Struggling with Body Image During Swimsuit Season
Here in the Nebraska area we are putting our heavy socks and sweaters in the bottom drawer and getting out our shorts, t-shirts, and swimsuits. And we’ve already reached temperatures in the upper 90s. With the summer season upon us, it’s finally time to get outside and enjoy softball, picnics, swimming, and the many outdoor activities we long for during the winter months. This past week, however, I had three or four patients bring up the fear that they were not “swimsuit ready.” Each voiced concerns about not looking “just right,” being overweight, or not having the perfect shape to enjoy going to the pool with their friends and families. (And these were both men and women who voiced these concerns.) It made me wonder how many others are struggling with some type of body image issue that prevents people from enjoying their families, their summers, and their lives.
Each day, children and adults are bombarded with information regarding their appearance. Experts cite social media, television, magazines, and celebrities for part of the problem. All of these different forms of media seem to be telling people what they should be looking like. But if you’ve ever heard a fashion model talk about her appearance, she’ll likely be the first to admit that even SHE doesn’t look like the photo in the magazine. Apparently, there is an awful lot of hocus pocus between the photo shoot and the photo that shows up in a magazine. But often the damage is done. People–both male and female–from a variety of ages, see these images and end up feeling that they just don’t measure up. This can lead to a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, being overly self-critical, and possibly even avoid functions with family or friends.
Instead of waiting for the media, our culture or our world to change, it’s a much better option to help ourselves and our children make peace with our own body images. While it’s natural and even healthy to pay attention to our physical appearance, if it turns into a self-degrading conversation with ourselves on a regular basis, or we stop going to poolside events or start limiting calories in an unhealthy manner then it’s time to take a step back and see what we can do differently.
What helps us have a healthy image of our bodies can also help us have a healthy image of ourselves beyond our appearance. It’s not only about what we do, but also about what we think. Positvely Positive (which has the tagline “your attitude plus your choices equals your life”) offers seven signs of healthy body image which I’ve included below:
1. You know that your weight does not define your value as a person.
2. You eat for nutritional value rather than an emotional attachment.
3. You give yourself permission to indulge every once in a while.
4. Your inner conversation about yourself is positive – you like yourself.
5. You are able to decide what’s best for you.
6. You recognize that moderate exercise is a way to be good to your body, not punish yourself.
7. You love and appreciate who you see in the mirror.
Most of us may not be able to do all of these every day; but maybe choosing just one or two of the above can start the shift away from poor self-care to improved self-care, from poor body image to improved body image. It might take some time, but it’s worth the effort.
You are worth the effort.
Ultimately, it’s not about living up to some imagined ideal that TV and magazines are telling us to do. It’s really about a choice we make each day to be good to ourselves so that we can live up to our fullest potential, and help our kids to do the same. It’s about doing the best you can and enjoying your life to the fullest.
It’s summer! See you at the pool!!
PS – As always, we’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic. Please feel free to leave a comment.
Karen Williams, LIMHP is a Mental Health provider at CHI Health.