written by: Victoria Kessinger
At this time of year, we are being exposed to the concept of “The Summer Body”. Whether it is a commercial advertising the latest diet trend, a fitness instructor attempting to inspire motivation, or a friend worrying about fitting into their favorite bikini, the concept is everywhere.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in weight management and eating disorders, the “The Summer Body” has also become prevalent in my work over the past month or so. Many of my clients have expressed anxiety related to the transition into summer wardrobes, or participating in summertime activities such as swimming. This anxiety stems from worries about how their bodies will be perceived by others.
Every time I hear or see something related to “The Summer Body”, I cringe because I know it is contributing to the body image difficulties many people face. After being cramped inside all winter, summer activities out in the sun are meant to induce positive feelings, joy, and social engagement. However, with the “ideal summer body” envy these activities become anxiety inducing. Clients start to compare themselves to an idea of what “fit” looks like, the thought of over- exercising and the idea of cutting portion sizes or eating all together becomes prevalent among other negative thought patterns and behaviors.
The following are the top 5 reasons why it is important to get rid of this concept once and for all.
It suggests there is a body type for summer. In fact, any body type can enjoy the season. The summer body standard is socially constructed and there is nothing intrinsically attractive about this norm. Other societies view overweight bodies as a sign of prosperity. Our own country glamorized curvaceous women in the 1940s and 1950s. Therefore, the slim and toned ideal body that is the current beauty standard is a trend. Understanding that this concept is a trend can allow us to recognize that our bodies are not the problem, our society may be. This can help to take the responsibility off of YOU and free you up from feeling guilty so you can put energy into enjoying the season!
It maintains the current unhealthy cultural beauty standard, i.e. the ideal body is thin. Those who meet this standard are often rewarded socially, whether they are praised, promoted, adorned, or respected. To be overweight is considered less than ideal and overweight individuals find themselves socially sanctioned. Perhaps they are stereotyped to be lazy, or receive fewer opportunities in occupational and social settings. “The Summer Body” suggests that beauty is a singular vision. Lacking in uniqueness and character. The drive to meet this standard can become overwhelming as individuals try to fit a mold that is uncomfortable and unfitting to their interests, living an uncomfortable unsatisfying life. The human body is beauty. Beauty is not a size or a look, it is accomplished through feeling good and enjoying a healthy life that has no aesthetic standard.
It maintains the pattern of body-shaming. The standards for a toned/slim summer body are incredibly hard to reach, setting us up to devalue ourselves when we don’t achieve them, or to shame others when their body does not meet the current standards. Instead of embracing our body’s unique characteristics, we work exhaustively to accomplish an impossible or highly unrealistic aesthetic while completely rejecting ourselves. By rejecting our body we lose all sense of self, including our identity.
It is unhealthy for our physical health because it gets us thinking about our weight in temporary terms because we think about losing weight for the summer months. Often times “Summer Body” weight goals are not realistic long-term weight management goals. Therefore, people must overly restrict or over exercise in order to achieve their summer body. These practices are not sustainable for the long run, which causes people to resume their pre-summer body habits and regain weight…perpetuating the “yo-yo” cycle.
This concept keeps us focused on our physical appearance. Instead of thinking about the memories we will make, the people we will visit over the summer or the new experiences we will have, we worry about how our bodies look . This type of thought pattern causes us to lose sight of the most important and fulfilling aspects of life.
So I suggest we recognize this summer body concept is unhealthy and choose to focus on body positive messages, and embracing the strength, capability, and unique characteristics of our present bodies. I challenge YOU to write down 1 thing you like about your body each day for a week, to start getting in the habit of focusing on these positive body traits you now have!
And, if you struggle with negative self-image, or managing your weight in healthier ways, check out ChicagoCBM’s weight management group for help. We are starting groups in the next couple of months!