Q & A: How might weight loss surgery affect body image?

Jun 14, 2021 | Tara Schmidt, Mayo Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist | @taraschmidt

Written by Sarah Kalsy, M.A., L.P.. Sarah is a clinical psychologist who works with patients before and after weight loss surgeries. 

Body image is our internal image of how we believe our body looks and our level of satisfaction with this image.  Body image consists of how we feel in our own skin, and it is not necessarily an accurate representation of our actual appearance.  For example, some people may perceive themselves to be bigger/heavier than they are whereas others view their body as smaller/lighter than their actual weight.

Unfortunately, in our country, most women, and many men have negative body image.  So it is not surprising there can be a wide variety of body image experiences with weight loss after bariatric surgery.  Rapid weight loss can be overwhelming, and some individuals experience a delay in recognizing their weight loss in the mirror.  Others may feel they are finally in the body they always perceived.  Some individuals feel more confident in their appearance, whereas others are distressed by excess skin, wrinkles, or hair loss related to weight loss. Comments from others about changes in your appearance can affect how you see yourself.  Some might become uncomfortable with receiving unwanted attention for their new body shape and size.

It is important to have realistic expectations for your body image after having bariatric surgery.  Weight loss following bariatric surgery might positively impact your body image, but there is no guarantee that weight loss will lead to improved feelings about your body.  In a culture where many people have negative body image, it may be helpful to focus on the improved health/function that your body experiences with weight loss and also balance your attention on valued and appreciated aspects of your appearance.  Research has also shown that physical activity can improve body image, so this is another benefit of being physically active after having bariatric surgery.  Be kind to yourself, and if you are struggling with body image issues, discuss this with one of your health care providers.

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