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How PCOS affects body image and self-esteem

Polycystic ovarian syndrome causes a lot many internal and external changes in the body of a woman. These could lead to low self-esteem.

Ameesha Singh, a 27-year-old, suffers from PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a hormonal disorder that may cause multiple physical and physiological changes to the body. Not only does she have to battle excess body hair and weight management, but also increased visibility of acne. These unprecedented changes in her 20s have ended up denting Ameesha with body image issues that have impacted her self-esteem.

Self-esteem is about a person’s overall sense of self-worth. It simply means how much you respect your own self. A person with low self-esteem has various issues in personal or professional life. It also means that you are overly critical towards yourself and focus more on your shortcomings or flaws. You must understand the link between PCOS and self-esteem to be able to manage your mind and body better.

What is polycystic ovarian syndrome?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is associated with a range of symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, excess androgen levels, and polycystic ovaries. These physical symptoms often lead to psychological challenges, including low self-esteem, says obstetrician and gynecologist Dr Sandhna Singhal.

PCOS and self-esteem
Get to know the link between PCOS and self-esteem!

PCOS and self-esteem: Understanding the link

Here’s an overview of some of the issues associated with PCOS that can impact self-esteem and hoq to manage it:

1. Weight gain and difficulty losing weight


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Women with PCOS often struggle with weight gain and find it difficult to lose weight due to insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances. This can lead to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and poor body image.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Society often places a high value on thinness, and those who do not conform to these ideals may experience body dissatisfaction and low self-worth.
Weight gain can also lead to negative comments or social stigma, further eroding self-esteem.

2. Hirsutism (excessive hair growth)


Hirsutism involves the growth of coarse hair on areas of the body where men typically grow hair, such as the face, chest, and back. This is due to elevated androgen levels.

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Impact on low self-esteem:

Visible excess hair can be embarrassing and lead to self-consciousness, particularly in social situations. Women with hirsutism may feel less feminine or attractive, affecting their confidence and self-image.

3. Acne and skin problems


Hormonal imbalances in PCOS can cause persistent acne, oily skin, and other dermatological issues.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Acne and skin problems can be distressing and contribute to negative self-perception. Women may avoid social interactions or feel anxious about their appearance, leading to social withdrawal and isolation.

4. Hair thinning and alopecia


Some women with PCOS experience thinning hair or male-pattern baldness, which can be caused by high androgen levels.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Hair loss can significantly affect self-esteem, as hair is often associated with femininity and attractiveness. This may lead to feelings of embarrassment and a desire to hide the condition, further impacting social interactions.

5. Menstrual irregularities


PCOS often causes irregular, infrequent, or absent menstrual periods.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Irregular periods can be a constant reminder of the condition, leading to anxiety and stress. Concerns about fertility and the ability to conceive can also contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.

PCOS and self-esteem
PCOS can lead to period irregularities that can trigger stress and anxiety and thus low self-esteem. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

6. Fertility issues


PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility due to ovulatory dysfunction.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Struggling with infertility can lead to feelings of failure, depression, and anxiety.
The societal expectation of motherhood can exacerbate these feelings, causing significant emotional distress.

Also read: PCOS and pregnancy: Is it possible to get pregnant post 30?

7. Psychological and emotional challenges


Women with PCOS are more prone to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, due to hormonal imbalances and the stress of managing the condition.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Mental health issues can directly impact self-esteem, making it harder to cope with the physical symptoms of PCOS. The emotional burden can lead to a negative self-image and a diminished sense of self-worth.

8. Social and relationship challenges


The physical symptoms and emotional toll of PCOS can affect social interactions and relationships.

Impact on low self-esteem:

Fear of judgment or rejection may lead women to withdraw from social activities, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation. Relationship challenges, especially related to intimacy and fertility, can further impact self-esteem.

Managing low self-esteem with PCOS

Here are some ways you can manage low self-esteem with PCOS:

1. Medical management

• Consult a healthcare professional: A doctor or endocrinologist can help manage the physical symptoms of PCOS with medication and lifestyle recommendations.
• Medication: Birth control pills, anti-androgens, and other medications can help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce androgen levels, and manage symptoms like acne and hirsutism.
• Metformin: This is often prescribed by doctors to improve insulin resistance and help with weight management.

2. Lifestyle changes

• Diet and exercise: A balanced diet and regular physical activity can help manage weight and improve overall health. Consider consulting a nutritionist specialising in PCOS.
• Stress management: Practices like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can help manage stress and improve mental health.

3. Psychological Support

• Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or counselling can help address body image issues, depression, and anxiety.
• Support groups: Connecting with others who have PCOS can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.
• Self-education: Understanding PCOS and its impact on your body can empower you to take control of your health and make informed decisions.

4. Building self-esteem

• Positive self-talk: Practice affirmations and challenge negative thoughts about your appearance and self-worth.
• Set realistic goals: Focus on achievable health and wellness goals rather than unrealistic ideals.
• Engage in activities you enjoy: Pursuing hobbies and interests can enhance your sense of self and well-being.

5. Building a positive self-image

• Focus on strengths and accomplishments rather than physical appearance.
• Practice positive self-talk and affirmations to combat negative thoughts.
• Engage in activities and hobbies that promote a sense of achievement and enjoyment.

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