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Body Image Perceptions of Women Veterans With Military Sexual Trauma

In a recent study, researchers were invited to a transitional home for homeless women veterans to help veterans with body image issues.

Convenience sampling was used to recruit 12 veterans who perceived they had a physical difference due to military service. Data were obtained in focus groups where the veterans were invited to share stories. Ricoeur's hermeneutic phenomenology guided the study. The research team learned early in the data collection stage that 11 of the 12 participants suffered military sexual trauma (MST). Three structures emerged in the data: (a) to speak up or not to speak, (b) from military pride to shameful anguish, and (c) invisible scars versus visible scars. A phenomenological interpretation of these invisible scars uncovered that viewing self in a mirror was depicted as viewing a stranger. Being with others, including family, was described as wearing a fake face. The phrase I am broken defined intimate relationships which were non-existent or strained. Shame permeated all body image structures. As the veterans listened to each other, they began to see themes in their stories. There was a shared sense of identity and a movement toward greater self-understanding and resolving. In addition to the recommendations the participants had regarding prevention of MST and recovery care of those with MST, implications for research and practice are provided.



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