BY: Katherine Schaumberg, PhD
DATE: 7 August 2017
Summer brings three months of sun, sandals, popsicles, bright colors, and warmed-up swimming holes. Also on tap: a wardrobe change to fit the season.
For many people, these changes can heighten concerns about body image, as wearing clothes that function well for the summer activities can mean showing more skin. At the same time, magazines and social media drum up the idea of the “summer bod,” somehow suggesting that one’s body must be different (read: smaller) for the next several months in order to truly enjoy the season. This increased focus and attention on one’s body can feel particularly challenging for individuals who have an eating disorder and those in recovery.
While the environment around us may be offering up many reasons to increase scrutiny related to our bodies, there are several strategies that may help make the most of your summer regardless of how you feel about your body at any particular moment. If you have found yourself struggling with your body image this summer, consider giving these strategies a try and see what works for you:
- Take a social media break. If you are feeling overwhelmed with images and appearance-focused content on social media, give yourself some time to unplug. This can mean taking a break for an afternoon, but it may also mean spending a longer period of time away from certain websites or content.
- Make a summer capsule wardrobe. Find a set of weather and activity-appropriate clothes that fit your body as it is now and allow you to feel comfortable. Push those clothes to the front of your closet. Pack away your winter clothes; donate clothes that are out of style or that do not fit.
- Seek comfort, but allow space for challenge. If there is an activity that requires you to wear something that makes you uncomfortable (like going to the beach), see if there are workable solutions that allow you to participate fully and even enjoy yourself. At the same time, consider trying to be in the moment in an activity even if body image insecurity comes up during the experience.
Imagine this scenario: a friend has just asked you to go to the lake with her this weekend. You have never been before and it seems like a really great time. A few of your other friends are also going, and you haven’t seen them much this summer. You are getting excited, but then realize that you will need to wear a swimsuit. Your heart sinks and you start to dread the trip. As it approaches, you think “I’ll just be miserable the whole time. I’m not going to go.” At this point, you have a few options. If you choose not to go or not to swim, you may indeed feel more comfortable in the moment. At the same time, you would also be giving up time with your friends and the chance to have a new and exciting experience. Consider whether it might be possible to go to the lake, to wear a swimsuit even if it means that difficult thoughts and feelings might arise, and to allow thoughts and feelings about your body image to come up as they will. As difficult thoughts and feelings arise, could you notice them and gently direct your attention back to other parts of the experience – the parts of spending time at the lake that are the reasons why you decided to go?
- Thank your body for what it does for you or allows you to do. Appreciate the functions that your body does for you rather than how it looks. Pick three things about your body that you appreciate and write those down.
- Get outside. Summer allows us to get away from routine. Spend time outside, focus on the beauty in the natural world, and try something new! Even if the above challenges are too difficult for your stage of recovery, this one has the ability to refresh and renew your relationship with nature.