Summer can make us feel worse about our bodies. And many of us would rather sweat than wear a skimpy top…
It’s the time of year many of us long for — the sun’s out, the days are longer and we can venture outside with friends and family. Summer’s here!
But for some people, the season brings a sense of apprehension.
The reason? We don’t feel our bodies are perfect enough.
From late winter onwards, it’s drummed into us to get ourselves ‘beach ready’ or to lose weight for our holidays. Suddenly adverts appear on television or in shop windows featuring perfect models in skimpy swimwear.
For many of us, negative, panicky thoughts appear:
Bikini? No — tummy’s too flabby.
Sleeveless tops? No — arms aren’t toned enough.
Shorts? No — knees are too wrinkly.
It can make even the greatest sun-worshipper reach for the black tights and baggy jumpers. We’d rather sweat than wear a skimpy top.
How do we stop ourselves feeling this way?
The government’s 2015 Body Confidence Campaign progress report showed that a whopping
87 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 have been on a diet. It also found that body image does not get better with age — the report found that a 45-year-old woman is just as likely to be dissatisfied with her body image as her 19-year-old daughter.
So it’s no wonder that when the days get warmer, many of us spend more time worrying about how we look
in shorts than actually enjoying the sunshine.
Professor Sarah Grogan, psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University and author of Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children, says that many women dread summer because we wear clothes that expose more of our bodies.
‘In interviews conducted at Manchester Metropolitan University, we have found that many women use clothing to hide perceived body imperfections,’ she says. ‘This can be more challenging in the summer when we may be faced with a balancing act between hiding parts of our bodies we dislike and also staying cool.’
It doesn’t help that summer coincides with adverts featuring perfect, slim people. It can make us feel inadequate in comparison.
Professor Grogan says: ‘There is good evidence that we compare our bodies to idealised media images of how women’s bodies should look — slender, toned, hourglass-shaped — even if we do not intend to. This effect is called social comparison and can lead to feelings of body dissatisfaction, particularly in women with low self-esteem.’
She adds: ‘It is difficult to be sure whether body image affects self-esteem or whether self-esteem affects body image, but certainly we know that women with high self-esteem also have high body confidence.’
So, if you have been dreading the warm weather because of your lack of confidence, what can you do?
Can you shake off your feelings of self-doubt and make the most
of the summer? Can you run about on the beach with your kids and enjoy the experience — rather than worrying about any wobbly bits?
Yes, says Professor Grogan. But first we need to understand that comparing ourselves to the body perfect is futile and damaging.
She explains: ‘Psychologists have shown that media literacy training — where women are taught about digital techniques to “perfect” media images of people’s bodies — can reduce the social comparison effect.’
In other words, the next time you feel inadequate compared to the skinny, ‘perfect’ beauty cavorting on a beach in an advert, remember that even she doesn’t look like that in reality.
The next step, explains Professor Grogan, is to start focusing on the good things about yourself.
She says: ‘A lot of women find thinking negatively about their bodies and monitoring their bodies for flaws become habits which are hard to break. Refocusing on the positives can be a huge help.
‘What do you like about your body? Start with one body part and make a short list of positives. Making yourself focus on the good things can get you out of the habit of focusing on what needs changing about your body.’
So, if it’s a really hot day and you’re in two minds about whether to wear your shorts, think again. You may have a bit of cellulite or imperfect knees but no one — not even the model in the bikini advert — is really perfect.
Why should that stop you enjoying your summer?
How to be confident in summer
Be positive Focus on things you like about yourself — your arms, your legs, your face? Make a list.
Focus on how you feel, not how you look Evidence shows that women who think of their bodies in functional, healthy terms rather than looks feel much better. Focus on health or body strength to feel more positive.
Stop comparing By comparing yourself with idealised images, you are promoting body dissatisfaction. Studies show that women who reject thin, airbrushed ideals feel better about their bodies.
Raise self-esteem Do things that make you feel good. Women with higher self-esteem have higher body confidence.
Enjoy yourself We spend all year longing for summer. Don’t let body image ruin your enjoyment of the holidays!