In our previous post we discussed a variety of reasons that individuals with eating disorders, especially those in the early stages of recovery, may choose not to watch the Netflix film To The Bone or other films they know could create roadblocks in their continued recovery.
With that said, triggering media has always been around and will always be a part of our society so it’s helpful to know how to navigate it. Many individuals in long-term recovery or later stages of treatment might feel prepared to watch a film or read a book about eating disorders, despite triggering content. Many of our clinicians have helped to shape such exposure into therapeutic experiences for patients who are ready. For example, during periods of strong recovery, seeing a film like To The Bone can be an opportunity to reflect on one’s own experience, see things from a new perspective, process lingering eating disorder thoughts or channel anger towards the eating disorder in productive ways.
If you’ve considered all of the options and decide you do want to watch a film about eating disorders, these are a few things to consider that can help you do so in safe and productive ways.
Don’t watch alone. Watch with a support person you can trust and communicate openly with them about how it is impacting you in the moment. You might even consider pausing the show periodically to breathe, reflect and talk.
Time it right. Only watch it when you know you’ll be attending a therapy session or support group within a few days so you can explore your reactions and get help challenging any distorted thoughts or concerns about what you see on screen. If you currently have a lot of other life stressors or you’re in a time of transition (moving, starting school, going through a divorce, etc.) you may want to consider waiting to watch until things settle down.
Challenge the ED thoughts. Consider journaling about aspects of the movie that you find triggering and then refute and challenge the inaccurate, negative or distorted thoughts.
Be an activist. Write a letter to the director of the film or to the editor of a local newspaper regarding what you liked or didn’t like, what was helpful vs. not helpful or what you’d like to see more of when it comes to films about eating disorders. For example, while To The Bone features one person of color and one male in supporting roles, the movie’s star and protagonist is a young, white, upper-middle class woman with anorexia. This doesn’t help to dismantle stereotypes about who is and isn’t impacted by eating disorders. Consider writing a letter that advocates for greater diversity in eating disorder representation or about another aspect of recovery that feels important to you.
Create an escape clause. Allow yourself the option to stop watching at any point throughout the film. Eating disorders can be associated with all-or-nothing thinking so it may feel like once you start the movie you have to finish it, but remember it’s not so black and white. At any point, if you feel triggered or uneasy about what you’re watching, turn it off.
Plan ahead. Decide in advance upon an alternative show to watch or a self-care activity you can do when the film is over (or if you stop watching early) that will help you sustain a more recovery-focused mindset.
Do you use these strategies or have other ideas for navigating triggering media safely? Tweet them to us @CEDSheppPratt and we’ll add to the list.
Navigating “To the Bone” and other Potentially Triggering or Inflammatory Movies about Eating Disorders
Like most things in life there are benefits and risks that come with exposure to media, especially media that depicts sensitive or potentially life-altering subject matter such as eating disorders, suicide or mental health. As you may have already noticed from the controversial conversations about it, the Netflix movie, To the Bone is no different. The film depicts a young woman, Ellen, in the throes of her eating disorder and follows her through the recovery process which the synopsis points out, includes
help from a “non-traditional doctor” played by Keanu Reeves. It may come as no surprise that the main character, Ellen, is a young, white, very thin, upper middle-class woman, and that the particular eating disorder she is dealing with is anorexia nervosa. Hollywood tends to over-rely on this stereotyped depiction of eating disorders, despite the fact that in reality, eating disorders and the people they impact are much more diverse.
As one of the nation’s longest-running providers of evidence-based treatment for children, adolescents and adults with eating disorders we’ve been asked by numerous patients and families in the previous weeks how to handle such a film. And while To The Bone may be a new film, this is far from a new question. Over the last several decades, similar questions have been raised in response to documentaries, blogs, fictional books and memoirs written by individuals recovering from eating disorders.
Decades of observing the impact of this type of media has reinforced our recommendation that individuals who are currently struggling with an eating disorder or those who are in the early stages of treatment and recovery don’t typically benefit from watching movies or reading books that display any of the following characteristics:
extremely graphic depictions of people engaged in eating disorder symptoms such as bingeing, purging, chewing/spitting, body checking, over-exercising, self-harming or abusing drugs and alcohol
detailed descriptions of ED thoughts and behaviors that are left unchallenged, unexplained or are not paired with sufficient education regarding the consequences
conversations that include specific numbers such as weights, clothing sizes, calorie counts or repetitions of exercise.
