Although (Juvenile) Rheumatoid Arthritis causes internal pain and damage, it can also affect our bodies physically, which can in turn affect how we feel about our bodies as young women. Apart from causing us to limp and have to use braces, orthopaedic shoes, walking aids or wheelchairs, JRA can destroy joint tissue and affect the growth of our bones, especially when it affects young children whose bodies are still growing. Gaining muscle mass may be difficult when joints are painful and damaged. Scars remain where we’ve had replacements or joint surgery. In addition, medications can have side effects which are seen physically. Methotrexate is known to cause hair to fall out, while corticosteroids are infamous for causing rapid weight gain and a “moon face” and can lead to early osteoporosis in the long-term.
But you know what? JRA or no JRA, we deserve to be loved by ourselves. Do you agree?
JRA (and heavy usage of corticosteroids) has made me a super petite woman. My joints all look a bit wonky and creak-creak-creak like nobody’s business. Growing up, many people would make fun of my body, as I’m sure many of you reading this have experienced yourselves. It hurt and I cried many nights into my pillow over it, but you know what? I still liked my body. I liked my body because I knew for a fact that it was incredibly strong to withstand all that pain. My joints were sick and they were mine and I had to take care of them and love them, just as I took care of my Barbie dolls when their arms and legs broke off and I had to tape them back together. I knew my body was a little different, but it was okay. I was fighting bigger battles and I knew I had to stay focused and take care of myself. In learning to accept JRA into my life, I also learned to let go of other people’s negativity and my self-consciousness and to accept how it was affecting my body.
As I got older, my situation got better. I continued being myself and doing whatever I was passionate about. At college I joined clubs, I danced the nights away with friends and I enjoyed my classes. I was studying English at the time and I was always surprised when guys would lure me into discussions about Shakespeare, even if it was 3am and we were at a party. They respected my opinions, they liked my jokes and they liked me, tiny JRA body and all. They didn’t seem to notice my crooked joints and swollen fingers and super-creaky elbows. Even if they did, they never mentioned it – because in the big picture I realized those things didn’t matter.
I also realized that whether guys found me attractive or not wasn’t something I should worry about. Truly, the opinion which mattered the most was my own. If you love yourself you feel happy, comfortable and at peace and no one can take that away from you. If someone doesn’t find you attractive, so be it. If someone does find you attractive, it’s flattering but that shouldn’t be the validation you need to feel good about your body. Do you agree? Even if you think no one sees beauty in your body, I want you to see the beauty in your body. See the beauty in your body which has experienced hard times but is still trooping along.
You might think that the marks of (J)RA detract from your beauty, but you know what I see when I read through arthritis blogs? I see truly beautiful and strong women who are fighting for their dreams with the cards they’ve been dealt. Elizabeth of The Girl With Arthritis wrote this wonderful piece where she referred to all the physical marks of auto-immune arthritis as our “battle scars.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. When you have JRA you’re fighting a battle every day and sometimes the effects of that battle show on your body. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – if anything, your battle scars show what your body has endured. They are beautiful. So wear them proudly and with your head held high.
I know that when we turn on the television and look at magazines we see image after image of perfectly toned women with sculpted arms and legs – and healthy joints. We hear our friends obsessing about how they’ll have the perfect body once they keep working out. For us, it may seem like we never had a shot at that “perfect” body because of JRA. But you know what? Your body is perfect just the way it is at this very moment – because it’s yours.
Let’s love ourselves ladies. Our bodies are going through a lot – let’s be kind to them and love them, exactly the way they are.
Love your hands, love your joints, love your face even when you’re taking corticosteroids, love your uneven bones, love your hair even when you can’t brush it and love your scars. Love your reliable wheelchair which takes you everywhere you want to go. Love your unique personality, love your strength, love your talents and love your quirks. Before you go seeking love from other persons, first learn to love yourself. You deserve to be loved by yourself. Don’t you think so?
Loving ourselves takes time and is a process. There are still days when I look at my bones and joints and realize how physically fragile they are. It scares me but I try to love them anyway – because they deserve to be loved. If you don’t love yourself already, I want you to start trying. Start learning to love every single thing which makes you who you are.
As women with (J)RA, I think the most important “I love you” we’ll ever say in life is the one we say to ourselves.
So even if it takes time, let’s make sure we learn to say it. 😉
Wishing you all the best, pretty ladies 🙂