Summer is not just the season for rising temperatures, family vacations and getting roped into buying lemonade from a little kid’s lemonade stand. Summer can serve as an unwelcome catalyst for body image insecurities and anxiety.
Most people have probably heard someone else in their life talking about getting swimsuit-ready or working out to achieve their summer bodies. The idea that a person needs to change their body in order to wear less clothing — a swimsuit, short shorts, tank tops — is not only potentially triggering to people who are currently battling an eating disorder, but it also perpetuates the idea that only certain bodies can be swimsuit bodies.
Cultivating an environment where body shaming is not tolerated or accepted is essential, especially during the summer months, when people of all ages focus on achieving the “perfect” summer body or getting swimsuit ready. Even though it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that only certain shapes and sizes can wear swimsuits or stereotypical summer clothes, all bodies are swimsuit bodies. Nobody needs to alter, change or conceal their natural shape simply because it is summertime.
As social creatures, we look to each other and our surroundings to determine our opinions and actions. The instinct to compare and contrast what we are seeing in the world and apply it to ourselves is a double-edged sword. Comparison culture affected me severely when I began using apps like Instagram and Facebook. I constantly found myself waiting to find a body type that looked like mine and never seeing it. I began to hate my body because I thought it was atypical and strange.
But now that I realize 91% of women report being unhappy with their bodies, I can see that I am not the only one who felt disconnected from my body and disappointed with how it looked. Even though most women already feel discontent with their bodies, negative body image increases as summer comes into full swing, according to anad.org.
“Advertising for the summer season has, over the years begun to promote an unrealistic and unhealthy standard for women to achieve the perfect bikini body, which is represented as being very tan, thin and toned,” Kristen Fuller wrote in an article on anad.org.
The beauty standards that we possess today are not only demoralizing, they are unattainable. Although many would chalk up body discomfort to someone not having enough self discipline in order to get the body of their dreams, the unattainability of the bodies we see everyday says otherwise. Only 5% of women naturally have the body type that today’s standards consider acceptable, so even being in the best shape of your life likely won’t be enough.
These expectations affect not only women but also men of all shapes and sizes. A vast majority of high school- and middle school-aged boys — about 90% — exercise with the goal of bulking up. The desire to workout, not necessarily to be healthy but to change your body, depicts how men struggle with body image too.
Male body image issues relate back to the way men are portrayed in the media as well. Lack of diverse body representation coupled with summer’s rising temperatures means that many feel uncomfortable in their skin, despite summer’s implied promises of relaxation and a natural tan.
Rather than fostering unrealistic expectations for bodies, people should begin to shift their expectations — not only for others but also for themselves.
Instead of telling yourself that you need to lose 5 pounds or tone your abs before you can wear a swimsuit, it is important to engage in body positive talk. Body positive talk involves focusing on what you like about your body. You can also acknowledge your body’s abilities without focusing on areas you want to improve — like telling yourself that it’s strong and capable enough to allow you to do what you need everyday.
Although simply saying “go out and buy a bikini” or “love yourself” is easier said than done, some things we can do to boost our body image during the trying summer months are to use positive phrasing about ourselves as much as possible and work to reject the body-shaming trend.
Rejecting the body shaming trend for me meant looking beyond my appearance. I needed to appreciate who I was first before I could begin to accept the body that encased me. I began to focus on my hardworking attitude, organizational skills and loyalty to my family and friends instead of my hips, thighs and belly.
Everytime I looked in the mirror and felt ashamed, I made a point to remind myself that my body is what got me through the day. My body allowed me to study, talk to my family, walk in the City, sit with friends and explore new places.
Despite working on being body positive for almost three years, I will have moments when I’m jumping and my body jiggles or I’m sitting and my thighs spread across the chair and I feel embarrassed. Instead of accepting these reactions, I tell myself that who I am is not predicated on what I look like, and then I remind myself of all that my jiggly body and thick thighs allow me to do.
Buying those shorts you always wanted but didn’t think you would look good in or that bikini you think you’re too big for won’t come easy, but this summer, we all should begin to open ourselves up to the fact that any person can wear what they want when they want.