Ah, summer. No school, no deadlines, and no obligations. In their place: cookouts, pool parties, beach trips, vacations, etc. Life is easy-breezy, a two-month-long, Instagram-worthy holiday.
But—what if your summer isn’t this? What if your summer is actually a story of unstated (but ubiquitous) pressures? The pressure to be easy-going, fun-loving, and spontaneous. To socialize all the time. And of course, to show off that mythical “bikini-body.”
Sadly, these pressures are a reality of the season, so it is normal to feel less-than excited once July hits. But you know what? The whole “ideal summer” concept is a myth, and this is especially true for the bikini-body ideal. The term itself was coined by the weight-loss company “Slenderella International” in 1961, and has since been elaborated on and reinforced by the diet industry and mass media. We see the messages everywhere, from magazines offering us a Seven Day Bikini Bod Plan to those early morning infomercials selling us a Get-Ready-For Summer-Juice-Cleanse for three easy payments of $9.99. Considering the thin-ideal in general is an unattainable market ploy, it is no wonder we feel stressed out, anxious, and depressed.
Can we agree that summer needs a rebranding (or an unbranding)? Screw the ideal—it’s entirely possible to enjoy the warm weather and longer days without buying into the bikini-body fallacy. This is, of course, easier said than done, and so here are four simple tips on how to redefine the season.
1. Upgrade your social media feeds.
First thing’s first, unfollow any body-shaming/bikini-body-promoting/yucky-feeling-inducing accounts that are clogging up your social media feeds. While it may be impossible to completely avoid these messages in the culture at large, you can make the content you choose to engage in a beautiful representation of you. To start, here is a great round-up of body-positive Instagram accounts. Your media upgrade doesn’t even need to be about body image at all—I love traveling to cities, and so I recently started following a bunch of city-inspired photography accounts like this. Of course, a complete break from social media can’t hurt either.
2. Live YOUR summer.
Maybe you don’t like pool parties. Heck, maybe you hate swimming in general. That’s cool. Maybe you would rather spend those extra summer hours practicing the piano than sunbathing on a deck. That’s cool, too. Try thinking about how you want to spend summer (rather than how Pinterest says you should) and plan accordingly. Whether that’s curling up with Harry Potter for the millionth time, going hiking, or stargazing with a childhood friend, you’re more likely to live in the moment (and less likely to focus on your appearance) when doing the things you love.
3. Appreciate yourself as more than a body.
You are so much more than your physical self. You’re a friend and family member, a thinker, a creator, an explorer …and despite what diet culture tell us, summer is the perfect time to realize this. Plan adventures (real or make-believe) with friends. Paint the ocean. Lay in grass and name the clouds. Read books. Write books. Do you.
4. Make time for self-care.
I know we all hear this all the time, but there’s a reason for that. Self-care isn’t selfish or indulgent—it’s absolutely necessary to your health and happiness. Drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, connect with loved ones, take days off, do some yoga or meditation (if that’s your thing), journal, etc. Even if you are “living your summer,” it’s normal to have off days. This post has some great advice on how to deal with bad body image days in the summer. Do what you know you need to get through these days, and if you need different or further support, NEDA has plenty of resources readily available.
So when the harsh pressures of an ideal summer are getting you down, redefine the season for yourself! Instead of the summer of “love/beaches/parties,” make it the summer of YOU. Put yourself first and try not to let stereotypical ideals of how you’re meant to live your life get you down. When you surround yourself with positivity and things you love, you’re bound to have the best summer yet.
Ariel Beccia majored in neuroscience while at St. Lawrence University and is now researching eating disorder treatments at the National College of Natural Medicine. She loves doing qualitative research because she is passionate about hearing people’s stories.