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Figure with a bunch of pink marks and asterisk marks on their body clutching a green check mark close to their chest.

The Impact of RA on Self-Esteem

A few months ago, I read an article on Huff Post Parents that really got me thinking. The article was called “Why I Want My Sons to See Me Naked.” The author – a mother of four young boys – discussed how she thought it was important to let her sons see what a real female body looks like, rather than having their first exposure to the naked female form be airbrushed and perfect. Not only did she want to teach her sons to be confident about their own bodies, she wanted to let them know that “real is beautiful when it comes to the opposite sex.”

How does my body image affect my children?

This article struck a chord with me. For some reason, it was the first time I had really considered how my own body image might affect my sons. In the back of my mind I had always known that if I were to have a daughter I would have to be careful not to let my body image affect her – but why should this be any different with my boys? As the mother in the article rightly said, “Instilling a positive body image is not an issue reserved for people with daughters.” How true!

How does my body image affect my children?

However, after realizing that my own body image may actually have an impact on my sons, I was also alerted to the extra challenges that I face as a mom living with rheumatoid arthritis. While the mom in the article was thinking about how she reacted to her stretch marks and a little extra flab, I started thinking about the physical changes that life with chronic illness places on my body.

What role does RA play in body image?

Visible RA symptoms and medication side effects

Unfortunately, living with RA – and many other chronic illnesses – can often cause physical changes to your body. I may not be sporting any twisted joints or surgery scars (yet), but I do sometimes have visibly swollen joints.Mariah moon face I’ve also had to deal with physical side effects from medications. Methotrexate has made my hair fall out. Prednisone has helped me gain weight I didn’t want as well as covering my body in bruises. And when I am on prednisone long-term I also end up with the dreaded “moon face.”

Psychological impact of physical changes

Physical changes in your body can often have a psychological impact, decreasing confidence and self-esteem. Coping with these physical changes can leave you feeling less attractive and less comfortable in your own body, which can then take a toll on your mood and your relationships. I have experienced all these issues myself. And now, as a mother of two small boys, I have also started wondering what impact my own body image may have on my children. Because I do think it will affect them, I am doing everything I can to try to keep my self-esteem strong!

Coping with the physical changes of RA

If you are struggling to cope with the physical changes brought by life with arthritis, here are some things that might help:

Try to accept your arthritis. While arthritis may change the way you look or move, it is important to remember that it doesn’t change who you are as a person. It is natural to have feelings of anger, resentment, or grief, and accepting those feelings is the first step towards working through them. If you can replace those negative feelings with a realistic acceptance of how your body has changed it can help improve your self-esteem.

Take care of yourself! While it can be really hard to find the energy when you aren’t feeling well, taking the time and energy to look your best may actually help you feel better in the end. This will mean different things to different people, but the goal is the same: to feel good about yourself. Consider a new haircut or new clothes in a flattering color. Or pampering yourself at a salon or spa. If you make it a daily goal to look your best it really should help boost your confidence – and will also have a positive effect on those around you.

Include your family. If arthritis is affecting your body image, it can also add anxiety and guilt to your relationships. This can have a negative impact on your sex life and serve as a less than ideal role model for your kids. Talking honestly to your family about how your arthritis makes you feel will be vital to improving your relationships. Here are some tips for talking to your partner about intimacy. And while I will always strive to present a positive body image to my kids, especially while they are still so young, I think there will also come a time when I will explain to my kids that sometimes my body makes me sad. Being proactive in addressing negative feelings will hopefully help my family accept the changes arthritis will bring to all our lives. In our family we like to think of my arthritis not as my personal problem but rather as an opportunity for all of us to work together.

Seek additional help. There’s no shame in asking for help. Keeping your self-esteem strong is really not easy, particularly all on your own. If you are really struggling with this issue, it is important to seek additional help. If family and friends are not enough, you may want to consider talking to a therapist to help you sort through these difficult emotions.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Carla Kienast
    5 years ago

    Hi Mariah: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you in person and know what a beautiful person you are. True, neither of our bodies (nor do most women over 27) meet the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model definition of “beautiful”. Comparisons of any kind (looks, money, intelligence) against the .5% that American society considers “ideal” can lead to the esteem issues you describe. You’ve done a wonderful job of putting things in perspective and giving us all some real-life tools to combat those esteem issues. Thanks for a great article.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks, Carla! Hope you are well!

  • Ava
    5 years ago

    Thanks for this article Kellie as it really hit home for me…I have really been struggling lately with body issues…I was diagnosed with RA in 2003, so its not new to me, but lately I have seen a dramatic change in my body, or maybe its because I just had Lasik and Im (able) to actually see what my body really looks like lol… Its like the old saying 10 steps forward and 20 back… I try to swim at least 2/3 x weekly, I also have Fibromyalgia an dealing with daily knee pain at this time…But being on Prednisone for over 7 months has taken a tole on my body.. I have gained over 25 pounds and also have the moon face…My body image to myself is very bad..I have been depressed, maybe I just didn’t see it before because I was just too blind, I don’t know…nothing I seem to do helps..My relationship with my spouse is strained, not due to him, but my self esteem…Im embarrassed, we have been married for over 30 years, so you would think that would not be a issue, but it is…I have worked so hard and get no where, very, very frustrating…I do have anger, and I isolate myself a lot… Im afraid to make any plans for fear, I may not be able to make them that particular day…so its best not to make any…I have always been the strong one.. Problem is I live in a 2 story home with a basement… My laundry room being in the basement, so all of it has stairs.. When you have bilateral knee pain, its never ending, up and down.. You learn to save your trips, but Im at the point where we are thinking about needing a new home… Sad we built this home over 15 years ago, and we love it here.. just not functional.. I can’t take care of it anymore, and that in itself is depressing…makes you feel less of a person also…I just can’t do it anymore.. We also live on a 1 1/2 I use to take care of that also, but not anymore….so what do you do?? move… its my only choice….sad…I guess with this disease it forces you to make certain sacrifices whether you want to or not…My self-esteem….gone, thanks for posting.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi Ava~
    I certainly understand struggling with body issues. It’s great that you are able to swim! I try to swim twice a week myself. It sounds like you are really going through a lot and I think it is important to remember that it is just as important to take care of our emotional health as it is to take care of our physical health. Maybe you should consider talking with a therapist? That has helped me in the past! Hang in there and please remember that we are here to support you.

  • Kellie
    5 years ago

    Great article. My body image is awful now. The steroids aren’t very weight friendly, although I would still like to kiss the person that made them possible! I have an adult son and a 14 year old daughter. I am trying to not let my feelings about all my fat to affect her. It doesn’t always work. My body changed so much and I am 25 pounds or more overweight ( if I use the highest end).

    Maybe we should cut ourselves some slack. There are months on end in flares. Good luck getting out of bed, much less actually doing something healthy. I really want both my kids to know that looks aren’t the only thing. In fact, should be way below other character traits.

    Hope it works!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi Kellie~
    I totally understand the love/hate relationship with steroids. I feel the same way. I do think you are right that we should cut ourselves some slack when we can! I hope it works too! Hang in there!

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