For me, the beginning of summer evokes popsicle cravings, the smell of sunscreen, and an end-of-the-school-year giddiness that has stuck around after nearly a decade of adulthood. At the same time, however, I feel a certain restlessness. The days stretch longer and my office devolves into a collective feeling of senioritis. I feel a baked-in anxiety bubbling to the surface of my consciousness. It’s "beach body" season. My panic isn’t rooted in the desire to have a “beach body”—because that's not a thing—but in the knowledge that I'll soon be inundated with pop-ups, sponsored content, and the cultural mania that's been built around the idea that I should change my entire corporeal form in the span of a few months, so that I’m allowed to exist on public beaches.
Despite body positivity’s (relatively new) prominence in our cultural consciousness, my anxiety persists, and I’m not alone; a search for #beachbody on Instagram reveals a whopping 10.4 million posts, boasting diet plans, workouts, and statuesque women posing in the eponymous swimwear. A 2014 article in The Cut explored the related “bikini body” phenomenon, explaining that the term was originally coined in a 1961 ad campaign from weight-loss salon Slenderella International (ugh). Slenderella later faced legal recourse for misleading advertisements, snake oil services, and tax evasion...as it turns out, the entire concept of the "beach" or "bikini body" has been a literal sham since day one.
While I know this pressure is bullshit (for lack of a better term), I can't help but feel susceptible to it as a millennial who grew up with some, ahem, problematic messaging around feminine appearance. A such, insecurities about my belly and thighs rise alongside June temperatures every year. And, quite frankly, I’m over it. So, this beach season, I asked myself: what if I could reclaim the warm-weather months as a time of empowerment and confidence? I decided to talk to a psychiatrist to get to the bottom of my seasonal self-esteem crisis, and collect some tips and tricks for feeling good in my body—both in and out of my bikini. Keep scrolling to find out how to nix body negativity this summer season.
1. Cleanse Your Feed
“Societal beauty standards are strong in our culture but it is so important to try and remember that YOU are unique and beautiful,” says Dr. Molly Giorgio, a licensed clinical psychologist, adjunct faculty at University of Hartford, and expert in trauma, relationships, and mental health. "It’s no surprise that social media plays a huge role in reinforcing these standards and creating opportunities to compare ourselves with others. Studies have shown that frequent users of highly-visual social media (HVSM), such as Instagram and Snapchat, 'reported significantly higher body image concerns and internalizing symptoms than peers reporting no use of HVSM.'"
Beyond statistics, Instagram-induced insecurity is a feeling that I personally know well. Luckily, the solution is free. It only requires a commitment to your own happiness and access to the unfollow button. Digital detoxes are tough, but they’ve been proven to benefit many a beauty editor. If a mass unfollowing seems extreme, you can also practice self-care by noticing which accounts activate negative emotions, and unfollowing accordingly. It’s liberating to listen to your gut instincts on what makes you feel good.
Plus, if you’re like me, a digital detox will free up your feed for more dog content. “Unfollow anyone on social media that makes you feel less than or that you compare yourself in a negative image,” says Giorgio. “No time or space for negative comparisons!”
2. Say Thanks
Gratitude is a deceptively powerful practice; it has been clinically proven to improve sleep, build patience, boost decision making skills, and revamp romantic relationships. As it turns out, expressing appreciation can also battle body insecurities. “Say one thing you appreciate or love about yourself every day in the mirror," Giorgio instructs. Perhaps it's something like, 'I'm grateful for my legs as they are strong and carry me around all day.'
I personally found the concept of affirmations a little hokey–that is, until I actually tried it out for myself. Focusing on how my body supports me, rather than how it might look to an external observer, helped me reframe how I valued myself. It also boosted my confidence in a lasting way. “Reframe negative thinking, actively begin to change how you think about your body," Giorgio says. “Instead of all of the things you think it 'should' be, remember all the things that it does for you every day.”
3.Create a Self-Talk Script
Negative self-talk is such a hard habit to kick. For many of us, criticism is a lightning-quick subconscious habit that easily becomes constant background noise in our minds. Luckily, we have the power to drown out that background noise by flipping the script on ourselves. “Talk to yourself and your body the way you would support and talk to a friend,” Giorgio says. “How you are talking to yourself is KEY to mood, positive emotions, and experience.”
It’s totally normal for positive self-talk to seem awkward at first. Try focusing on achievements, rather than image. Giorgio's suggestions for starting a self-talk routine include a range of compliments, such as 'you really worked hard on that work presentation,' and 'you're doing your best, and that’s enough,' or maybe 'I am grateful for my health.'
One of the greatest lessons a therapist taught me was that our brains love possibility...If 'I feel beautiful' feels cringe-inducing, try thinking 'I could feel beautiful.' That might feel like a more comfortable, not to mention more effective, mantra to start out with. Over time, you can edit and develop your mantra as you see fit. It's all about thinking thoughts that feel genuine and true to yourself.
Next up, read about the songs that make 9 women feel the most confident in their bodies (because, yes, music can really help).