Any form of surgery can have a lasting effect on self-esteem, so how can we go about reclaiming our inner sexuality after surgery?
Many of us will have at least one form of surgery throughout the course of our lives. It’s estimated that 55,000 hysterectomies are performed in the UK each year, meaning that 1 in 5 of us will have one at some point. Some other surgeries we, as women, may come across in our lives are C-sections and mastectomies, all of which can wreak havoc on the body image of even the most strong-willed women.
So, why do these surgeries have such an effect on us, mentally? There’s an awful lot of pressure on women to be overtly feminine, and many of us associate fertility, our reproductive organs and our overall body shape with our femininity. For many, losing the ability to get pregnant or the change to our shape that a mastectomy brings can really play on our minds and give way to some less than helpful thoughts.
When recovering from surgery, it’s important to give yourself time to heal and adjust to these changes, inside and out. Try to remind yourself that physical changes will not alter the kind of person you are. You are still the same, glorious woman you’ve always been!
Common Surgeries in Women
There are so many types of surgery that, as women, we may encounter in our lives. “Keyhole” surgery (laparoscopy) is used where possible, as well as for diagnostic purposes, and sometimes we may require full, open surgery. In either case, there is scarring left behind that can lead us to feel more self conscious of our bodies, thanks to the media’s near constant portrayal of the “ideal” female body. Some of the more common surgeries are detailed below:
- Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus, and can include the cervix and one or both of the ovaries. This is used in severe cases of endometriosis or other menstruation-related issues, or other illnesses that affect the reproductive system. Another body part associated with femininity and (unsurprisingly) fertility, this can have a huge effect on both body image and self-esteem. Remember that fertility does not make a woman, and you are as much a woman after surgery as you were before.
- C-Section: Surgical intervention to ensure a safe birth for both mother and baby. Either planned or emergency, it is major surgery and leaves behind a large scar along the lower abdomen, or vertically in some cases. The scar is usually the biggest issue to new mums, as well as the recovery taking up to 6 weeks. If you find yourself upset with your scar, it can be useful to remind yourself of how it meant safety and life for you and your baby.
- Mastectomy: The removal of one or both breasts, usually due to a diagnosis or risk of breast cancer. Many women are offered, or choose to have, plastic surgery to reconstruct the breast shape, which then means more surgery and another change to your body. Many women consider their breasts to be part of what makes them feminine, or gives them their womanly shape, but do try to remember the most beautiful parts of yourself come from your mind and your heart, not your boobs!
Even the smallest of surgical scars can pose a body positivity problem, as we tend to associate them with imperfections. What we need to remember is that the surgery was necessary for our health (or that of our baby) and our bodies have done amazing things. Focus on the tremendous strength you possess.
I consider myself lucky that the only surgery I've had in my lifetime (apart from wisdom tooth extraction) is a hysterectomy at the age of 59. I was one of those women for whom oestrogen kept on being produced. My ovaries just didn’t want to quit, and yet I had a condition called adenomyosis. This meant that I’d had very heavy and painful periods for many years. The first treatment was to try a Mirena coil, and then an endometrial ablation.
Fortunately, my hysterectomy was done via keyhole surgery (laparoscopy), so I didn’t have much scarring to contend with. The main thing I found was that it kickstarted the menopause for me. I suddenly had to contend with the usual symptoms of dry skin and hair which had a mild effect on my body image.
My wonderful friend Pam* shares her experience of surgery: “My first major surgery was a myomectomy that was going to help me have my longed for child so the scarring was part of that journey, as was the caesarean. I have joked that my stomach looks like a hot cross bun!”
She later had a hysterectomy, which was much harder to recover from: “The hysterectomy was probably hardest as that was the end of any more potential children and my body and emotions never coped well with the hormone replacement.” Along with this, Pam also found a “lack of libido” following the surgery. Though she has always struggled with her body image in the past, and therefore surgery didn’t affect it much, she did say that it only reinforced her belief in those negative thoughts.
One thing I’ve always kept in mind, especially when working on my own self-esteem, is to focus on the positives. Positive affirmations, as I’ll go into a bit more detail further on, are a brilliant way of reminding yourself just how many good points there are about you. Tell yourself you’re beautiful, kind-hearted, intelligent etc. You’ll soon believe it!
* Name has been changed to protect identity
Tips on Regaining your Self-Esteem (Be Kinder to Yourself)
Recovery times can vary, as can symptoms, so if you’re worried about your recovery, please contact your GP or surgeon in any instance.
