Skip to Content

Two Exercises to Bolster Body Image & Self-Image Post Cancer Diagnosis

I am fascinated by the topic of body image and self-image and shared some thoughts on both in Part 1. Cancer or no cancer, it’s a topic many women, and men as well, struggle with. I will be writing more on this topic because let’s face it, breast cancer does a real number on a woman’s body. How can the way a woman feels about her body and herself in general not be dramatically impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment? If you’re a man who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer reading this, I’d love to know your thoughts too.

How did you feel about your body before cancer?

Since cancer, has your view of your physical self gone downhill?

I’m guessing many of you are nodding yes.

What about your self-image?

Has that taken a hit too, or have you managed to keep that pretty much in tact?

In all honesty, my body image, or the way I feel about my physical self, has plummeted for a whole host of reasons. My self-image I would say is somewhat damaged, but still in pretty good shape, so I guess in that respect I’m lucky.

So how does a woman (or a man) go about rediscovering, reclaiming and retaining a positive body image and self-image post cancer diagnosis?

First of all, allow yourself to grieve for the old you. This does not mean you are ungrateful or stuck in the past. Don’t apologize for missing the old you. Don’t wallow, but don’t deny. Grieving is part of moving forward. And yes, sometimes you will take one step forward and then two steps back. That’s okay.

Next I’d like to share two easy exercises that might help with restoring/reclaiming a positive body image and self-image.

#1  – Practice looking at your bare-naked self in the mirror (definitely feel free to lock the door or better yet, wait til no one’s home) for one minute a day, and then two, and then three and work your way up to five (or however many you can manage) minutes. If need be, start with 30 seconds because a minute can feel like a long time when you’re doing this exercise. Trust me. I tired it, so I know. You must look at yourself only with eyes of self-love, self-compassion and appreciation for the body you have right now, just as it is. No negative thoughts are allowed. And yes, you must keep your eyes open the whole time! You are also to say something kind/positive (this is one time I am promoting forced positivity!) about a specific physical feature that you have. Everyone can find something. Keep doing this for a week, or two, or more. Longer is better. Making it a daily habit, better yet. You can repeat the positive attributes you come up with which is helpful if you don’t feel you have much to choose from.

#2 – Each day, write down in a notebook or in a planner something you like about yourself, something you’ve accomplished, something you’re good at, just something totally unrelated to your appearance that makes you unique, special and worthy. And it doesn’t have to be anything “big”. This exercise is meant to build up your self-image and again be carried out for two weeks or longer. Again, daily is even better.

So what do you think? Helpful?

I plan to do them both (when I remember).

Why not join me?

Do have body image or self-image issues?

So you have tips to share on how to bolster up either?

Sign up for news from Nancy’s Point here.

Image via


Beth L. Gainer

Thursday 5th of March 2015

Hi Nancy,

These are great exercise ideas! I'm more apt to do option #2, probably because I could use some self confidence, and writing usually helps me in every way.

I totally get it. My body image plummeted after cancer and all the surgeries. I'm reminded daily about cancer and cannot view my scars as "battle scars" -- oh that awful metaphor. At least I no longer feel mutilated, like I did when I had three lumpectomies and my bilateral with reconstruction.

I guess that's progress, eh? My self-esteem has been pretty good overall. Of course, there are down times, but mostly, it's that whole body image thing.

Thank you for writing such an important post.


Friday 6th of March 2015

Beth, I'm more apt to do option #2 as well. I haven't actually had the patience or right frame of mind to do #1 more than once. Guess I have lots of work to do in this area. I'm glad you've made progress in how you feel about your body image and yes, some days are harder than others for all of us I'm sure. Thanks for reading and sharing.

Lisa Valentine

Thursday 5th of March 2015

The exercises you suggest are good ones Nancy. I can't just think my way into a better self-image and level of acceptance, I need concrete actions and that is what you offer. I am one of those women who didn't grow up feeling very confident in myself. My self-image was discouraging. My body image was maybe a little better thanks to some athletic success. But they both held me back, even into adulthood. Marriage and motherhood helped me in both areas. By the time I was diagnosed with BC, I definitely felt much better about myself, but I am one of those who took less of a hit to my body image and self-image because they had never really been my strong suits. In a way, getting through surgeries and chemo brought my body and soul more together than they had been before. I hope that makes sense. It's not everyone's story, but it is mine. Thanks!


Thursday 5th of March 2015

Lisa, Your story makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing. And I'm glad you like the exercise suggestions.


Tuesday 3rd of March 2015

hi nancy---this post came at the perfect time for me--thanks for sharing it. i wear my scars as a badge of honour somehow and i am not bothered by my loss of the breast, or by the thick scar that runs down my front from the 3 liver resections---- what does bother me is my lymphedema and my weight gain. and when i think about how marvelous my body is to have got me through so much hard stuff, it makes me sad that i am bothered my weight gain. yet we are a society who judges on appearance and what we see from the outside. and we cancer survivors are part of a world that judges us without knowing our story. these exercises sound great and i am looking forward to trying them thanks ! n


Wednesday 4th of March 2015

Nicola, I'm glad this post was timely for you. We do live in a society that judges based on appearance while at the same time, it proclaims not to. I'm glad you think the exercises sound great. Good luck trying them out and I hope they are helpful. Let me know how things go. Thank you for reading and sharing.

%d bloggers like this: