Beating the Beach Body Blues

By Julia Tehovnik, LPC

Summer is great, and summertime in Chicago is arguably the best season of the year in the city! The sunshine feels great after a long, grey winter and everyone seems to be excited to spend time outside. The summer weather and high temperatures mean it’s time for shorts, swimsuits, and tank tops, but for a lot of us it also means feeling insecure about our bodies in these clothes.

Every New Year’s Eve we hear people making resolutions to lose weight, and every spring we see articles advertising the best ways to get a “summer body.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, and healthy lifestyle changes are always encouraged! Articles and media promoting new ways to slim down quickly usually mean well by offering nutritious recipes, new workout routines, or general tips to improve your overall health. The good intentions are there, but there’s often a subtle undertone that can cause more harm than good.

It’s the idea that your “summer body” is different than your normal body. Not only that, but there’s pressure to make your “summer body” look better than your body does the rest of the year. Swimsuits and other seasonal clothing expose more skin and naturally show more body parts. Since other people can see more of your body, there’s pressure to make sure your body looks it’s best. Instead of wanting to look good so we feel good about ourselves, we’re striving to look better for the benefit of other people.

Societal pressure to look better in the summer can make us feel insecure, self-conscious, and often causes us to compare ourselves to other people we see outside or through social media. Suddenly we think we’re not fit enough, not thin enough, or not tan enough to wear a swimsuit in public. If negative thoughts like this persist, we may find ourselves feeling nervous about a trip to the beach with our friends, or dreading the moment someone suggests taking a picture. If left unchecked, negative body image can lead to more significant mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, or eating disorders.

Summer can be a difficult time for those who struggle with body image, but it can still be enjoyable. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re feeling stressed about how you look:

  1. Your body is your body regardless of what season it is. We each get one body in this life, and yours is uniquely and beautifully yours all year-round!

  2. Feeling comfortable leads to feeling confident. When you feel good, you look good! Don’t settle or pressure yourself into wearing clothing that feels too constricting, too loose, or just uncomfortable.

  3. You’re worth more than the “likes.” Social media is great for sharing pictures and events, and getting “likes” feels good because it’s positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, this can cause us to crave online approval and depend on “likes” for validation. Post your selfie, but ignore the comments and the number of “likes” because you already liked the picture enough to post it!

  4. Comparison is the thief of joy. When scrolling through celebrities’ social media, it can be harmful to our self-esteem to compare ourselves to their glamorous appearance. Try to remember it’s literally their job to look their best whenever they’re in public. Their style may be influential, but it’s nearly impossible to be red-carpet ready all the time!

  5. Dress to impress yourself, not other people. Wear what you like! Everyone else’s opinions are overrated compared to your own. If you like it and you feel good wearing it (see #2), then wear it proudly!

  6. Mindfulness matters. Mindfulness includes an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, actions, and how they all influence one another. Pay attention to your thoughts in different situations - negatively thinking about our appearance can lead us to feel negative emotions like sadness or shame. Reversely, positive thinking can inspire positive emotions, like joy or pride!

  7. Compliment yourself every day. Every. Single. Day. Use this trick to start thinking more positively about yourself! Find one personality trait or characteristic you like about yourself each day and give yourself a compliment. Repeating this practice daily will make it a habit that can boost your self-esteem!

  8. Spread the love. Compliment your friends too! It’s important for us to build each other up in a society that is quick to criticize. Be sure to highlight their personality or character traits instead of their physical appearance. For example, tell them when they’re being a good listener, or comment on how energetic they seem!

  9. It’s okay to not be okay. Poor body image and low self-esteem can lead to serious mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with their body image or exhibiting signs of a deeper issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable and confident in their body, regardless of the season!

Need to talk? Call the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) awareness and prevention confidential hotline at 1-800-931-2237 or click here to access their confidential online chat.

Monika Sharma