) pyjamas. You can extend this to your underwear too. Being in the hospital doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to feel unattractive.

Remember to share the love with a selfie and tag me in the picture. I’d love to see how you’re changing the hospital-shame stigma too.

And if you’re wondering who to thank for this movement... it’s an artist named Karolyn Gehrig, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Give her a follow!

Make an Effort with Yourself and With Others

These are the easiest ways to make an effort with yourself when you feel like you have no energy left to give. Because you do come first.

woman shaving her legs in the bath tub

I’ve always had a deep appreciation for self-care.

Not only does it show the world you have a certain amount of self-respect. It also proves that you practice self-love in some way.

But like anything in life, you need to put in the effort. Improving how you care for yourself is no different.

It’s just important that anyone with a chronic illness uses low-key techniques so that it’s a sustainable goal. Here’s what I recommend:

Stress the features you love about yourself

At some point in your daily routine, you’re going to wake up, potentially put clothes on, and maybe shoes too. And with a little creativity – this can actually be fun.

For example:

  1. If you can’t wear shoes, then it’s time to rock a pair of socks. Whether it’s full-on bling, ridiculous designs or ones that look like shoes – choose things that are fun.
  2. Celebrate the things you like about your body. If you love your hair, use hair ties that make it look beautiful when it’s tied up.
  3. Or if you have a nice derriere – you’re in luck! Tracksuit pants are super comfortable, and it takes no effort at all to choose a pair that keeps your tush perky throughout the day.
  4. Take time to find a fragrance that works on your skin. Perfume has a profound effect on us because of how we associate scent with emotion. So why not harness this power and use it to boost your confidence and sense of beauty?

Share beauty with others

Beauty isn’t something that can be bottled. It’s something that’s cultivated and shared. In the right environment, it can grow as well.

Here are some tips on how to get this right:


  1. Give more hugs I’m a hugger guys, and I will always be a keen advocate.

    Luckily there’s science to back me up now that says hugging does make you feel better. And if you feel better, you’ll be more receptive to feeling beautiful too.

  2. Give genuine compliments I hope you’ve been taking note of the compliments you receive and acknowledged that you deserve them.

    But that’s actually not enough - you need to spread the love too. Think of it like a ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ situation.

    By helping others feel better about themselves, it improves how they perceive you. In other words, giving real compliments makes you attractive. Not joking.

  3. Just smile. Did you know that a smile is a universal sign for attractiveness?

    When you smile, you’re using body language to tell others you are warm and approachable.

Be patient with the process

If you try something new in your beauty regime and it’s a total bust – please don’t give up yet.

Often, it takes a little trial and error to see what works best for you. The best thing you can do is learn from your mistakes and see what can be done better the next time.

Just remember to:

  1. Sit up straight. A study from the Association of Psychological Science showed that people who sit up straight will naturally feel more confident and powerful.
  2. Stop any form of self-sabotage. Focusing on negative traits only makes you feel worse about yourself and your self-image.
  3. Fake it till you make it, baby! If you don’t feel attractive or confident, pretend that you are when you’re in company. 

You’ll be amazed at the positive response people have to you if you focus on your eye-contact and body language.

Get Your Beauty Facts Straight

A few beauty facts and tips to help make this process a little easier.

This is the part where I hope my own beauty experiences will help you in your own journey.

If I can make your next drugstore visit a little easier – then I’ll consider this a success.

Keep your beauty regime simple

There’s no need for a 12-step regime with a million different products. To look after your skin, you only need to do 3 things:

  1. Cleanse – wash it with a decent soap.
  2. Moisturise – keep it healthy and strong. This also makes you less prone to infections and irritations.
  3. Protect – use a sunscreen with a decent SPF. This is non-negotiable.

When it comes to your hair or nails, keep everything low maintenance but cared for.

Try to choose a haircut that doesn’t need much styling or brushing. All it needs is a quick salon visit every now and then. 

And make sure you’re getting enough nutrients such as biotin, calcium and selenium.

Check product ingredients

There are a lot of nasty, hidden ingredients in beauty products that you need to be aware of.

Try to stick to products that are as clean as possible. They don’t need to be expensive; they just need to be reliable.

In your creams and makeup, avoid ingredients like parabens, SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulphate) or heavy metals like lead or mercury.

If you want to know more about this, I recommend looking at www.safecosmetics.org. It will answer all your cosmetics-related questions.

Ask around the community

Each one of us experiences chronic illness in a different way. But it helps to have a community to fall back on when you have a few questions – especially if you have the same condition.

Word of mouth is always more powerful than any advertisement because it’s authentic. So put your queries out there and welcome new suggestions.

So, someone who lives close by and can relate to you will be able to give you the most specific advice out there.

Just remember to be discerning with any information you’re given, no matter the source.

So, Will ‘Feeling Beautiful’ Actually Make Me Feel Better?

A topic that could be seen as relatively superficial has a much deeper meaning as we unpack it.

This isn’t just about makeup or skincare. It’s a lot more than that. nThe process mapped out in this article is about:

  1. Goal setting;
  2. Stepping out of your comfort zone;
  3. Making progress for your own benefit;
  4. And feeling confident in your own skin.

We’ve spoken about your approach to inner and outer beauty, and how to handle the influence of the world around you.

Now here’s a neuroscientific fact that ought to blow you out of the water…

Through MRI scans, scientists can see how pleasure affects your brain. Emotions stimulated by things like beauty or love activate the release of our happy hormones (dopamine and serotonin).

When you take care of yourself physically, your brain tells you that you look and feel good and our bodies get to enjoy the healthy results.

BAM!

And if there’s anything to remember from the chronic illness beauty guide, it’s that:

  1. You are doing this for yourself - no one else. And you are worth it!
  2. You can’t let your fear guide your choices. You’ll never discover what you like about yourself.
  3. It’s irrelevant focusing on anyone else’s journey. You’ll never take the time to nurture your own beauty.

Finally, you can walk away from here knowing you already have one beautiful quality that’s gotten you so far. Your kick-ass strength.

You wouldn’t be here, learning how to improve on yourself if you didn’t!

About the Author

Marina Wildt is an experienced health and wellness writer, chronic illness warrior and founder of The Discerning You. In the last 12 years, she has gone from being paralysed in a wheelchair to living a full life alongside her conditions and now she wants to share all the practical advice that she has learnt with you.

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