It’s summer. Finally. So we start to fantasize about a trip to the beach, only to interrupt our reverie with fear or loathing about how we’ll look in a bathing suit. Or we go to the beach, but when our friends peel off their extra layers to jump in the water, we hang back. We don’t want to expose the parts of us that are too big, too small, too lumpy — too imperfect.
If this resonates, you’re not alone. One survey found that 89 percent of American women are unhappy with their weight. And men are hardly immune from the pressures to look a certain way. As Shape recently reported, the implications of a negative body image strongly affect our happiness:
Researchers from Chapman University in California surveyed over 12,000 participants about their body image and attitudes about their overall happiness and satisfaction with life while collecting height and weight data. They found that — for both men and women — body image plays a big role in how satisfied with our lives we feel overall. For women, satisfaction with their appearance was the third largest predictor for how good they felt about the rest of their lives, coming in behind financial satisfaction and satisfaction with their love lives. And, surprisingly, for men it was the second strongest predictor, only falling behind financial satisfaction.
It’s no accident that we dwell on how we look in our bathing suits, rather than what we can do in them, says body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman. In this article, she critiques a pre-teen magazine that asks young girls to consider what bathing suit style is best for their body type:
(It) sends a message to girls that they need to be thinking about how they look — form over function — when it comes to swim suits.
Of course, teen magazines could have a lot of fun with bathing suit styles by flipping the conversation and asking; “What bathing suit style is best for what you LOVE to do?” or “What bathing suit patterns reflect your personality?”
Now that is helpful. How can we shift our focus to what our bodies can do rather than how they look?
Undoing negative thoughts about our bodies doesn’t happen overnight. For today, though, here are a few questions you might ask yourself:
- How would it feel to savor the sensation of warm sun on my skin?
- How would my body feel being immersed in water on a stiflingly hot day?
- How might swimming help me relax or exercise more?
Then, ask yourself:
- Am I willing to give up these pleasures for the rest of my life?
It may also help to remind yourself that most people at the beach or pool are feeling sensitive about their bodies, too. They may not show it, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as nervous or embarrassed as you are. Let’s use that knowledge to find the courage to take off our T-shirt or cover-up.
And of course, there are other ways to relish the joys of summer that don’t require revealing so much skin. Feeling the grass in between your toes, gardening, brewing tea in the sun. The more we tune into outdoor pleasures, the more we realize that we are remarkable creatures who are about so much more than how we look.
If you are struggling with this issue, then depending on the roots and intensity of your negative body image, it might be worth considering speaking with a professional.