As the weather gets warmer and people are encouraged to “shed their layers” many folks report feeling anxious or distressed with the idea of showing more skin or generally thinking more about their bodies. And it’s no wonder with summer as one of diet culture’s favorite times of year to push its “bikini body” meal and exercise regimes and convince everyone they need to work for “hot girl summer.”
We recently posted a Tik Tok (shameless plug to follow @drcolleenreichmann on Tik Tok if you’re on the app) about holding space for those experiencing increased body image distress and many users resonated with the message, commenting the feelings seem to increase in intensity in the summer months. Our body image, the perceptions of our body, is rooted in thought and fluctuates on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis and can be triggered by a variety of things such as stress and other external pressures. And those pressures seem to be amplified once May and June roll around. In reality, body image is nuanced, and ever-changing. If you find yourself struggling, here are some tips to improve your body image and enjoy the summer days ahead:
1. Wear Clothes That Fit
Your clothes are supposed to fit you, we’re not supposed to change ourselves to fit our clothes or feel guilty and ashamed if they don’t fit. Don’t be afraid to size up. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means that’s where your body is at the moment – no moral judgement about it. You won’t feel comfortable or confident walking around in jean shorts that may “fit” and be your “ideal size” but the button is digging into your tummy all day and the back is riding up (trust me, I’ve been there). At that point your discomfort is a constant reminder to remain hyper-focused on how you look. If you wear clothes that you feel comfortable in you allow yourself to be present in the moment and feel confident!
I also recognize that buying new clothes is a practice tied with lots of financial and thin privilege. If you’re not in the position financially to purchase clothes that better fit your body check out thrift shops in your area or offer to do a clothing swap with similar-sized friends. Additionally, if you are not “straight-sized” and typically shop online for clothing that is unavailable in stores, check out some of the fat positive social media accounts of people like Katie Sturino or Anna O’Brien who try on clothing hauls and recommend inclusive sizing and brands for summer staples from sundresses to bathing suits.
2. Shut Down Summer Diet Talk
Once summer hits it can sometimes feel like the people around you forget how to be dynamic individuals and instead resort to endlessly talking about their latest fad diet. This diet talk can not only be frustrating to be around, but may find you wondering if your own body is in need of a “fix.” Here are some pointers for how to shut down any diet talk from friends, family or colleagues:
- Change the subject – “That actually reminds me of this funny TV show I heard about the other day…”
- Pivot – “It’s so great to see you and spend time with you and I feel like we have so many other better things to talk about than diets. Have you read any good books lately?”
- Be Honest – “I’m actually committed to working on my relationship with food and body by giving up dieting and instead listening to my own body and eating and moving in ways that feel good to me. The diet talk isn’t really something I want to engage in anymore.”
- Educational – “I’ve been learning more about intuitive eating and health at every size as a way to take care of myself and would love to share more about that if you’re interested.”
- Simply walk away! You don’t have to stay and listen.
3. Remember You Are More Than A Body
Although summer can often feel like an intense focus on your body, in the months ahead try reminding yourself you are so much more than your body, and how it looks in a bathing suit. You don’t want to waste the months of sunshine and spending time with others by being overly-focused on how you look.
You are late night ice cream runs with your niece and nephew. You are finding seashells on the beach with your siblings. You are doubled over laughing at the park picnic with your friends. You are discussing your latest summer beach read with your book club. You are so much more than your body.
You can be strong and feel solid and proud of how far you’ve come in your body image work and still struggle some days. I’m sending you so much compassion now, and in the months ahead. And I am also here to remind you every body is a swimsuit body – wear whatever YOU want to!
By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image