If you notice any of these characteristics in a movie, show or book, it should be a red flag that it might not be a beneficial resource or recovery-focused activity for someone who is currently struggling.
We always look to support popular media that finds a way to raise awareness and stimulate meaningful discussions about eating disorders in safe and non-triggering ways. With that in mind, we went into our own viewing of this newest movie with high hopes and an open mind. Unfortunately, what we found was that To The Bone ultimatelyticks off all three of the red flags mentioned above. Furthermore, the film’s depiction of treatment methods and treatment protocols are far from helpful, safe, or accurate. As a team of specialized professionals, many of whom have spent their entire careers learning about, researching and utilizing evidence-based treatments for eating disorders, this film was, quite frankly, disappointing and at times difficult for our staff to watch.
On the flip side, it did do a good job of illustrating the immense pain and struggle faced by those who are impacted by these illnesses. It also got people talking about an issue that is usually hushed in society despite the fact that eating disorders impact 20-30 million people. Our hope would be that some viewers of the film gain insight or information that could help them check in with a friend or loved one who is showing warning signs and needs help.
Taking into account both perspectives and the possibility for all the positive and negative impacts, it’s crucial to think critically about the media introduced to us as communities, families and individuals.
If you are a therapist, a parent, educator or friend of someone with an eating disorder…
It’s really important to empower anyone considering watching a film about eating disorders to feel like they can disengage safely and with your support. Let them know it’s okay to decide not to watch because it has the potential to be harmful for them and their recovery. This can be a hard but powerful decision because it builds confidence and sets a precedent for recovery-focused decision-making. How? Today, it might be saying no to a Netflix film that “everyone else is watching and talking about” but tomorrow it could be saying no to a dangerous cleanse that a favorite celebrity is promoting on social media or saying no to a friend that encourages you to step on her bathroom scale. Learning how to say no to such things, even when the societal pressure and internal urges are strong, is imperative for long-term recovery.
If you have an eating disorder or are in recovery from an eating disorder…
If you’re like a lot of our patients, seeing a trigger warning at the start of a film or hearing in advance that it might be detrimental isn’t always a deterrent and might even make the content more intriguing. We’ve heard from some of our patients that they choose to watch the film despite their own reservations and knowledge of the content. Most of the reactions included versions of the following:
I found myself comparing my body to the actress in the film and thinking that maybe I wasn’t deserving of or didn’t really need treatment since I wasn’t as thin as her.
I found myself wishing I could go back to my eating disorder.
I was tempted to use “a little bit of my ED behaviors” and was reassuring myself I wouldn’t let it get that bad.
If she [the actress Lily Collins] can “lose weight safely” for this role after recovering from an eating disorder in real life than maybe I can too.
Despite what may be positive intentions for this film, it’s important to be realistic about how it actually plays out for the millions of people with eating disorders who watch it. While not everyone will have reactions like these, we think it’s important for individuals and support people to know it’s a possibility that the person who is struggling with an eating disorder may overlook the negative aspects of the eating disorder on screen and only see the perceived positive or glamorized aspects.
If you are struggling with whether or not to watch this film, or engage with any other eating-disorder focused media, remember that it’s okay to say no. At the very least, we encourage you to discuss your decision with a treatment provider or trusted support person. If you decide together that watching this type of film might actually be beneficial at certain stages of recovery, check out these guidelines for watching safely.
Some of the most important ways to enhance recovery and prevent relapse include: continuing regular contact with treatment providers, following evidence-based recommendations, engaging in regular self-care and creating a home environment that is conducive to your continued healing and recovery. In this case, that might also include creating a Netflix watchlist that doesn’t have anything to do with eating disorders.
Do you have thoughts on the film or the media surrounding it? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C, Community Outreach Coordinator, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
“Get Lean in 2017” “Shrink Your Gut,” “Add Bulk To Your Arms” “Get Rock Hard Abs,”
These are just a few of the typical headlines that can be seen on fitness and “health” magazines geared towards men. While there has been fairly widespread awareness cultivated around the media’s negative impact on women’s body image, not as much attention has been paid to how the media targets men and boys with similar body shaming tactics.
