Four Steps for Creating a Healthy Body Image During Summer Months

One go-to item we grab as we step outside to enjoy beautiful summer weather by the pool is a great magazine (but don’t forget your sunblock and water!). The thing about summer magazines, both print and digital, is that many headlines talk about getting into bikini shape, losing weight, and new fad diets. The ramp up of body-focused headlines during the spring and summer can be motivational for some and anxiety-provoking for others. Both men’s and women’s magazines showcase what seem to be nearly impossible ideals in terms of what a beautiful body looks like. I have news for you––see your reflection in the mirror and know that you have a beautiful body. Every body is a beautiful body designed to carry us through life. Body image is your own perception of your body. A strong, healthy body image includes favorable beliefs about yourself and the way you look. Appreciate each day that your body takes you through your personal journey, and follow these four tips to create a strong summer (and year-round) body image.

Reject the body-shaming trend.

Too fat, too fit, too tall, too short, too this, too that. These phrases are read on a regular basis in the comments section of social media sites. Sites like Instagram are great places for people to post their progress and gain support with well-known hashtags like #motivationmonday, #fitness, and #weightlossjourney, yet while some viewers offer supportive comments, others use body-shaming language. Many people fear being body-shamed online and in real life, which causes hesitation to share successes they don’t feel are “good enough.” My first tip and challenge to you to reject the body-shaming trend and recommit to the first rule we learned in kindergarten: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It takes courage for someone to step outside in summer clothes which reveal more of the body than other seasonal garments. We don’t know other people’s stories—be kind and use positive language when speaking about others, and speak up when you hear people body-shaming others.

Use positive statements to describe yourself.

Using positive statements to describe yourself is a similar concept to rejecting body-shaming. My second tip is to use only positive statements to describe yourself. If you notice a negative thought in your mind, take time to restructure it into a positive statement. For example, some people think, “I am terrified to wear a swimsuit in front of other people, they are going to judge me.” This negative thought can be restructured into a positive statement: “I’m so excited that it is summer and I get to be outside all day. I’m learning to be comfortable in my swimsuit. People aren’t looking at me—they’re too busy enjoying their own nice day!” Believe your statements and become an optimist. Do not allow a negative thought to distract you from enjoying a nice day. Just like it takes time and practice to learn a new skill, it takes time and practice to use positive statements regularly. Create a list of 10 positive statements that you believe can help you develop the habit of describing yourself in a positive way. Pick one statement a day and honestly live that statement. In the example above, the way to live the statement is to enjoy your summer day outside.

Work with a stylist to find clothing that fits.

There is nothing like the feeling of rocking out a fabulous new outfit. With each season come new trends that can be fun to try yet intimidating to put together if you’re not comfortable with or knowledgeable about fashion. My third challenge to you is to find a stylist and learn exactly how clothes fit you to show off your beautiful shape. People used to think that working with a stylist was reserved for the rich and famous. This belief is inaccurate. Stylists work in a variety of settings and within multiple budgets. Some stylists work for department stores and offer complimentary services, while others are privately hired and can cost several hundred dollars per hour. One sure thing is that stylists help people find clothes that fit them well and complement their body types. Often people choose clothing that is too big to try to hide their perceived flaws, or sometimes they choose items that are too small (like bras) and interfere with the flow of an outfit. My recommendation for women is to have a bra fitting, swimsuit fitting, and outerwear measurements. For gentlemen, Glass House Shirt Maker’s founder Daniel Bernardo suggests “shorts that are tailored and fit above the knee, swim trunks that are also tailored that end mid-thigh, and of course a button-up shirt that's lightweight and that the sleeves can be rolled.” When these items fit properly you will feel more comfortable and fidget less. Increasing the comfort level about the way your clothes fit will allow you to focus on other internal factors, like practicing your positive statements. In addition, according to 6-foot-8-inch Chicago-based fashion designer Sean Swank, the founder of Confidence Community, when people dress in clothing that fits their actual size, they “convey security in [their] size and shape. If [they] accept it with confidence so will everyone else.” Conveying confidence in yourself is another way to live your positive statements.

Practice a healthy lifestyle.

Feeling well physically can effect how you feel mentally and emotionally. Eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise is something that takes focused effort and planning (be sure to have medical clearance from your physician to engage in physical activity). My fourth challenge to you is to choose one healthy eating habit and one exercise habit each week of summer. For example, during the first week you can choose to increase your water consumption by two 8-ounce glasses per day and to go on at least two 30-minute walks. Other ideas are pre-planning meals, increasing vegetable intake, trying a new fitness class, and going to yoga. Practicing a healthy lifestyle has benefits that include lowering disease risk, increasing heart health, and boosting your mood. Find healthy lifestyle activities that work best for you and will set you up for success. Some people love preparing meals at home, while others prefer to stay far away from the kitchen. If you enjoy cooking, have fun planning and preparing your healthy meals. If you prefer to stay away from the kitchen, try a healthy meal delivery service. Either way, you are planning to eat healthy foods. In terms of exercise, continue to try different activities—like weight training, cardiovascular workouts, neuro-muscular activities like tai chi and yoga, and hiking—until you find a workout that works for you. Check out Counseling@Northwestern blogger Lisa Payne’s Self-Care Series to learn about ways to incorporate fitness into your lifestyle.

 The pressure to look good and show off our bodies is high during summer. Developing a healthy body image and being confident from the inside out takes concentrated effort and practice. Rejecting the body-shaming trend and speaking positively to yourself are ways you can practice developing a healthy body image. External factors, such as properly fitting clothing, eating well, and exercise, can bolster your body-to-mind confidence and include benefits like feeling healthier and lowering risk for disease. Be kind to each other, be kind to yourself, and have a wonderful, fun, and healthy summer.