How to Break Away From ‘Beach Body’ Anxiety
The internal panic sparked by a beach trip takes up more space in our brains than we should allow.
We've been fed a fictitious understanding that only one kind of body is allowed on display at the proverbial runways of a sandy coastline. If it hasn't been toned, plucked, waxed, slenderized, and dieted, then it should stay home — or dare not display any kind of unsuitable imperfection.
This is absurd. It plays into unwritten rules of what society deems attractive enough to represent and sell. Advertisements unceasingly make us question ourselves before beach season (for example, Protein World's controversial beach body advert) and when unexposed to many kinds of bodies you start to believe anything outside of that assimilation is something to devalue.
“We are definitely affected by the negative impact of advertising that we are exposed to in our everyday life,” said J. Ryan Fuller, Ph.D., clinical director of New York Behavioral Health. “There is a lot of evidence to support this. A regular model's body is lower than the average American BMI — closer to someone with anorexia. And there are some countries that monitor the weight of models and impose fines if their BMIs are too low. This thinking needs to be broadly adopted.”
A great way to break yourself out of this is by exposing yourself to imagery — and with the parts of yourself you're uncomfortable. Exposure therapy is the practice of opening oneself up to an object or situation that causes distress for the purpose of overcoming that fear and altering its meaning from stressful to routine.
Basically, show yourself things you're scared of until you aren't.
“Some will start a client in their underwear and have them focus on the parts of their body they deem unattractive,” said Fuller. “We have them keep their attention on those areas while feeling their emotions and noticing their thoughts until their distress significantly decreases. It will be painful, and it needs to cause an emotional reaction. It's important to be present to those feelings and not distract yourself or avoid them.”
Nonetheless, it is extremely difficult to break yourself out of negative habits: putting each other down, comparing ourselves, giving value to one kind of body over another. It can happen incessantly throughout the day; then bleeds into our self-esteem.
Melissa Gibson is a well-known body positive activist; incredibly outspoken on her Instagram profile (one that has more than 163,000 followers hanging on her every selfie and inspirational photo) about the negative affects of not representing all bodies.
“We must question why we are told our bodies aren't good or perfect enough to do things that they are capable of doing,” she said. “When I step onto a beach, I love challenging myself to show more skin, to be comfortable, to wear the swimsuits I want to wear — and not what I've been taught appropriately covers up all my fat body head to toe! If I'm uncomfortable, I remind myself that I'm making a conscious decision to be there on my terms and to be present.”
Walking along the beach can be an insecurity circus for anyone, as you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position. The best thing to do is to recognize your influence and claim space for yourself and for others. Refuse defeat and enjoy the experience.
“There are two way you can approach the anxiety you might face [on the beach],” said Fuller. “One would be if you really only care about the short-term, for example: It is really important to feel comfortable that day, even if it prevents you from getting past the emotional discomfort long-term, then cover up to make yourself feel comfortable in the moment.”
“But for long-term happiness, it's likely necessary to embrace those fears and to face the internal negative thoughts you may be having in that moment,” Fuller added. “Most likely with that approach you will be much better off in the long-term, by coming to terms with those fears.”
One step to finding your beach body confidence is making sure your swimwear is on point. Companies like Swimsuits For All are modeled around the understanding that we have, for too long, been conditioned to believe that only straight sized women are allowed to wear superb swimsuits. Alongside their ethos came big name collaborations with plus model Ashley Graham and blogger Gabifresh; making bathing suit shopping angst a thing of the past. Also, there are smaller — but equally powerful — companies like Mallorie Dunn's SmartGlamour that have taken a more inclusive approach to swimwear by including sizes XXS-6X models in the campaigns and fighting back when negative comments arise.
“When I would share the swimsuit images that showed our model who is roughly a 5X, I did get some hatred and backlash. It is my responsibility as a body positive, feminist brand using these models' likenesses to stand up for them,” said Dunn.
We need to stop comparing each other to unattainable standards and accept ourselves for how we look. Your beach body is already here; staring back at you from the changing room mirror. Go experience it.
“I know I'm making a statement to those around me ... that I deserve to be there, unencumbered by extra clothing and by the weight of their body expectations,” said Gibson. “That's empowering. It takes my insecurities and makes me feel powerful and worthy when I think of it like that.”