Our culture in general, and the media specifically, often pushes women to lose, lose, lose so they can be smaller, thinner and closer to an elusive definition of “perfect” but the opposite message is often being pushed towards men; most advertising and traditional media suggests the male quest for perfection requires they be bigger, stronger and more muscular. Products previously peddled exclusively towards women – hair removal items, weight loss diets, tanning products, and plastic surgery – are expanding their markets by making men take a harder, longer and much more critical look at their own appearance.
A 2016 review of five national studies found that 20 to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone. An earlier study found that college aged men who viewed media images of muscular men showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity (what they think they look like) and their ideal body (what they feel they should look like). The researchers suggested their results could show that even brief exposure to such idealized images can increase body dissatisfaction in men.
Despite this ongoing push for men to get bigger and stronger, over the last decade we’ve also seen the juxtaposition of thinner versions of masculinity. You can see it when looking at modern male mannequins with impossibly small waists and very slim – yet sculpted – abdomens and legs. Conflicting body ideals abound. So what is the message after all…get bigger, but stay lean? Be muscular, but still fit in those trendy skinny jeans? It’s mind numbing to try and understand, and even more impossible to attain, yet these are the messages that boys are forced to decipher from a very young age and often continue to wrestle with into adulthood and middle age.
Given all of this, it isn’t that surprising a 2014 study of more than five thousand males aged 12 to 18 years found nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.
It’s important to note that, as is also the case with females, photoshopped advertisements and a general lack of diversity in the media’s representation of bodies does not in and of itself cause eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are complex illnesses with genetic and biologic underpinnings. However, environmental triggers such as narrow or unrealistic body ideals in the media can contribute to increased levels of body dissatisfaction which has been identified as a risk factor for eating disorders.
Dealing with unhealthy media messages is something that almost every man will have to deal with. As is also the case with girls and women, the dangers lie in the drastic steps some boys and men may take to try to manage increasing body image anxiety. Guys who are more dissatisfied with their bodies may be more likely to engage in risky weight loss, bulking or sculpting behaviors such as extremely restrictive diets, cleanses, steroids, supplements or excessive exercise. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors for anyone. However, in boys and men who are genetically at risk for eating disorders, these types of behaviors can set the stage for an eating disorder, triggering changes in the brain, disrupting metabolic functioning, dysregulating hunger/fullness cues and often worsening body image, mood and anxiety symptoms. Boys and men who have a history of trauma, are involved in sports or careers that promote weight loss and perfection, and those with close family members with a history of an eating disorder are also at higher risk for developing one themselves.
Eating disorders have long been miscategorized as purely a women’s issue, even by some healthcare professionals. As a result it’s quite common for major warning signs like excessive exercise or drastic changes to diet to be overlooked or even congratulated in men. Stigma and stereotypes in the eating disorders combine to make it difficult for men who are stuck in the cycle of disordered eating to break out of it and get help. It is suggested that 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men, yet they only make up about 10% of people seeking treatment.
Talking openly about eating disorders can help minimize shame and embarrassment for males struggling with these issues. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we’ve been treating men with eating disorders for more than twenty-five years and we’re encouraged by the changes we hear in the conversations more recently. More men have been speaking out locally and using national platforms to raise awareness. In just the last year, Zayn Malik of the band One Direction discussed his struggle with an eating disorder and anxiety, performer/songwriter Matthew Koma wrote a poignant blog about his recovery from anorexia, and Joey Julius, a football player at Penn State, made a series of public statements regarding his decision to seek treatment for binge eating disorder. Their messages all point to a resounding hopefulness stemming from the reality that treatment is available and men can heal from their eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.
So what can you do to help the men in your life?
Start by checking in with them. The Let’s Check Incampaign is all about empowering individuals, families and communities to talk openly about eating disorders and to strengthen support for individuals of all genders who might feel alone. When it comes to eating disorders, early identification and prompt help-seeking can make a big difference. You can play a role in supporting prevention and recovery from eating disorders simply by educating and preparing yourself.
