The sun is shining, the days are growing longer and the temperatures are rising — it’s almost summer.
But the thought of baring more skin and the pressure of dieting for that perfect summer body can cause dread for many people.
“It’s a time when you want to go out and be more social, but you’re so hung up on what you look like,” said Kate Browne, author of the blog “Taking Up Space” and vice president of communications at the Body Positive Fitness Alliance, which provides training and support for fitness professionals.
Diet and fitness culture can feed into some people’s anxiety about the summer months, Browne said, making the thought of wearing bathing suits and shorts much worse.
But sitting on the sidelines until September doesn’t have to be the answer, she said.
The Dispatch talked to two body positivity experts on how you can avoid some seasonal pitfalls and feel comfortable in your skin all summer long. Here is their advice:
Acknowledge the feelings
You might be thinking: Wearing those shorts will make me look fat. I’m not thin enough for that bathing suit. I don’t want to be seen outside like this.
Instead of ignoring thoughts like these, Browne said, they should be handled with care.
“You have to acknowledge that those feelings are there,” she said.
It’s part of a process called “quieting the critical voice,” said Alessandra Jurick, a licensed facilitator at The Body Positive, a California-based nonprofit group that works with adults and youth to support positive body attitudes and self-care behaviors.
“A lot of people turn away from their critical voice,” Jurick said. But it can be useful to “understand why we are so critical of ourselves.” Jurick suggests thinking about which messages have influenced your relationships with food, exercise and your body, and deleting the negative ones. These might include ads that give unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies or fat-shaming comments you’ve heard.
Doing so allows people to better practice the self-care and self-love they need, Jurick said.
Jurick suggests employing compassion, forgiveness and humor to combat and leave behind the need for self-criticism.
But cultivating that self-love can take time. “This is a lifelong practice of learning to love yourself,” she said, adding it takes more than a summer to do it.
Yet taking the time to listen to your critical voice can ultimately free up more brain space and energy so you can make more confident choices, Jurick said.
“Ask yourself, ‘If you weren’t so obsessed with dieting, what could you do?’”
Belonging to a community of people who share your values is one of the easiest ways to avoid falling into body-shaming habits, Browne and Jurick said.
Whether online or in-person, getting support from people who support you is key, they said. Don’t be surprised, though, if you find yourself alone.
“A lot of times when people move into a more positive and kinder view of your body, you might be the lone voice that says, ‘I really like the way I am!’” Browne said.
In that case, someone could start a body-positive group of their own and be the voice that others might also need, she said.
Last summer, Browne made stickers that said “I’m a Body Posi Buddy!” so people knew she wouldn’t engage in diet talk or body shaming and was a safe person to be around.
Social media sites such as Instagram also can be a source of community, but Jurick warned that people should be wary of users who might say they’re body positive when they’re actually diet-focused — like when they post only about weight loss and compare that to their happiness.
Still, there are plenty of body-positive users of all shapes, sizes, genders and backgrounds to follow, Jurick said.
“Body positivity is really for everyone,” she said.
Find your bravery
Choosing to be body positive requires some bravery, Browne said. And that bravery might look different for everyone, she said.
“I think that a lot of women see bikini posts, especially from the Instagram influencers they see, and think that’s the way to do it,” she said. “There are many ways to have a body positive summer.”
One way to do that, Browne said, is giving your summer clothes a test run at home. If swimwear is an issue for you, Browne suggests wearing it around the house first. If it’s shorts, try running a quick errand in them first and then come home.
“Don’t make the first time you wear it out when you’re at the water park with your family,” she said.
Browne also suggests asking yourself such questions as, “What type of person might feel comfortable during the summer?” to see where you could build up some bravery.
Finding a mantra, quote, meme or playlist that makes you feel confident can be a summer game-changer, too, she said.
Browne said picking a goal, like “I choose to have fun this summer,” also can help make the focus less on your body and more on what you want to do with your life.
“It’s really about being present for the moments you want this summer,” she said. “This is your summer and you should make the most of it.”