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This Is What a 'Beach Body' Looks Like if You Have a Chronic Illness

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A few years ago, I had surgery that left me with five scars on my abdomen. Usually, I’m a bikini kind of gal, but with five visible scars, the first time I hit the pool I wasn’t feeling too confident.

Unfortunately, the full piece I packed to wear that day rubbed uncomfortably against my still healing skin. So my options, being I had only packed two swimsuits, were to wear a bikini or skip the pool. I chose to go swimming, but, ashamed of my incisions, I covered each one with a skin-colored band-aid. I looked ridiculous, like the five side of a die. Not only that, but I was uncomfortable, and certainly didn’t enjoy my time at the pool.

Since then, I’ve gone to the beach without any Band-Aids, but it’s hard loving your “beach body” — the term used by publications the second it gets warm to show off people in bathing suits — when you rarely see anyone with scars.

Taking a photo in a bikini is a big deal for me so I’m memorializing it on Instagram.

A post shared by Jordan Davidson (@jord_d) on

Whether you have scars, a feeding tube or are photosensitive and can’t go outside, you should be able to enjoy your summer without feeling like you don’t belong doing traditional warm weather activities. No two “beach bodies” are going to look the same, but it’s about time diverse displays of swimsuits and beach bodies include those of us living with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

We asked The Mighty’s community to send us their summer selfies and show us what summertime looks like when you live with a chronic illness or disability. Here are their photos. 

1.  photo of woman wearing a bikini with scars from a mastectomy

“This was my first trip to a public beach since my bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. Do I hide my scars and flat chest? Or wear my favorite bathing suit? I chose to let the scars show and enjoy my day.” — Stephanie K.


“I have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, two blood disorders (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)) and several other chronic conditions. I am photosensitive so I’m not supposed to be in the sun, but I needed a weekend of normalcy with my cousins. I risked it and have since been extremely sick. But hey, I had a great time.” — Nicole E.


“I have degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, osteophytes, fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain syndrome, myofacial pain syndrome and radiculopathy in my arms and legs. I’ve had two lumbar back surgeries, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic fatigue and the list goes on. It’s hard but I do what I can when my body allows me to. My son bought a hot tub to help with the pain and I use it most days, it’s the only time I get relief.” — Melissa M.


“Chiari malformation and syringomyelia. Body is gone, and all I can do is lounge. I used to go to the gym five times a week, now 2,000 steps a day literally exhausts me.” — Kerry E.


“Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Chiari malformation sometimes make the summer unpleasant. This was my first time at the beach in a year-and-a-half. I was decompressed in April of 2016. Unfortunately, my heat intolerance is worse now. I’ve gained a lot of weight and have scars from gallbladder removal, so I tend to keep my belly covered. I struggle with fatigue and neck pain. I was with my mom, who doesn’t know how to use my camera.” — Megan M.


“Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCAD) and hypermobility. Summer means lots more flares for both my POTS and MCAD because of heat and being outside. My service-dog-in-training has made a huge change in my life and even though we are nowhere near done with her training, I am so thankful to have her with me this summer.” — Em M.


“No sun for me. I have lupus and am photosensitive (and heat-sensitive). My pants and shirt both protect against the sun as does my hat that’s not in the photo. My meds make me more prone to skin cancer and more sensitive to the sun, so I always go out protected.” — Janet B.


I have fibromyalgia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), severe depression, chronic migraine, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and panic disorder. I’m six years in remission from anorexia… I try to remember beauty is internal. Interior beauty out lasts exterior beauty, which is merely perception-based anyway.” — Jessica V. 


“This is me with the doctor who saved my life. She was the only one who recognized my signs and symptoms as a deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary (DVT/PE). I now have numerous side effects from that event that kept me in a hospital for over two months. I would not be alive today if it was not for her.” — Maria B.


“Six weeks post-op my second open surgery for median arcuate ligament syndrome (MALS)!” — Angela M.


close-up of a glittery torso and a long scar

“I have gastroparesis, diverticular disease, and undiagnosed problems with my digestive system. But last year, me and my scar went to a festival and I only covered it up once — with glitter! Never afraid to discuss my multiple scars (have a lot of keyhole “lumps”), and I find it makes other people feel more comfortable to approach me than if I didn’t have them. Maybe it makes me look frail or somehow more human. I don’t ever see it as weakness, it is a strength. Scars fascinate me and always have. I sometimes prank people and say I was a stunt double. The reality was a burst stomach ulcer aged 26 that nearly killed me. Got to find the humor in life!” — Victoria J.

Photo of a woman by a lake wearing a bikini

“Totally awkward because I’m shy as I have a pituitary benign brain tumor. My immune system is crap, my IGA and IGG are low resulting in a blood transfusion very soon, underlying cause we’re still looking, my hair is falling out (tape-ins covering, LOL) my energy is none even with weekly vitamin b shots. Major headaches, chronic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), anemic and think that sums it up. The only thing I do is work out daily because it’s the only thing in my body I can control. Not gonna lie, I’d love bigger boobs and a flat stomach, but I’ve had five surgeries laparoscopically and three kids. But we are our own toughest critic, or am I anyway, but there you go.” — Stacie F.