Know the risk factors and pay attention to any sudden shifts in diet, exercise routine or increased negative comments about themselves or their body. If you’re unsure, the confidential online assessment is a quick tool that can help you gauge whether someone you love might be at risk. Second, if you are seeing increasing warning signs plan to check in with your friend or loved about your concerns and provide them with compassion and resources. A fact sheet, conversation guide and additional resources are available at www.letscheckin.com/.
Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C, Family Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt Regis Aguglia earned his Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2010. Prior to joining The Center for Eating Disorders in 2014, Regis provided individual, family and group therapy in outpatient and school-based settings and gained experience treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. As a Family Therapist in The Center’s inpatient and partial hospital programs, Regis works with families to understand the impact of an eating disorder on the family system and helps to strengthen communication, coping skills, nutritional stability and recovery-focused support. Regis also facilitates a number of inpatient therapy groups including dual diagnosis groups for patients with co-occurring substance abuse and a specialty group for boys and men with eating disorders.
Bailey Webber is a student investigative journalist, writer, and co-director of The Student Body. Her story of courage and activism has been featured in numerous newspaper and online articles. She has been honored by the National Association of University Women for her advocacy work, is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association as well as Proud to Be Me with which she has written several articles, blogs, and has participated in panel discussions. Bailey is the daughter of Michael Webber, a motion picture producer and renowned documentary filmmaker. As such, she has grown up around movie making and has storytelling in her blood. The Student Body is her directorial debut.
In advance of the upcoming Baltimore Premiere of her film, we had the pleasure of asking Bailey about the film and her experience co-directing it alongside her father. Part 1 of here responses are shared here.
Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 1
In your own words, can you tell us what The Student Body is about and why you feel people should see the film?
BW: For me, The Student Body is a story of empowerment and finding your voice. Learning to stand against something that you feel is wrong, even when nobody else seems to be standing with you. That’s the example we see in the beginning of the film with my friend, Maddy, which then empowered me to find my own voice, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to combat something that I felt was unjust. Little did I know the giants I would face along the journey!
I hope people will watch the film for a couple reasons. For one, I want young people to realize that their opinion does matter, their voice can be powerful, and they can help to bring about change in their world. But it starts with being willing to learn, to work hard, and to be persistent. And for adults, I hope they will see the film and learn as I did, that obesity is so much more complicated than we are led to believe, and shaming and blaming kids for this epidemic of obesity is wrong on so many levels.
I also want people to know that this is a very positive film and it’s even filled with a lot of humor! People are surprised at how funny and entertaining the film is and they come away from with a sense of hope and encouragement, as well as being better informed and energized about the progress that can be made. I’ve had both students and adults tell me seeing the film has changed their life!
Can you share a little bit about the evolution of The Student Body? What drew you to the topic of BMI report cards and body shaming in the schools?
BW: Believe it or not, this film actually started off as a small, summer project when I was a sophomore in high school. I wanted to make a documentary about the “fat letters” that were being handed out to students at my school and my dad, who is a filmmaker, agreed to mentor me through the process.
Early on in my investigation, it became clear that this was more than just a local story, this was happening all over our state. And by the end of the summer, I found myself in the middle of a heated national debate! This was much bigger than I could have imagined and I wanted to take my investigation all the way. So, my dad agreed to drop his other films and help me see this through to the end. The father/daughter filmmaking duo was born! I then spent the next two years in production, traveling the country and taking my story to its conclusion.
I am so thankful to have been able to learn and work alongside my dad. I had my own obstacles to overcome and I really needed someone like him to give me the confidence and encouragement to keep going all the way. It was an amazing journey and I learned so much about myself through the experience.
Was there one interview you did for the film that really moved you or was particularly powerful? If so, with whom was it and what made it stand out to you?
BW: As I began investigating this issue I read that these “fat letters” are being sent to students of all ages, even as young as kindergartners. I didn’t know how awful and detrimental this really was to young kids until I talked to them myself. One of the most powerful interviews I did was with a group of 4th graders in New York who were brave enough to speak on camera. These sweet little kids each received “fitness grams” from their school, telling them that they were overweight and were devastated by it. They cried when they got home. They saw themselves differently than before. And they were not alone; kids and parents all over the country have had similar experiences but just would not agree to talk about it on camera because it was humiliating.
