How Gender Affirmation Affects Body Image and Mental Health

CW: This article discusses topics of gender and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.


How gender affirmation benefits both cisgender and transgender people


Gender Affirmation is regarded as performing actions that represent the authentic version of ourselves. While commonly used to refer to transgender people, cisgender people also affirm their gender through acts like buying clothes, going to the gym or getting plastic surgery.


Presenting yourself exactly the way you want to be seen gives you the confidence to be true to yourself and disregard what society says you "should" be, and the ability to truly love yourself; how could you love yourself if you weren't being honest to who you are?


Transgender Affirmation


"Transgender" refers to someone who identifies as a gender different to the one assigned to them at birth. The etymology of the word comes from the Latin for "on the other side".


In an article by Esquire, actor Elliot Page, who announced he was transgender in 2020, discussed the euphoria he felt from transitioning:

" I know I look different to others, but to me I’m just starting to look like myself. It’s indescribable, because I’m just like, there I am."

Through his transition, Elliot became who he was always meant to be, affirming his gender and how much euphoria he experienced through doing that. He describes how he is euphoric just being himself and doing simple things:

"For me, euphoria is simply the act of waking up, making my coffee, and sitting down with a book and being able to read. I know that may sound strange, but I can’t stress enough the degree of discomfort and struggle that I was experiencing that got in the way of everything. How could it not?"

Clearly being able to affirm his gender in a way has helped his mental health and allowed him to be comfortable in his skin.


Access to gender-affirming surgery for transgender people is crucial, the suicide rate for transgender youths is extremely high, but can be decreased through access to gender-affirming surgery.


Children often emulate the gender they feel they are; a cisgender child will perform actions and dress like a stereotypical version of the gender they are. Transgender children attempt to affirm their gender through performing actions of the gender they know they are but weren't born as.


Cisgender Affirmation


"Cisgender" refers to someone who identifies as the gender assigned to them at birth. The etymology of the word comes from the Latin for "on this side".


Cisgender people have had access to gender-affirming healthcare for decades, from breast augmentation to Viagra. This provides benefits to the people who use them, by boosting their confidence and improving their mental and physical health.


George Takei commented on the discrepancies between the access afforded to cisgender people compared to transgender people:


"Haven’t cisgender folks been receiving “gender affirming” therapies and treatments for decades? Boob jobs, testosterone boosters, all okay for cis people, right?"

This isn't limited to healthcare, however, by performing actions and wearing clothes that reinforce the gender they wish to present cisgender people affirm their gender according to the standards set by society. This includes wearing makeup or certain clothes.


Actions aren't inherently gendered and someone who presents as a woman can participate in something "traditionally" masculine, and shouldn't be seen as less of a woman for doing so. However, if someone who presents as a man participates in something traditionally masculine in order to reinforce his masculinity, it shouldn't be taken away from him, but the action shouldn't be restricted to people who are masculine.


Summary


The way people view their bodies, and how other people view their bodies impact their body image and can lead to dysphoria or dysmorphia, which negatively impacts their mental health.


No one should be judged for any gender-affirming actions they perform. The only person who should be involved in someone's gender affirmation is the person themselves.


Having access to gender-affirming healthcare is essential for everyone who requires it, since it improves the mental and/or physical health of the recipient, and improves their quality of life.


In the end, it is best to just be supportive of people and not to take them down for how they present themselves and the things they do to feel better about their image. It's always best to be kind.