Is Poor Body Image Ruining Your Day at the Beach?

On the June cover of People Magazine, readers were introduced to Tess Holiday –the world’s first size 22 super model. Happy in her large size, she’s an unlikely poster girl for a positive self-image. But with summer finally here, Tess may just motivate us to start living by dropping the poor body image, instead of those pounds.

Sadly, women of all sizes have a poor self-image that holds them back from shedding the layers and soaking in the sun’s rays. On the quest for the “perfect” fit, women duck in and out of dressing rooms begrudgingly trying on dozens of swimsuits looking to hide their blemishes, cellulite and stretch marks. On the dressing room mirror of one of my favorite clothing boutiques, there hangs a picture of a chubby woman with the words…. “I like my body….all of my body!” The store owner’s message is simple – embrace who you are. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all dressing rooms displayed this message?

Are you anticipating summer or do you wish it would stay spring, and we could skip right to fall?

My friend Sharon was telling me that she can’t help but be reminded of summer because her kids are constantly asking when she’s planning on visiting the beach and waterparks. Unfortunately, her lack of enthusiasm has detered her from even thinking about these trips. She looks forward to the quality time she gets to spend with her family, but the thought of digging through her wardrobe for clothes that may or may not fit her any longer has postponed any plans.

Sharon can’t fully enjoy what are supposed to be fun summertime activities because she struggles with her body image. When she’s wearing a bathing suit, or even shorts and a tank top, she resists looking in the mirror because she just doesn’t like what she sees. And when she’s out in public, she feels self-conscious and embarrassed by her appearance. All she can think about are her physical flaws. Her poor self-image can even make her anxious at times, and she doesn’t interact with people the way she normally would. She is even avoiding certain places and situations.

Why do Sharon and the many who struggle with poor self-image find it so hard to let loose and let go of their debilitating self-image?

Causes of Poor Body Image

Part of the reason is a discrepancy between expectations and reality. We often have an idea of who we should be and how we should look. When our self-image does not match those standards, we feel frustrated and dislike the parts that don’t measure up.

Social media is also a culprit for comparisons. People upload only the best photographs of themselves to their profiles and remove images that they find undesirable. We also tend only to talk about what’s going well in our lives. Sites like Facebook and Instagram have become places where we unrealistically compare our bodies and looks with friends, and often with celebrities and models. There are many studies on how idealized images of women in the media can influence young women to be dissatisfied with their bodies.

Women are more likely to compare themselves to others, especially their bodies, and to find themselves “less than”. Men, on the other hand, don’t compare as much, and when they do, they see themselves as being better than other men.

Take, for example, a blog post that went viral this April. Clemson University student Mackenzie Pearson wrote about why girls love the dad bod, calling the body type a nice balance of working out and a beer gut. She added that girls see these dad bods as more human, natural and attractive. The blog received 523.4 K shares after being cited on popular news sites including Buzzfeed, Washington Post, and MSN.

A month later, Mackenzie wrote another blog, but this time she applauded the mom bod saying that if we love our bodies, so will society. She wrote about how her mom bears beautiful stretch marks, sunspots, and white hair. She hopes that her body will, someday, tell the story of a woman who is confident, bold, and humble. This piece got only 757 shares.

If a young man wrote a blog proclaiming his love for doughy moms, do you think it would have as much potential to go viral as the dad bod? The share numbers above indicate probably not. In the current culture of beauty and fitness, men with weight are perceived as successful and powerful while heavy women are perceived to lack discipline.

Self-Image vs. Self-Esteem

Some people may confuse self-image and self-esteem. Our self-image is how we picture ourselves physically, emotionally, as a friend, as a partner, as a mother, etc. Self-esteem is how much we like that picture.

In this blog, I review some of the causes of poor body image and strategies for changing how we see ourselves. We may view ourselves as great workers, mothers, friends, partners, and yet many of us still battle with poor body image.

8 Strategies to Improve Body Image

To improve body image, take an honest self-image inventory regarding your body. Write down the things you like and what do you not like about how you see yourself physically. Once you have this list you can move on to these strategies for changing your poor body image:

  1. Set realistic expectations. Make a plan for how you may want to change things in your body, if they’re changeable.
  2. Drop negative self-talk. The voice you hear inside your head controls how you feel about yourself. Take Tess, People Magazine’s cover model, for example, her weight does not stop her from loving the way she looks and feels.
  3. Drop all or none thinking. Don’t be global about your body. If you dislike your upper arms, don’t say I hate my body. Focus on your upper arms only.
  4. Let go of perfection. Adjust your self-image and don’t compare yourself to others.
  5. Focus on the positive. What do you like about your body? It may not be anything more than you have beautiful hands or delicate feet.
  6. Make changes to improve your appearance. For example, plan to exercise more, eat healthier, dress for your body type, or learn to apply makeup like a professional. For some women, a sexy pair of stilettos is all it takes to turn their confidence around.
  7. Surround yourself with people who support you and love you as you are.
  8. Give yourself enough prep time. Take the time to look your best (not someone else’s best). Dress to feel good and never buy something that will fit the skinnier you. If you feel better, you will look better.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying “Fake it till you make it”. In their case it applies to sobriety, but I think it is applicable here also.

Having a body that you like is an ongoing process, and probably none of us will ever have the perfect body. Also, remember that you are not the center of the universe. Most people are not looking at your thighs, spider veins, or belly. Don’t let your poor body image hold you back from enjoying the summer and the people around you.

So, “Fake it till you make it.” Stand tall, put your shoulders back, and walk with your head high. Be the person that confidently crosses a room or stretch of sandy beach. We need to learn to accept ourselves and move on with the things that are really wonderful about us.

Resources

Boost Your Self-Esteem: 10 Ways To Feel Good About Yourself Right Now – Huffington Post

Facebook influences women’s body images but not in the way you expect – Washington Post 

Why Girls Love The Dad Bod – The Odyssey

The Mom Bod: When We Love Our Bodies, So Will Society – The Odyssey

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