Summer is almost here and with a rise in temperature comes weekends on the water, nights at the ball field, and tan lines. A season typically known for its carefree vibe, the warm summer sunshine has a way of lifting spirits even after the gloomiest winters.
The increase in heat also means a decrease in clothing. Shorts, tank-tops, and swimsuits are commonplace come summertime, and while they are a great way to keep cool, baring even modest amounts of skin can leave some feeling overexposed, anxious, and self conscious.
Quickly scan any newsstand and you are sure to read headlines appealing to the readers’ insecurities by promising new diets to get you “ready for summer” and exercises aimed at helping you get a “perfect swimsuit body”. Not only are those headlines often totally bogus but many are also full of intense and restrictive regimes which often yield unsustainable results. Not to mention, if you have a body (you do), and you wish to wear a swimsuit, you are swimsuit ready right now: as is.
Despite what the magazine and retail industries want you to think, approval or permission from the media and/or general public is not needed to wear one. Simply put, if you want to wear one, do. If not, that is cool too.
Regardless if you are thinking about baring your arms in a tank top or your midriff in a two-piece, putting on the garment is simple, actually feeling confident while wearing it can be a challenge. But before you drop your next paycheck on a insta-fix claiming to cure your “imperfections”, consider that cure may not be about changing your body but more about changing your mind.
Body image is defined as a person’s perceptions, thoughts, and feelings about his or her body. With a society focused on appearance, it is no surprise the poor body image, which include negative thoughts, or feelings of shame/anxiety about the body, is running rampant in both men and women especially as the season for showing skin approaches.
Studies show “health is not a state of being just for the body, but also the mind, thus, improving or maintaining a healthy body image is just as important as a proper diet and regular exercise.
If you are working towards weight loss goals, swimsuit or not, improving your body image may even help you lose more weight. Many think that the greater the distaste for their body, the more likely they are to implement change but a 2011 study conducted by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that over the course of a year women who participated in body image enhancement sessions lost 7.3% of their body weight compared to a loss of 1.3% body weight of women who did not attend body image enhancement session but given the same diet. In other words, we take great care of things we love.
Nonetheless, if your confidence takes a hit at the first mention of the word, swimsuit, tank top or shorts, do not stress. There are physical and mental exercises and tips you can implement to help shift your mindset and improve your self-esteem. But unlike magazine headlines, putting these suggestions into action will not provide overnight results. Habits, mindsets and perceptions take time to truly change.
Gratitude Journal: It can be easy to get wrapped up into everything your body is lacking, especially when baring more skin than usual. “I do not have six pack abs.” or “My arms are not muscular enough for a tank top.” are thoughts that can invade even well intentioned beach goers. Starting a gratitude journal can be a great way to keep you focused on what you love about yourself, reduce stress, and increase happiness.
All that is needed is a notebook and a pen. There is even an app for that if you are a techie. Whichever method you choose, jot down a few features or abilities that you are thankful for each day. This list can be especially handy in the event that you’re having a rough day. Reread your journal as often as needed to help counter any negative thoughts floating in your head.
Media Check: Try to reduce your exposure to images of idealized, unrealistic bodies shared by the media. Magazines, television, and advertisements typically covet using female models who are thin and lean and male models who can show off a muscular, v-shaped physique. Comparing your body to one of a model’s, who was most likely photoshopped, can consequently leave you feel less satisfied with your own body and be damaging to body image in both men and women1,2.
Do not forget to clean out your social media channels too. Unfortunately, nowadays a lean looking body and a large following is enough to be considered a worthy source of health information but proceed with caution. Not all of these famous social media fitness stars are created equal. Fill your feed with individuals you find inspiring, not demeaning, and ones that focus on equal parts healthy mindset and healthy body.
Pump Some Iron: In addition to numerous health benefits of strength training, multiple studies have found that lifting weights, regardless of equipment selection, can help improve body image in both men and women3,4.
Help shift the focus from what your body looks like to what it can do by setting a few performance based goals. Whether it is a deadlift milestone, completing your first pull-up, or attending your favorite fitness class on a regular basis, goal setting can be a great way to build confidence that will spill over into all areas of life. The gym is a great place to start.
Watch Your Language: Sure, the famous Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley, was hilarious but he really was on to something with his well-known mantra, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”. Self talk actually works.
The dialogue that takes place between friends and family and the inner monologue between our ears is very powerful. Aloud or in your head, be on watch for any irrational and/or disrespectful thoughts that may hinder improving your body image.
If that self-deprecating voice creeps up, try using a more positive tone to express your feelings. If using positivity feels unauthentic, at least try to remain neutral. For example, “My thighs are huge.” becomes “My legs are larger than I would like.”
Equally as important as what you say, may be how you say it. When participants in a study were asked to use their own name, in place of first person pronouns, when reflecting over their feelings, it positively influenced their ability to self-regulate their thoughts in a more effective manner7. When you use third person language you tend to think of yourself someone else and the words we choose typically become much kinder.
While all of these suggestions can be a great way to get started on addressing your own body image issues, it is important to note that many may need professional help. Therapy with a licensed mental health professional that specializes in body image dissatisfaction can be a helpful form of treatment.
Sometimes the first step to making an outer physical change is to change what’s inside your mind.
Be kind and show yourself some love.
Annie Brees is a personal trainer in Des Moines, Iowa. Aside from her two children and husband, Annie’s true passion lies in helping women build self-confidence and strength through lifting (heavy) weights. In her free time, Annie enjoys playing with kettlebells and suspension trainers, drinking lots of coffee, and watching bad reality television. Stop by to say “hello” to Annie on her Facebook, twitter or instagram page!
- Grabe, Shelly, Janet Shibley Hyde, and L. Monique Ward. “The Role of the Media in Body Image Concerns Among Women: A Meta-Analysis of Experimental and Correlational Studies.” Psychological Bulletin3 (2008): 460-76. Web.
- Barlett, C. P., Vowels, C. L., & Saucier, D. A. (2008). Meta-analyses of the effects of media images on men’s body-image concerns. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27, 279–310.
- Ginis, Kathleen Martin, Jeff J. Eng, Kelly P. Arbour, Joseph W. Hartman, and Stuart M. Phillips. “Mind over Muscle?: Sex Differences in the Relationship between Body Image Change and Subjective and Objective Physical Changes following a 12-week Strength-training Program.” Body Image4 (2005): n. pag. Web. 20 May 2015.
- Larry A. Tucker and Rosemarie Mortell (1993) Comparison of the Effects of Walking and Weight Training Programs on Body Image in Middle-Aged Women: An Experimental Study. American Journal of Health Promotion: September/October 1993, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 34-42.
- Kross, Ethan, Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, Jiyoung Park, Jason Moser, and Olzem Ayduk. “Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology2 (2014): 304-24. Print.