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Our (Crohn's) Bodies, Our (Crohn's) Selves

Two College Students Move Beyond the Challenges of Living With Crohn's

Body image issues affect men and women alike. And adding Crohn’s disease to everyday concerns can bring on additional worries, especially with weight fluctuation, scars from surgery, and abdominal pain and bloating. As most of us know by now, how we’re feeling on the inside often dictates how we present ourselves on the outside. Needless to say, body confidence and style can be challenging if you’re not even feeling well enough to get out of your PJs.

What follows is a conversation about body image between Kacie Hoyle, a biology major at Carson-Newman College, and Eric Hoffman, a chemical engineering major at Kettering University. Their discussion centers on body image concerns, getting beyond these challenges and making sure they’re putting their best foot forward.

Body image: Male vs. Female

Kacie: I'm not superficial, but I do care about how I look. Besides the issues of living with Crohn’s, I worry: Am I too fat? Am I too skinny? Does my hair look all right? I’ve also never seen my stomach without scars on it. Sometimes I wonder what I’d look like if I didn't have them.

Eric: I'm not a person who cares much about how I look, so I’m not really picky about any specific body part. But because of Crohn’s disease, I used to have an abscess that would sometimes bleed out and leave stains on my pants. That was something that bothered me.

Addressing the issue

K: After my Crohn’s diagnosis, I was scared, but I’ve developed a gradual acceptance of myself. I’ve been through a lot and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I know now that it’s not really about what other people think–it's about what I think. We go through battles in life and I have my battle scars. I want to be proud of them. I want to try to not be upset with what’s happened to me, but use it to better myself. When I can do this, it boosts my confidence in the end.

E: When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's in sixth grade, I started taking prednisone. If you look at my fifth and sixth grade pictures, I don’t even look like the same person because I gained so much weight. At the time, my mom—who also has Crohn’s disease—suggested I do a presentation in front of the class to explain my Crohn’s to my classmates. It was kind of cool because afterward, people remembered the presentation and were interested to learn more. So it was kind of neat to open the door for conversation.

K: That’s really interesting. Since I’ve been in college, I’m a lot more open about it. You worry about people not liking you because you have a disease. But you find that people don’t mind and that they’re generally interested in it.

E: I've also realized that a lot of people I talk to know someone who has it, so it’s kind of nice because they know what’s going on and you don’t have to explain it.

K: I hadn’t met anyone else living with Crohn’s disease until last year. I’d lived with Crohn’s for 11 years and didn’t know that other people knew about it. I think there’s a lot more awareness now than when I first was diagnosed.

E: Yeah, and I’ve always said if someone doesn’t want to be your friend based on how you look, you probably don’t want them to be your friend.

K: Right. Friendship is definitely not based on looks. Sharing my Crohn’s with people and knowing they accept me feels really good. I know a lot of people who like me just the way I am.

Improving outlook through fashion

E: After everything I’ve been through with Crohn’s, the way I look doesn’t seem as important. I think as long as you like the way you look and you’re happy with yourself, that’s all that matters. When I was younger, I had a shirt that had “Hakuna Matata” on it – that was kind of my motto. “No worries.” I still pick clothes because I like the color or because they have something funny printed on them. I’m just not that into fashion. My favorite shirt happens to be one that’s highlighter-yellow. It’s fun, I like the color and it makes me kind of stick out, which I’m fine with. It’s nice and bright. I wear it a lot.

K: I wouldn't say I'm trendy, but I love lots of colors, too – I like to be bright and creative and happy with my clothing. I really like finding things in different places. Sometimes I just like to look around the mall and see if I can come up with ideas for the clothes I already have. I’m all for mixing and matching. Right now, I have a favorite pair of boots that pretty much match everything.

E: I'd say, normally, I dress based on two things–so I don’t look like a mess and so I can be comfortable. But when I have a flare-up , these priorities switch places and my interest is in comfort. When you’re in a flare, you want to wear the most comfortable stuff you have. Sometimes I’ll wear my pajama bottoms so there’s not so much pressure on my stomach. At that point, I don’t care what I look like. My stomach hurts and that’s all that matters.

K: Sometimes when I’m not feeling well, I’ll definitely just lie in my sweatpants and T-shirt. Generally though, I don’t want people to think I’m ill. I love clothes and even when I’m sick, I’ll wear the same pants I normally do and just wear a belt so they stay up. I keep the same clothes, just change the way I look in them. But I really try not to change my style based on how I’m feeling. For me, if I can continue dressing as usual, it lifts my spirits. Looking good helps me feel a little better.

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