The short time I spent with these kids changed me forever. It gave me the energy I needed to keep pressing forward and to be a voice for them and also caused me want to focus my future on working more with youth.
What was your personal knowledge/perception of BMI testing in schools before the film and how did it evolve throughout your filming of The Student Body?
BW: One of my favorite things about documentary filmmaking is how much I learn through the journey. When I started this film I didn’t know much about BMI or obesity. I simply wanted to tell a personal story about a girl at my school and shed light on what seemed like government profiling and bullying. But this led me to connect with top experts around the country who were willing to talk to me about BMI and obesity. I learned so much through this process and the neat thing is the audience gets to come along with me as we take this journey together.
Can you share the most surprising thing you learned in the process of creating this film?
BW: The most surprising, and maybe most controversial thing I learned, is that all of the experts that I spoke to said pretty much the same thing – obesity is a disease and the cause in many people may not be as simple as we once believed. Research is showing that it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories burned and that obesity is not only caused by poor diet and exercise. The research is finding all of these other factors that play a big role in the obesity epidemic and yet we still are pointing our finger at kids and telling them they have done something wrong. The experts talked with me about the disconnect between what their research is showing and what the general public believes.
Read Part 2 of our interview with Bailey Webber HERE.
When cheering on the elite athletes at the Rio Olympics and in other high-profile sporting events, it can be easy to lose perspective and you may find yourself comparing your physical body to those at the peak of their sport careers. Lost in these comparisons, we too often become self-critical and forget the long journeys, support communities, financial resources, sacrifices and sheer hard work that comes with being an Olympic athlete.
Engaging in body comparison not only hurts you but serves to fuel the overall toxic culture of body shaming. After all, even Olympic athletes are subject to mean-spirited remarks about their appearance. In the most recent summer games, Ethiopian swimmer Nobel Kiros Habte faced some harsh comments for not matching the “look” of his peers, as did Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno. Many others have faced similar backlash through the years.
Just as athletes are not immune from body shaming, it’s important to remember the “perfect” athletic body does not equate to perfect health. Making snap judgments about someone’s fitness or health based on their appearance is misleading – it’s rarely possible to tell, for example, if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Athletes are not immune to eating disorders or struggles with body image. American cyclist and two-time national champion Mara Abbott has been open about her experience with anorexia. In a candid column for a cycling blog, she reflected on how it affected her performance: “Personally, having taking a hiatus from sport in 2012 due to an eating disorder, I can attest that my thinnest was definitely not my strongest. I really mean that. Please read that sentence more than once.”
As we gather around the television with our friends and families to celebrate athletic achievement, we can support the competitors, ourselves and each other by focusing less on physical appearance and more on the hard work and powerful accomplishments of these world-class athletes. After all, Olympic bodies can be powerful, graceful, tough and resilient but they are also diverse. From gymnastics to archery, swimming to shot put, let’s allow our athletes to be inspirations, not because of or in spite of their looks but for the attitude and spirit they project in aiming for their goals. Let’s enjoy watching all sporting events – whether it’s a World Cup game or a pee wee soccer league – from a place of body appreciation and as part of a body positive summer.
Daily self-care is extremely important for individuals with existing physical and mental health diagnoses including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. It can be even more crucial during times of high stress, uncertainty or exposure to traumatic events. Even indirect, or secondhand exposure, to violence or disasters can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. Research conducted by Dr. Pam Ramsden in 2015 found that “viewing violent news events via social media can cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
In the wake of several national and international acts of violence over the past month, most recently the attack in Nice, France, it’s important to assess your own self-care practices and media use and to seek additional help when needed.
Below is a list of resources we’ve compiled that may help you and your loved ones cope in the aftermath of such tragedies.
If you are experiencing intense or prolonged stress in the wake of violence you’ve experienced firsthand or via exposure through news outlets and social media please do not hesitate to seek help. Speak with a therapist if you have one. You can also seek more immediate assistance via the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990.
