Summer is right around the corner. Whether you live in a warm oasis or a frosty nook in the world, we are all noticing the rising temperatures. But as soon as the thermostat ticks upward, we see the body-hating diatribe begin - the posts, articles, videos and calls to action to get “beach body ready.” We are warned that we gained too much over the winter, and we must accept our fate in wearing barely-there clothes that will surely humiliate us if we gained a winter pooch. The fix we “need” is diet, exercise and a solid spoonful of shame. We are fed to the machine that is the body hate industry, which makes billions of dollars by explaining to us how everything from our armpit skin to our leg hair is disgusting, and for a slice of our paycheck, it can be happily fixed.
3 Summer Time Body Love Tips and Tricks
And We're All Targeted
This is true for people of all genders, although women are more often targeted. More and more men are diagnosed with eating disorders and face the pressures of never looking good enough to fit society’s standards. Then again, the concept of a sexy “dad bod” gained acceptance during the last three years ... while we continue to wait for an embracing of the “mom bod.” Regardless of gender or age, we all see these messages and internalize the fears they are peddling. Am I good looking enough to wear a bathing suit in public? Do I actually have to wear shorts and tank tops to be comfortable this summer? Why is my body hair so offensive to the world?
The answer to all of these questions is simple: know where they come from, understand how to challenge them, and decide to do better for yourself and future generations. Here are three things you can start doing today to go from body shame to body love this summer.
Recognize Where These Pressures Come From
“You are about to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” That’s what the Borg said on "Star Trek" before they forced people to become part of their hive-minded collective. We've also been assimilated into certain ideas about bodies, beauty and desire. The good news is resistance is not futile. We can and must fight back, if not for ourselves, for all the kids growing up and realizing they can never measure up physically. They can and will develop a sense of frustration and hate towards how they look. We can be the change and stop this cycle. Beauty may have always been an industry, but its ideal standards have changed a million times over throughout human history.
Body shape and size for all genders has never been a single standard; instead, ideals fluctuate. From curvy and soft - such as in Rubenesque period and 1940s, to thin and flat - as in the 1920s flapper, and the 1990s heroin-chic era, people continuously change their minds on the “right” body type. Even our hair, both on our heads and all over our bodies, is something we get constant mixed messages about. Many people born in the last 50 years don't know that in pre-1920s America, neither women nor men regularly shaved their body hair (including the pubic region). Yet for millennia, human beings still found each other sexy and desirable. With this awareness in mind, we can move forward with the knowledge that "perfect" is extremely subjective.
Discover Mindfulness and Body Love
Now that we have reminded ourselves of how flawed and financially driven body image messages are, we can become more mindful of how we interact with them. In the age of social media, we aren’t only inundated with toxic beliefs when we see magazines or watch television, we see it 24/7. To rebuke the opinions that do not serve our physical or mental health means observing who we follow, increasing the body positive messaging we see, and repeating the messages we need to hear every day.
When shopping for summer clothes, remember that just because the weather is warmer does not mean you have to show more skin if you do not want to do so. Many people of every body size and belief system embrace modest fashion simply because it makes them feel more confident and happier. If you want to feel more of the sun on your skin and you start feeling the pressure to fit a certain mold, pause and ask yourself, “who does this serve?”
Is it you? Or is it the media marketing machine? Does hating your cellulite make you a better person or does it help you feel pressure to serve at the altar of body hate and pay for things you don’t need to be healthy or happy? Taking the time to ask yourself these questions instead of running with destructive thoughts can completely change your perception and feelings.
Be the Change You Want to See
By bringing this mindful practice of body love into your life, you are disrupting the thought cycle that the media planted in our minds. You make a willful choice not to engage and to choose love and saving your pennies instead of feeling unworthy and giving in to something that is completely unobtainable.
We must educate young people that what they see on Instagram isn’t real and that, despite it all, they can love themselves. Yet, we must be the change too. Self-love is easier said than done. By reading this article today, I do not expect you to wake up tomorrow bursting with confidence and rejecting all patriarchal body standards. What I do hope is that today you have a chance to remember that your thoughts are your own and that by making daily conscious efforts, we can start to examine what we believe and how we process what we think. This helps you make the choice to love your body this summer and all year long. By doing so, you set a new norm for the next generation. Now that is something to invest in!
Dr. Laura McGuire (they/them or she/her) is an internationally recognized consultant, survivor, researcher, seminarian, and author of the book Creating Cultures of Consent (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).
Dr. McGuire is a certified full-spectrum doula, professional teacher, a certified sexual health educator, and a vinyasa yoga instructor. Their experience includes both public and private sectors, middle schools, high schools, and university settings.
They currently are earning their Masters of Divinity at Earlham Seminary where they are studying the intersections of Judaism, trauma-informed care, and restorative-justice in faith settings. Dr. McGuire lives in the United States, where they work as an adjunct professor at Widener University and consultant at The National Center for Equity and Agency.