One area in which make-up has a vital role to play is the formation of a ‘self-concept’. The perception you have of yourself and how you consequently present yourself. It can play its role in how you define your personal identity. In the 1900s, along with fashion, had its part to play in the changing and developing roles of women as they stretched their proverbial legs and expressed their individuality.
So, vanity or not, make-up and the way we present ourselves is a powerful aspect of our appearance because it is something we can choose. So with that in mind, whether we have experienced it or not, we can all appreciate how important that modicum of control must become when something happens to your body that is well beyond our say. Like cancer, and the treatment that may go with it.
“From the diagnosis and through treatments, the body and its fragility are at the forefront of the illness, visibly impacted by feebleness, alopecia, changes in weight, mutilations, edema, paleness, nausea, vomiting, taste changes and loss of energy. These physical changes highlight a changed and suffering body, and one the individual feels is no longer recognisable as their own,” says Morag Currin, International Director & Educator at Oncology Training International.
It’s a sentiment reiterated by Dorothy Russell who visited Rockliffe Hall on Spabreaks.com’s Recovery Retreats, spa breaks for anyone who has or is recovering from cancer. “My body looked and felt strange, and I ceased to feel like a woman. My body seemed not to be my own but simply something that had things done to it which were consistently unpleasant and painful.”
This feeling of loss when it comes to personal identity is one that arises again and again with cancer. It is often forgotten in the trauma of treating the illness, but to consider it is a vital part of treating the whole person. It is something that support charity Look Good Feel Better works tirelessly to address, providing make-up and skincare workshops for anyone with cancer. It’s also where wider aspects of wellbeing such as complementary therapies and spa treatments play an important and often underestimated role.
Body image and self perception is something that has an impact on all of us, irrespective of illness. Morag comments in her article in Skin Inc Magazine that “researchers agree that body image is defined as the mental representation related to what one thinks and feels about one’s own body.” That can also translate to what we think about ourselves, which is invariably not an awful lot, which is a shame.
Body dysmorphia and a negative self image are common problems during and after cancer, escalated by the disease and its treatment ,whether that results in hair loss, weight loss, physical scars, skin pigmentation and sensitivity during treatment or simply being depleted of all resources. “What is most important is the way an individual experiences and perceives herself, and the feelings that accompany such experiences,” she says.
So the result of all of this is that, of course, the area that you can control to some degree, your make-up, your clothing, your skincare, takes on a significant role. While our body is busy telling itself and the world around it that it’s struggling, the choices that we have about how we present it is the thing that may have a small but significant impact on our psychological health during a hard time.
All easily said, but not only may you not feel like throwing on the lippy when you have a course of chemo around the corner, but to add insult to injury, the sensitivity of skin during cancer treatment can be prohibitive for using a lot of skincare and make-up products.
This is where charities like Look Good Feel Better and educational bodies like TpoT (The Power of Touch), are making a big difference. Product lines such as Jennifer Young’s pioneering Beauty Despite Cancer line (which is used in treatments by the spa at Ragdale Hall) are vital, and an understanding of what Morag terms Oncology Esthetics is becoming an evermore important part of not simply treating the illness, but treating the person. “To give patients a time and place to focus and cope with all those problems on a daily basis, even if they are not strictly medical, and of a more psychological, social or practical nature.”
What may seem like comparatively insignificant side effects when you talk about them, compared to cancer itself and everything that goes with it (painfully dry skin, brittle nails, changing skin pigment, and chronic itching to name a few) are salt in the proverbial wound at a difficult time. It’s what none of us see unless we happen to go through it ourselves or with a loved one.
However, it’s these things that make a big impact on how we manage our day to day and the quality of life that we’re living in the moment. As Dr. Mackereth, Clinical Lead at the NHS Christie Foundation, pointed out concerning the role of complementary therapies on cancer patients, how we feel can impact our recovery rates thanks to the hormonal impact of positive emotions.
Heart warmingly, and to illustrate the point, Jennifer Young of Beauty Despite Cancer told us about one of her clients who benefitted from her products designed for sensitive skin during cancer treatment. “This particular lady had taken up golf again after her breast cancer and radiation treatment and was struggling because her bras were too uncomfortable and she couldn’t play without her bra on. She tried our itchy skin oil (which is top of the list for patients) and within days she was back in her pre treatment bras.”
Meanwhile, Dorothy back at Rockliffe Hall summed it all up perfectly. Spa treatments, pampering, and skincare gave her time to be herself again: “I could be the old me, the me who could enjoy the pleasures of a beautiful hotel and beauty treatments, the me who was like everyone else.”
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