Body Image Issues among Individuals
with HIV and AIDS
Individuals with HIV and AIDS encounter many body image problems. The most common are the visible manifestations of HIV on the skin, loss of weight, and treatment side effects. However, there are also less visible problems related to media representations of HIV and the way it is transmitted. These representations are likely to affect the way one feels about one's body and may lead to perceptions of the body as "at-risk," "contaminated," or "dangerous." Body image issues usually begin with the HIV test, which people take because they fear that they have put their body at risk in some way. They probably look and feel healthy and may have no physical symptoms of HIV or AIDS. However, they are aware that their body's boundaries have been potentially breached, perhaps through unsafe sex or needle usage. A second context in which people go for HIV tests is when physical symptoms arise and a doctor is concerned that immune system depletion is responsible. In this case it is likely that the body has been infected with HIV for a while. The first context is more likely to occur in the Western world; the second context is more likely in countries such as Africa.
This chapter focuses on the issues applicable for people living in the Western world. These issues are discussed chronologically, dealing first with changed social and personal attitudes toward the body stemming from the impact of the HIV test, followed by discussion of the physical signs and symptoms that increasingly emerge with the progression from HIV to AIDS.