Coping With Body Image & PCOS
- Miss Universe Nepal Jane Dipika Garrett has found personal “validation” and a positive outlook despite the criticism she has faced as a pageant contestant with a hormone disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, occurs when a woman’s ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than usual, which causes cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to grow on the ovaries, according to Medline Plus.
- “Body image is both the mental picture that you have of your body and the way you feel about your body when you look in a mirror,” Dr. Marianna Strongin, a New York-based licensed clinical psychologist, tells SurvivorNet.
- “As you allow yourself to spend more time looking at all of you, you will begin having a new relationship with your body,” Strongin suggests.
- Positive psychology is a different approach to mental well-being that focuses on a person’s strengths rather than illness & standard treatment. This approach can be really helpful for people living with illnesses like cancer or even PCOS.
The 23-year-old represented Nepal in Miss Universe 2023 pageant in San Salvador, El Salvador, on November 18th, as the first plus-size Miss Universe contestant, where she placed among the Top 20. We’re happy to see the American-Nepalese beauty pageant title holder thriving and maintaining confidence through adversity, something she opened up about in a recent interview.
Read MoreView this post on Instagram
However, Garrett has not always been showered with praise.
She explained to the news outlet, “I see things like, ‘Oh, she’s a whale,’ or ‘That’s disgusting. I’m going to vomit.’ Or like, ‘She’s promoting obesity.’ ‘Why don’t you go to the gym?’ And things like that. And it’s like they don’t even know my story. They don’t even know what I’m going through.”
Referring to her ongoing struggle with PCOS, Garrett contributed her body size to the lifelong health condition she’s been dealt with.
“So it’s very easy for us to gain weight. Even if we just look at a piece of cake, we can gain weight,” Garrett said. “[The haters are] just judging me from social media. And that’s their problem. I don’t let it bother me… Society can be very cruel. People can be very cruel sometimes.”
View this post on Instagram
Garrett explained, “Recently, I’ve gained a lot of weight because of my hormonal issues. And that’s also really taken a toll on my mental health and my self-esteem because I thought that I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t beautiful enough.
“But I really had to get the validation for myself and learn how to have a positive mindset and to love myself despite not feeling my best self. It’s about being confident in your own skin and accepting who you are, where you are at.
“So I had to really remove all of those messages that were coming from society as well as coming from my own mind,” she continued. “So I had to really brainwash myself again and accept who I am and love myself.”
Garrett noted that she copes with the “mood swings,” “fatigue” and “brain fog” which is bought on by PCOS, through a “low-stress lifestyle.”
“I try to have a very low-stress lifestyle. I try to meditate, I do affirmations, I work on my mental health, I work, I eat healthy, I eat a pretty balanced diet. That is what works for me,” she told Fox News Digital.
“You don’t have to do something like what a celebrity does or that a model does to be considered beautiful. I think that what’s most important for you, whatever suits you, is what is beautiful for you. And then I think that’s so important to just embrace who you are and love who you are and not try to fit into what society says is beautiful.”
View this post on Instagram
Garrett, who also plans to create a “curvy” clothing line for women, also stressed the importance of “balance.”
“I think that there should be a balance. Body positivity for me basically stands for whatever body that you’re in,” she said. ”
You accept it, you love yourself, you are embracing what you are, but you’re also going towards a healthy lifestyle.”
Learning About PCOS
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, occurs when a woman’s ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than usual, which causes cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to grow on the ovaries, according to Medline Plus.
Symptoms of PCOS can vary but may include:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Pelvic pain
- Excess hair growth on places like the face, chest, stomach and/or thighs
- Weight gain
- Oily skin or acne
- Thickening of the skin in patches
There is currently no curative treatment for PCOS, but things like diet, exercise and medicines can help control symptoms.
According to Medline Plus, women with PCOS are at higher risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Many people also wonder if PCOS can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “PCOS increases the risk of some types of cancer. For instance, some research has shown that risk of cancer of the endometrium, the inside lining of the uterus, may be higher for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) than it is for women without PCOS. Irregular periods, or a lack of periods, can cause the endometrium to build up and become thick. This thickening can lead to endometrial cancer.
“Data on links between breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and PCOS are limited. While some small studies have suggested that a lack of ovulation, as occurs with PCOS, is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, other studies have not shown an association.”
The NIH adds, “While some research has shown more than a doubling of the risk of ovarian cancer in women with PCOS, scientists have not confirmed these links in large population studies, and further studies hint that women with PCOS may have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. Therefore, any associations between breast or ovarian cancers and PCOS remain inconclusive.”
