By Renee Fabian
The summer brings many reasons to rejoice — warmer weather, vacations, road trips, barbecuing, and usually a little extra time with loved ones. Yet for some of us, no other season brings such apprehension, especially at the mention of “bathing suit.”
“As a plus-size black woman, summer time always made me nervous,” blogger/content creator Christian Simone said. “Being someone who developed early, wearing shorts and a tank that looks so comfy was always a struggle…As an adult, I feel like a magnifying glass is over me when I opt to wear things like a bikini or shorts.”
“I was the girl who ‘got fat’ when I went away to college and my body anxiety was at an all-time high,” Jaclyn DiGregorio, founder of the digital wellness community Cuspit, said. “I would go into the dressing room with a few bikinis and stare at my fat and ugly body, telling myself that I really needed to step it up and eat less to lose weight before summer began.”
It’s normal to feel self-conscious about how we look, especially as we peel off extra layers of clothing during the hot summer months. But body anxiety can also be debilitating.
“I feel I am missing out on my most festive summer nights because I don’t feel comfortable,” says Christian Simone. “People who don’t deal with body issues can’t understand the intensity of someone who has been cat-called or told to sit the summer out as there is no place for hippos.”
While some people “can continue with ‘normal’ activities,” according to Dr. Ariane Machin, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective, they may “be very distracted by thoughts related to their body size/shape, perceptions that they are typically much larger than they are in reality, or constantly comparing themselves to those around them.”
Sometimes a little reassurance from loved ones, and traveling with people who make us feel loved and comfortable, is enough to keep the worry at bay — even on the beach or poolside. At other times, body anxiety is tied to deeper issues.
“[Others] may begin to isolate and/or reduce the activities that they are involved in,” Machin said. “Someone who once loved to do group workouts now feels too self-conscious and isolates, which in turn may enhance feelings of depression and anxiety.”
Body anxiety at the stronger end of the spectrum may lead to low self-esteem, other mental health issues, and eating disorders. Those who have also experienced trauma will likely have a complicated relationship with their body.
“Sometimes the anxiety has nothing to do with the body at all,” Philadelphia-based licensed psychologist Robin Hornstein said. “It [could] be some trauma that happened [or] you’re waiting for test results from a medical test, and you’re scared, and so it’s so much easier to fight a part of your body at that moment then to just say, ‘Damn, I’m grieving,’ or, ‘I’m scared,’ or, ‘I don’t know how to handle this stress for too long.’”
If body anxiety starts to take over by exhibiting symptoms such as not eating right, poor sleep, isolation, avoidance of previously enjoyed activities, or trouble keeping up with obligations like work, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional.
“If you can’t do it on your own, reach out to somebody else,” Hornstein advised. “Whether that’s a therapist, or whether that’s somebody you trust — a mentor, a family member, a friend, a partner, a spouse — and say, ‘Hey, help.’”
In the meantime, we have a few ideas to help reduce body anxiety as we head into the dog days of summer.
Hornstein asks clients to reduce the amount of media they consume. These unrealistic portrayals of bodies and beauty aren’t realistic (and are often a work of camera and editing magic). In addition, Hornstein helps clients identify favorite activities, like swimming, they no longer enjoy due to anxiety about their body and figure out how to work those back into their life.
Teaching clients to reframe how they view their body is one of the first steps Machin takes, by using mantras such as, “My body is an instrument, not an ornament.” From there, Machin finds clients regain their power and confidence through body movement by taking up walking, yoga, weight lifting, or any other activity that “brings you joy in moving your body and reaffirms that your body is strong.”
New York-based clinical psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez suggests refocusing our energy on the benefits of showing more skin, a cognitive shift that can help mitigate the impact of anxiety. She recommends asking questions such as, “How would it feel to savor the sensation of warm sun on my skin?” or “How might swimming help me relax or exercise more?” Take this a step further, she said, and try: “What three things can I appreciate about my body right now?”
In addition to these practical strategies, find creative ways to reduce body anxiety that work for you. Sometimes these pursuits are the most empowering.
For example, Christian Simone took hold of her anxiety by creating a body positivity blog, The Christian Simone, where she posts about her journey to health and acceptance.
“Last year I created a post that showcased me in a bikini. I did this again this year because I feel if I own who and what I am then I can move forward,” Simone said. “I still have moments of anxiety but I just tell myself that these moments are temporary and who cares if someone doesn’t like it? What has been more important is to allow myself the mental flow to accept me at my size and to not stop living because of anxiety.”
Erin Weisbart, owner of the sewing and pattern company Tuesday Stitches, uses another creative outlet to overcome body anxiety — sewing. Weisbart encourages others to bring clothing to life that flatters their favorite features through customizable patterns. By sewing her own clothing, she’s found a path to confidence, and she shares that message with others through her company.
“I sew pretty much all my own clothes at this point,” Weisbart said. “Sewing empowers people to love their bodies because you learn that with any sewing pattern, you’re going to make changes to it to fit your body perfectly.…If you learn to sew your own clothes, then you can learn to embrace, accept, and celebrate your unique body.”
Regardless of the journey, with self-love and support from loved ones and a therapist as needed, self-acceptance can replace body anxiety.
“I loved the stretch marks on my legs because they signified the transition from child body to adult body,” Jaclyn DiGregorio said, on where she is now, “No one has the perfect body, but turning your imperfections into gratitude for the many blessings in your life can truly make a huge difference in finding body positivity in a world of body anxiety.”
This summer, we’ll leave you with these final bits of advice:
“A beach body is a body that puts on a bathing suit and goes to the beach,” Robin Hornstein said.
Christian Simone tells it more frankly. “Wear whatever you fucking want and live your most festive life!”
Originally published at www.talkspace.com