As the temperatures rise across the US, so can the chance that a person will feel uncomfortable at the prospect of wearing less clothing. Even after a year of quarantine and lockdown, the media still foregrounds the concept of a “beach body” and puts pressure on both adults and adolescents to lose weight. In the guise of promoting health, the pressure put on consumers by the media, weight loss, and other industries actually promote negativity about people’s bodies. Summertime shouldn’t be something to fear – and neither should one’s body, regardless of societal expectations.
However, while it’s normal to battle with body image in adolescence, parents and loved ones should keep a close eye on teens as the summer begins to heat up. Summertime can be a challenging time for most people but when an adolescent has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, the summer months can seem like a constant challenge. The lack of structure during summer break can quickly result in disrupted routines and the pressure to maintain an idealized and unattainable body can also be extremely difficult to navigate—increasing the chances that teens will result in negative coping habits. Additionally, summer clothing is more revealing and can easily result in negative self-talk and body discomfort.
Helpful Tips for Positive Body Image This Summer
- Express Body Gratitude
Whenever one feels negative about their body, it’s a good idea to stop and focus on all that their body is capable of. By taking a timeout to pay respect to one’s body for everything it can accomplish each day, instead of how it looks, it’s much easier to view the body in a positive and appreciative light. Turning thoughts away from negative criticism to instead focus on the joys that the body gives us is a simple and quick way to be mindful of all the good things in life. Many eating disorder treatment centers are focusing more and more on the HAES (healthy at every size) philosophy, which understands that every body is a miracle – and that people should feel joy in the body they have, not despair about that body they think they want.
- Focus on Self-Care, Not Making Changes
Unfortunately, individuals can’t make their bodies fit in with every social ideal of the “perfect” body shape. Rather than focusing all of one’s time and energy on fitting some narrow definition of “health” or “beauty,” adolescents especially should be focusing on getting the most out of their summer vacation. Whether they are interested in sports, want to earn money at a summer job, or are preparing for the school year ahead—the more time that is made to focus on caring for one’s body instead of criticizing it, the better.
- Consume Media with a Critical Eye
From Facebook to Instagram and their favorite television shows, people are constantly inundated with images of a “perfect” lifestyle that is totally unachievable. During the summer especially, it’s common for the body image to take big hits each day with contact advertisements aimed at attaining a “summer body.” To combat this near-constant assault, it’s important for at-risk people and their families to become more critical viewers of the media. So, you should take the time to exclude messages or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself from their daily media consumption. Simply unfollow, block, and report images or accounts that may be misleading or promoting a negative body image.
- Surround Yourself with Body Positivity
Once you have removed negative influences from your feed, it’s a good idea to fill the void with body positive accounts that will inspire them to enjoy the summer months. Alternatively, you can shift your focus away from social media altogether and spend more time with family and friends IRL. Try joining a summer book club that focuses on mindfulness and body kindness or check out a local hiking meetup that explores the great outdoors.
- Practice Self-Compassion and Self-Love
Navigating body image in adolescence has never been an easy process. But with a positive mental attitude and a reliable support system at home, it’s much easier to let go of some of the pressures that the summer months put on people to achieve an ideal body shape. If you find yourself criticizing their bodies, take the time to notice what’s happening and followup those feelings with a statement based on self-compassion and self-love. One great way to achieve this is to speak to your self as if you are giving advice to a friend.
- Avoid Criticizing Your Body
For people with body dysmorphic disorder, a common contributing cause for eating disorders, their self-perception is distorted and/or unreasonably negative. Perceived flaws or imperfections, which seem much more prominent than they really are, can become triggers for disordered eating behavior, low self-esteem, and social isolation. For people struggling to feel positive about the way they look, self-criticism is constant and can be debilitating. For these reasons, you should be mindful of any judgments you’re making about your body, weight, and appearance. Many eating disorder treatment programs include mindfulness exercises for just this reason. If you notice you are thinking harshly about flaws or weight, take a deep breath and simply put the criticisms aside. It’s not easy, but it saves lots of time and grief in the long run. You can also make an effort to highlight things you do like about your appearance. It will go a long way towards building an automatic, body-positive mindset.
- Make Sure You Don’t Criticize Other Peoples’ Bodies, Either
Criticizing one’s own body is part and parcel of having a negative body image. Everyone tends to nitpick about their appearance or aspects of their body that they don’t like, but distorted body image is almost always a part of eating disorders. This is often exacerbated by the possibility of wearing more revealing clothes in the spring and summer, for sure, but it happens year-round. As common as self-criticism is, it can be possible to overlook that other kinds of criticism can have a negative effect on self-image as well. When you criticize others for their appearance or weight, you normalize the concept that people should be thin or otherwise have an “ideal” body. This makes it easier to reinforce weight anxiety and the disordered eating behaviors that come with it. So, when you’re out and about when the temperature starts to rise, take the time to celebrate body diversity and avoid criticizing anyone – yourself or others.
- Avoid Comparing Your Current Self to Your Past Self
This tip is especially geared toward people who have become recovered from an eating or exercise disorder, but it’s a useful tip for everyone. As people age, or experience changes in their personal style, or especially gain or lose weight, their body changes. It’s perfectly natural to desire to compare the body’s appearance over these eras, but it’s also counterproductive. As an example of this kind of comparison, it’s a regular occurrence for people who’ve recovered from an eating disorder to post “before” and “after” pictures on their social media accounts. This highlights how much weight they’ve gained since stopping disordered eating behaviors – it is certainly an accomplishment, but this practice also sets a precedent for making body judgments. It can romanticize the person’s disordered past in the eyes of others, as well. It’s just as counterproductive to compare your 40-year old body and appearance to that which you had at age 18, – it just provokes negative comparisons that might worsen a case of body dysmorphia.
Body Image Is Important Year-Round
Although the presence of the media’s body image messaging is heightened around the springtime and summer, body image is a 365-days-a-year concern. These tips are useful for the added strain warmer months, certainly, but they can be used at any time of the year. If you or your loved one takes anything away from this article, it should be that positivity, self-care, and mindfulness are essential to repairing negative body image. However, as useful as these tips can be, body dysmorphic disorder and associated eating disorders are often serious mental health conditions that require specialized care and treatment. Although following this guide can help you keep your body image more positive, if it’s getting out of control, it’s wisest to seek treatment sooner rather than later. Eating disorder treatment professionals are experienced in dealing with body image issues as well as disordered eating behaviors – so don’t hesitate to reach out.