When Summer Does Not Equal Bliss
By Emily Hanna, LLMSW
While summer often brings to mind carefree days spent in the sun, pool parties, festivals, and a sense of lightness – for many, the season can bring up, or even amplify, challenges associated with body image. Messages about obtaining the perfect “bikini body” bombard advertising well before the warm weather even arrives, contributing to unhealthy and unrealistic cultural standards of beauty.
Research indicates a high prevalence of body dissatisfaction in adult American women, as 91% of women experience a discrepancy between their actual and preferred body type (Runfola et al., 2013). While more research has focused on female body image, men are not immune to experiencing body dissatisfaction. According to a 2017 study by Lamarche et al, “men who are concerned they fail to meet the muscular ideal […] may be concerned that they will be looked upon less favorably by others, and risk social rejection”.
While it is nearly impossible to avoid societal pressure to attain unrealistic standards of beauty altogether, one does have the ability to mindfully navigate the summer season to mitigate the effects of these messages.
When taking in media, whether it be magazines, television, Facebook, Instagram, or another platform, ask yourself how you feel taking in what you see. What media, or pages followed, promote positive emotion, and which trigger feelings of insecurity? With this discernment comes the choice to decide what media serves you in a positive way, and what may be worth unfollowing.
Take time to notice the unique beautiful qualities each person possesses – physical and not – and celebrate that beauty is not a single prescription, or even external. Extend a compliment to that person, whether it be their laugh, smile, or warmth.
When witnessing negative messages regarding “body ideals” – challenge them. Actively helping to encourage a more realistic and inclusive idea of beauty is not only empowering but can help one to internalize these more positive beliefs.
If you find yourself scrutinizing your appearance, shift your focus to gratitude. If walking or sitting is available to you, take a moment to reflect on the sensations throughout your body of the action. If you participate in a hobby, such as sports, knitting, pottery, or dance - notice and celebrate the amazing ways in which your body serves you.
Shopping for summer clothes and swimwear can be especially challenging, but can be helped by choosing what makes you feel comfortable and confident rather than feeling pressure to conform to the “look of the season”.
Lastly, when more challenging events arise, such as needing to wear a bathing suit on a trip to the beach, surround yourself with people who make you laugh, feel comfortable and have fun – this can help to shift your focus away from your body and bring you back to the moment. After all, winter is coming!
Lamarche, L., Ozimok, B., Gammage, K. L., & Muir, C. (2017). Men Respond Too: The Effects of a Social-Evaluative Body Image Threat on Shame and Cortisol in University Men. American Journal of Men's Health, 11(6), 1791.
Runfola, C. D., Von Holle, A., Trace, S. E., Brownley, K. A., Hofmeier, S. M., Gagne, D. A., & Bulik, C. M. (2013). Body Dissatisfaction in Women Across the Lifespan: Results of the UNC-SELF and Gender and Body Image (GABI) Studies. European Eating Disorders Review : The Journal of the Eating Disorders Association, 21(1), 52–59. http://doi.org/10.1002/erv.2201