Self-Acceptance and Body Image
Body image problems are not unusual, especially for so many people dealing with health challenges – whether that’s PCOS or cancer.
And it’s important you try to work on how you view your body because it can positively impact your emotional and physical well-being as a whole.
“Every day of our lives is really filled with uncertainty,” but those facing a cancer diagnosis tend to feel that uncertainty at a more extreme level, Dr. William Breitbart, the chair of the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
Dr. Breitbart also said that learning to embrace that uncertainty is a part of living, and not just for those fighting cancer, but for everyone.
“What the task becomes is having the courage to live in the face of uncertainty, realizing that you cannot necessarily control the uncertainty in life, the suffering that occurs, challenges both good and bad,” Dr. Breitbart says.
“You may not be able to control those but you have control over how you choose to respond.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Marianna Strongin, a New York-based licensed clinical psychologist, also has some helpful advice. She encourages people that spending time in front of the mirror can help with body image.
Although “research has found that when looking in the mirror we are more likely to focus on the parts of our body we are dissatisfied with” which can cause “a negative self-view and lower self-esteem,” it’s important to look at the parts of your body that you love and the parts of your body that you don’t.
Eventually, Dr. Strongin says, doing so can help you create a more accepting relationship with yourself.
“Body image is both the mental picture that you have of your body and the way you feel about your body when you look in a mirror,” she said. “As you allow yourself to spend more time looking at all of you, you will begin having a new relationship with your body.”
Whether you are living with PCOS or not, it’s important to know you’re not alone if you’re having a hard time with how you view your body after receiving a diagnosis or going through treatment.
Learning About Positive Psychology
Another way to cope with body image and mental health is through positive psychology, an approach to mental well-being that focuses more on a person’s strengths and how they can help themselves rather than just trying to curb individual symptoms and/or diagnose a disorder.
“It is a fundamental sort of different way of thinking about patients, thinking about their experience,” Dr. Samantha Boardman, a New York-based psychiatrist and author, told SurvivorNet. “It’s not just focusing on what’s the matter. It’s also asking them, what matters to you?”
Dr. Boardman noted that positive psychology is a reimagined approach to dealing with mental struggles. “Making people feel less bad is not the same as making them feel good,” she said, referring to how this new approach encourages people to try to find happiness rather than just try to stop sadness.
This approach can be a major benefit to people who are dealing with an illness like cancer because it focuses on finding those great parts of life.
“Positive emotions have unique benefits above and beyond managing negative emotions,” Dr. Boardman explained.
“Sometimes you can treat a patient and get rid of some of their symptoms, and it’s not necessarily then that you find a flourishing patient, you might even get an empty patient. So, really tapping into those resources, where do they find positive emotions? What provides a sense of engagement for them? How can you promote positive relationships?”
Getting a cancer diagnosis or dealing with a health issue like PSOC can be incredibly stressful. It’s completely normal to feel anxious, scared, sad, and so much more. It’s important to remember it’s a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
One way to get your mental health back in check after a diagnosis is to try to play up your strengths, Dr. Boardman, previously told SurvivorNet.
“I sometimes will ask patients, tell me about yourself when you were at your best,” she explained. “Using that story, trying to figure out what strengths come to mind. Is it patience? Is it appreciation of beauty? It is perseverance? [Then we can] use those strengths in constructive ways to navigate their cancer journey.
Dr. Boardman says another way to approach harnessing the strength you already have is by tapping into your values. This could be family, close friendships, spirituality, or commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
Reminding yourself of what your values are and how you are living accordingly is another way to unleash that inner strength.
Lastly, patients shouldn’t underestimate the value of simply opening up, Dr. Boardman says. This could mean speaking to a close family member or friend, or it could mean seeking support in other ways by finding a therapist that meets your needs or looking into joining a support group.
Having negative feelings throughout your cancer journey is to be expected, however, doctors will tell you that people who find a way to work through the emotions and stay positive tend to have better outcomes.
“A positive attitude is really important,” says Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patients are going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest, even with bad, bad disease. And those are patients who, they have gratitude in life.”
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you are struggling with body image and mental health, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- Are there interventions beyond medication for my depressed or anxious feelings?
- How can I go about finding and nourishing positive emotions?
- What can I do if I’m struggling to maintain a sense of positivity?
- What lifestyle factors can I adjust to feel better mentally?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff