Summer is a season that many love for its warm weather, long sunny days, slower pace, and relaxing vibes. However, the feelings of joy and carefreeness that summer brings are often also accompanied by feelings of anxiety, depressed mood, dread, self-criticism and shame over our body. Body image is the way we view our bodies, as well as how we perceive others to view our bodies. Summer is a trigger for anyone who struggles with body image, but it can be a challenging time for even those who are more confident about their bodies. This is partially due to an increase in body-focused headlines and advertisements during the summer season. These ads promote unrealistic and unhealthy standards for achieving the ‘perfect beach body’ that is tan, thin, and toned. Sometimes these messages come from family or friends who have their own dysmorphic ideas around healthy bodies. Because we hear these messages on repeat during the summer months, many people, regardless of age or gender, experience body dissatisfaction, which is one of the biggest risk factors for eating disorders. So how can we maintain a positive body image this summer when the negative thoughts begin to take over?
First, let’s identify some of the triggers for body dissatisfaction during the summer months:
Lack of structure– We often find ourselves with more free time during the summer, which can be nice and relaxing. However, the lack of structure can disrupt our routines, leading to an increase in emotional dysregulation and unhealthy behaviors. It is more common to skip meals or over exercise when you are not on your normal routine. More free time also gives us the opportunity to overthink how we look and get stuck in negative, spiraling thought patterns.
Greater social obligations– More free time allows for more social events and vacations with friends and family, which can increase stress. Stress can trigger negative thought patterns and unhealthy habits, especially for those who struggle with eating disorders and body image. We sometimes take stress out on our bodies.
You aren’t as covered- It’s harder to hide our bodies under lots of clothing during the hot summer months. Wearing shorts and bathing suits make many people feel vulnerable and insecure, especially when they can readily compare themselves to others around them also showing more skin.
Social media- When the weather is warm, we consistently see people in bathing suits or less clothing on our social media feeds. This is an instant invitation to start comparing and critiquing ourselves. We don’t stop to consider the fact that many of these posts are posed, edited, or filtered.
Here are some tips to help you maintain a positive body image:
Identify negative self talk- Body image is deeply ingrained in our minds from a young age, making it difficult to break free from distorted thoughts about ourselves. Try to pay attention to the comments you make about your body and how those make you feel. Challenge yourself to ban negative comments for a day or a week. Separate feeling bad from feeling unattractive. Sometimes, when we feel distressed, we allow it to take the form of negative thoughts about our bodies. This is often the beginning of anxious or depressed moods – our thoughts are within our control and we can stop this in its tracks by changing these negative thoughts.
Engage in body positive talk- Once you identify those negative statements, replace them with more realistic, positive ones. For example, turn the negative thought “Everyone will judge how I look in my swimsuit” into “People aren’t looking at me; they’re enjoying their own day.” Engaging in regular body positive talk will take time and practice. Consider writing out body positive statements and placing them around your home to serve as reminders.
Limit mirror time- Many of us repeatedly spend long periods of time in front of the mirror, focusing on the parts of ourselves that we don’t like and looking for evidence to confirm our negative thoughts about them. This only magnifies our flaws. Don’t avoid the mirror, but use it in a functional way, like to see if your clothes match. When looking in the mirror, focus on your body as a whole, instead of on the parts you don’t like.
Listen to your body- Shift your attention from the outside- how you look, to the inside- how you feel. Remember that your body is a living, breathing being that communicates with you. Practice intuitive eating and movement. Choose foods that feel good for your body without judgement and listen to the type of movement your body needs, rather than listening to what others say our bodies should be doing.
Practice self-compassion- Would you speak about a friend’s body the way you speak of yours? Be kind toward yourself. Engaging in self-care is a great practical way to do so. Working on self-acceptance and seeing ourselves on a journey through life, rather than as our anxious or depressed thoughts about one snapshot in time is very helpful.
Express gratitude toward your body- Focus on what your body can do, rather than how it looks. When we get caught up in what’s ‘wrong’ with our bodies, we take what they do for us on a daily basis for granted. Practice writing down things you are grateful to your body for in a journal and really feeling the appreciation.
Limit social media- As we mentioned earlier, social media is a trigger for body dissatisfaction. If you find that scrolling through social media tends to leave you with negative thoughts about yourself, set limits on your usage and take breaks.
Sometimes the societal messages we receive about body image, combined with our negative thoughts about ourselves can be too much, leading to body dysmorphic disorder or eating disorders. Eating disorders are more common than you might expect. Around 8 million people in the United States struggle with an eating disorder. The good news is that up to 80% of people who seek proper treatment will see significant improvement. Our therapist, Kathleen Fetter, LCMHC-S, specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. If you are struggling with body image issues and would like more individualized help, contact us or call us at 704-664-1009 to schedule with Kathleen! At Miracles, we want you to know that you have a beautiful body that was designed to carry you through life!