Stop thinking about your Summer Body

As the weather changes and we start to see more sunshine and less of those cold Melbourne winter days it is easy to start thinking about summer, the beach, BBQ’s, and long hot days… and nights. While for some this time of year is approached with glee, for many it is a time that poor body image, or memories of last year’s discomfort rears its head. Suddenly everywhere we turn we are being sold the promise that if we just buy X product, or join a particular programme we will be able to achieve the supposed holy grail of a “summer body”.

Due to unfair marketing budgets afforded by the diet industry, and the way small bodies are used to advertise, well, almost anything, for many men and women the stress around one’s body starts well before we even get to summer, let alone the actual beach or pool. However, it is at this time of year that the summer body rhetoric starts, and people begin signing up for gym memberships or ‘diet’ programs to meet their ‘summer goals’.

Buying in to the idea that only particular types of body deserve the freedom of enjoying the beach or pool anxiety free, and striving to achieve this supposed ideal body is exhausting and demoralising. Because you are, you know, human and not airbrushed, almost always the products that promise of a body deserving of a bikini by selling starvation and avoidance of fun, fail. Note that, the products fail, not you! To make matters worse if you suffer from any form of body image issues, eating disorder or mental health condition, or if your body has been on the receiving end of discriminative weight stigma, this time of year can be very triggering and cause more than a crash diet and exercise. The summer months can make eating disorders and mental health symptoms worse, with more people skipping meals, over exercising and spending time obsessing about their bodies and food. Further, when it is hot and sticky outside, and all those who are comfortable to (or brave enough to bare all with extreme discomfort) are enjoying BBQ’s and time with friends, poor body image, or living in line with idea that only one type of body is a good body, can have people missing social events and hiding away inside. Sadly often individuals blame their body for their isolation and sadness, rather than a cultural fallacy that smaller bodies are worth more.

As humans, we are meant to be varied. Just like trees, puppies, kittens, and flowers all come in different shapes, sizes, and colours, it is our diversity that makes us beautiful. The ‘summer body’ is a made up concept used by marketing companies to make you feel awful about yourself, and influence you to spend money. Heavily doctored images are everywhere telling you how you should look, while fat phobia is perpetuated wherever we turn. Of course it is not your fault if you have internalised the thin ideal, and it is certainly not your fault if you have experienced marginalisation due to others weight stigma, however our wish for you is that you are able to enjoy this, and every summer in whatever body you arrive to December in. Below are some tips to help you along the way.

·      Do a social media audit – stop following anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself, and find some of the wonderful pages that promote a non-diet approach to food, and celebrate a diversity of bodies.

·      Ban diet and body talk in your circles. There is so much more that is important about each of you. Focus on that.

·      Practice body gratitude. Our bodies are amazing machines that spend every second of every day fighting to keep us alive, even when sometimes we treat them poorly. Thank your body for the hug it allows you to give, for the places it allows you to go, and if possible relish in the feeling of cool water on your skin as it allows you to swim. Focus on what your body can do for you, rather than seeing it as an object to be viewed.

·      Allow yourself to go at your pace. If hiding your body is a long term practice for you start by exposing your arms or your lower legs.

·      Read our upcoming blog on self-compassion and body image.

If as you read these tips you thought they would not begin to scratch the surface of your difficult relationship with your body, or your intense dread of summer, it might be worth talking to a professional who works in this space. Both Deb Newburn and Jessica Pearson at our clinic are experienced in working with clients with poor body image or disordered eating. Eating Disorders Victoria or The Butterfly Foundation are great sources of information, and will be able to lead you to other clinicians closer to you.