After surgery and the standard recovery period, it’s completely normal to feel a bit lost. You’ve got new scars. You could be missing parts in one way or another. Make sure to give yourself time to heal mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. Many of us can feel less confident, or even attractive to partners, whether existing or new, due to these changes to our bodies, but do remember that our partners are attracted to (and love) us for the multifaceted wonders that we are! There is so much more to you than your body.
So, how can you make sure you are being kind to yourself, while building your confidence? These are my favourite tips:
- Reframe your thoughts: Turn a negative to a positive. I’ve mentioned this before in our Impostor Syndrome blog, as it’s such a great tool in your confidence kit. For example, instead of thinking “That scar is awful,” try “That scar saved my life.”
- Positive Affirmations: Say something nice to yourself. Every day, out loud, in front of a mirror. Then up it to two things, then three, then as many as you can think of! This great video by Molly Forbes details its power perfectly. You could also put sticky notes on your mirror as little reminders. I personally love this one - I used to give this advice to my psychosexual therapy clients. It really does work!
- Embrace yourself as a whole: Remember you are more than your appearance. You are kind, loving, strong (feel free to add even more). This wonderful article about mastectomy is well worth a read.
- Talk to your partner/friends/family: Tell them about your feelings, hopes and fears. The more people that know about what you’re going through, the less likely you are to have to deal with it alone. You may even inspire someone else to speak up and work through their own struggle.
- Choose comfortable clothing: This is particularly important for recovery, but also applies to your life as a whole. Make sure your clothes fit comfortably, including your underwear. That’s not to say you have to compromise on style. Why not use this as an excuse to treat yourself to something you’ve always wanted?
- Nurture your mind and body: Ensure you keep gently active, as this can help you to recover more quickly. For those days when you can’t face much physical activity, keep your brain active with a puzzle book or app.
- Practice self-care: Take time out for yourself, and just yourself. No schedule or agenda, just a dedicated period of time for you to relax. This could be whatever helps you unwind most - meditation, a bath, a day out somewhere peaceful, a massage, a purchase you’ve had your eye on, or even a nice cup of your favourite tea. There are no wrong answers here.
Caring for Scars
Scars are a given after any form of surgery. They are proof of your body’s healing, though some may seem unsightly. There are many ways in which we can reduce the appearance of scars, from specific lotions and ointments, oils and makeup, to speaking to your GP about more intense measures.
It is always important that you use a high factor sunscreen on your scars, as the skin is much more sensitive. Also, it’s helpful to choose comfortable clothing that won’t irritate your scars. A friend of mine loved our beautiful anti-chafing shorts when recovering from her C-section, as the waist sits high up enough not to irritate and they’re just so soft!
Scars are visual reminders of the strength it has taken to overcome whatever it was that led to the surgery. In the spirit of reframing thoughts, try to focus on the positives of the surgery itself - did it solve a medical issue? - rather than the scar’s appearance. In many cases, those “imperfections” are a reminder of life-saving intervention, often drastically improving your quality of life in the long run.
How Beautiful Lingerie Can Help
Your choice of underwear can have a huge impact on your mood and confidence. Choose something that is comfortable, doesn’t squish or constrict, and looks beautiful, and you’ll feel amazing. Embracing your sexuality while in ultimate comfort becomes possible with our marvellous lingerie shorts. What’s more empowering than sexy, luxury underwear that will work for you (with premium materials to ensure your comfort) as well as look incredible?
The higher cut means they sit just above the belly button, so no rubbing on tender incision sites following standard C-section or keyhole surgeries. No VPL means it’ll feel like a secret only you (and whoever you may choose to share it with) know about. Our unique satin thigh panels banish chafing thighs, which are only exacerbated by hot flushes (which may increase in frequency after a hysterectomy). And our premium stretch lace will ensure you are completely comfortable with no rolling up or down as you move.
Knowing you’re dressed in gorgeous, luxury lingerie can also help you to find your sex drive again. When you’re ready to get back in the saddle, so to speak, what better way to show your partner that you’re ready than treating yourself to exquisite lingerie?
Ladies, it’s Time to Reclaim your Inner Sexuality
Surgery can bring up all kinds of thoughts about what it means to be a woman, body image and self-esteem. Try to remember that you are the same woman you were before your surgery, and use the points above to pave your way back to her. Remember how strong you must be to have overcome these challenges, and reawaken your inner Goddess. She’s in there, I promise.
Have you found that surgery has altered your self-perception? What did you do that helped the most? Let me know in the comments or use our contact form to get in touch.