“My illness is invisible (Crohn’s disease), but some of my struggles are not. My beach body includes lots of stretch marks from steroid weight gain, flare-ups and weight loss. It’s taken almost a decade to finally be comfortable and confident with the way my body has changed due to chronic illness.” — Heather C.


“Summer means black glasses all the time or no seeing for me!
chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), fibromyalgia, functional neurological disorder (FND), visual impairment, chronic migraine and chronic pain.” — Erika D.


Me and my beautiful boy enjoying a lovely day at the beach. I have ME, fibromyalgia, hypermobility syndrome (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) and hypothyroidism.” — Angela W.


“Fibromyalgia, endometriosis, constantly fighting my own body. Steroids make me gain weight, nausea makes me not eat, joint pain constantly. Keep the smile on and keep fighting.” — Melissa H.


“Fibromyalgia and chronic back pain… weight loss is a huge struggle when you’re in pain all the time. I went out for my birthday yesterday and I am dearly paying for it, but it’s my birthday and I deserve some fun!” — Amber Y.


“I have dysautonomia, migraines and fibromyalgia, so the hot and bright summer sun isn’t always my friend. No worries, I make my own shade and then I’m ready for fun! ” — Alia G.


“Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Chiari malformation, POTS, supraventricular tachycardia and other smaller conditions. Sorry for not smiling in this photo, this is a rare photo of me with no sunglasses on. The summer is brutal to my eyes and skin. I am very photophobic and usually have my sunglasses on religiously to prevent migraines. I am also not outside much.” — Shelby J.


“These are just some of my scars. I have chronic Lyme disease, lupus, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraines, etc. I used to wear a bikini, but I got this swimsuit specifically because of my scars. People stare but I try to ignore it. I don’t get to swim much. This was on my 17th birthday.” — JJ H.


“This was my summer beach selfie from last summer. Just a month after brain surgery that should have cured my illness. I have Cushing’s disease and pituitary hyperplasia. Notice that I’m wearing a shirt over my bikini? I was pointed and laughed at by young girls (10 to 12 year olds) and their mother on this same beach when I took it off to get in the water. Purple stretch marks line my belly, thighs and upper arms like colorful zebra stripes, while my belly sticks out like that of a pregnant woman’s. The purple scars on my belly from surgeries stick out from the scar tissue and my body taking its time to heal. My round “moon” face and the buffalo hump on my back — these are all signs of my struggle. If only people knew about my illness before they judged me for how I look. You’d never know I was this sick from the photo, right? You’d also never have guessed that I had brain surgery just one month before this photo was taken.” — Hanna R.


“After being diagnosed with endometriosis at 22…now at age 32. I felt so uncomfortable on vacation but did this photo shoot to remind myself that through the storm there is sun. It’s hard to feel beautiful when you are creeping up on your hyster-versary. My life has changed so much in the past few years.” — Allison M.


“Happy in a bikini showing my zipper scar! I have two congenital heart defects and spherocytosis. Used to hate all my scars but have accepted they’re just another part of me.” — Emily L.


Lupus, avascular necrosis, asthma, Raynaud’s syndrome, nephritis, vertigo, orthostatic hypotension. The treatment of my lupus has caused weight gain and put me in a wheelchair over the past year (due to subsequent avascular necrosis from chronic prednisone). Both hips collapsed, and I’ve since had bilateral hip replacements at age 33. I’ve been left with some pretty big scars to each leg. Even so, despite weight gain and scars, I’m choosing to be an example of determination and strength for my daughter.” — Erica M.


“These are my legs on a sunny pool day. I have lipedema, a fat disorder that causes my legs and arms to retain fat disproportionately and the fat isn’t normal fat. It’s painful, it bruises easily, it’s lumpy and makes my legs and arms look terrible. I also have fibromyalgia, endometriosis and asthma, which all make exercising difficult for me. I have reached the point where I’ve accepted it, and if a person doesn’t, I don’t need them in my life anyway.” — Teri B.


“I have IBS and migraines. Since I first got sick about five years ago my body has changed so much. I have lost a bunch a weight and then gained it all back and lost it again. I’m am not very happy with my body, but I’m working on learning to love it no matter what. This is a picture of me from a cruise I just took to celebrate my graduation. Even though I was dealing with horrible stomach pain at the time, I didn’t want to miss out on this amazing opportunity. I have missed so much because of my chronic pain, I was not going to miss out on this.” — Hanna F.


“Sarcodosis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, lupus, vitamin deficiencies and epilepsy just to name a few. They don’t stop my beach time. Even though it wears me down, I still try to go because I love the water.” — Kendra W.

Originally published: July 7, 2017
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