The myth that the size or shape of your body determines what kind of swimsuit you can wear or how much fun you’re allowed to have is entrenched in a culture that profits off of our insecurities. These insecurities may be related to weight or size but also extend to just about every aspect of our bodies – skin, body hair, nails and more. Businesses know that anxious, sad or insecure individuals are better consumers.1 In other words, a person who feels badly about herself is likely to pay more for products she thinks may help her feel, look or be better. The farther she experiences herself to be from the culture’s thin ideal, the greater risk for body dissatisfaction.
The reality is that the answer to all of life’s struggles are not solved by dropping a pant size and cannot be found inside a tanning bed or by embarking on a juice cleanse. Marketers know that the key to their success lies not in creating a product that actually “works” but by keeping people dissatisfied and, thus, poised to keep paying for each new product or weight loss gimmick that comes along next.
Sadly, a focus on weight and appearance is introduced and reinforced quite early. Recently, Discovery Girls Magazine, aimed at 8-12 year old kids, ran an article suggesting girls choose bathing suits based on “body type” and how they might look in their suit (as opposed to, perhaps, the child’s color and pattern preferences or simply, how comfortable the suit is while playing). Its unfortunate foreshadowing in a culture that tells adults a “bikini body” is something we must attain before engaging in life at the pool on a hot summer day. This is a culture that wants us to prioritize how we appear to others above our own need for comfort or functionality, and in many cases above health or well-being.
So what can we do?
Begin to pay conscious attention to the advertisements you are exposed to as the summer heats up. This includes ads on social media, magazine headlines and commercials during your favorite TV show. But it also includes messages you might hear directly from friends, coaches or via favorite brands on Instagram. Take note of fat talk and body shaming messages that might usually seep into your self-evaluation without you even noticing. For example, some television shows or swimsuit catalogs simply erase the natural diversity of bodies by choosing models or actors who all look quite similar (or have been photoshopped to appear that way). As you create an awareness of this flow of information you can begin to consciously object to it AND celebrate the organizations and companies who actually do a good job of representing real and diverse bodies.
Each time you find yourself directing negative attention to your body, flip the switch and look outward. Pay attention to whether there are images and messages surrounding you that might be contributing to your feeling badly about yourself or your body. If you notice them, take some sort of opposite action. Remove them (unsubscribe, physically thrown them away, etc.) or challenge them. It could be as simple as blocking a particular kind of ad on your Facebook newsfeed, writing a letter to a magazine editor, or just venting to a friend about a misleading diet advertisement.
Even small acts can be empowering. Once your start, you may be surprised to see who responds or joins you in your efforts. Self-acceptance and body acceptance may not be profitable for the beauty industries but you and your summer stand to benefit a great deal from these acts.
Need a little inspiration? Check out this great video from MTV’s Laci Green about the bikini body. Then, let others know how you are removing or challenging the negative or body shaming messages in your life using the #bodypositivesummer hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.
Having a #bodypositivesummer may sound relatively straight forward; however some of the accompanying language may require a bit more explanation. This guide is meant to help break down some of the vernacular you come across within the #bodypositivesummer movement and in other similar discussions about body image.
Body image refers to the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. The key word being subjective. In other words, body image is how you see yourself. Medical definitions of body image extend to include the individual’s emotional beliefs and attitudes about the image they perceive. The same feature might be experienced differently and thus, elicit different emotions from person to person. For example, to one individual, being tall might come with a sense of pride and a belief that his or her height is a strength, while another individual feels embarrassed about being tall and believes that it sets him or her apart in a negative way. An individual’s body image state – negative or positive – is shaped by lived experiences, peer groups, media and marketing, family, community and cultural attitudes, as well as other external sources of body ideals and expectations.
The divergence of one’s body image from sociocultural beauty ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction. Grogan (2008) defines body dissatisfaction as a person’s negative thoughts about his or her own body. Negative feelings about body type, weight, body hair, and skin tone are known to be intensified during summer months due to an increased focus of marketing on these insecurities, greater body exposure due to warmer temperatures, and other socially influenced factors. Beauty standards (also referred to as the thin ideal or body ideal) are often narrow, unhealthy and down-right ridiculous for both women and men. These unattainable “standards” may also lead to dangerous behaviors, such as excess sun exposure, dieting, and potentially by extension, disordered eating. They also set the stage for forms of hurtful interactions such as body shaming. Body shaming,also referred to as body bashing, is any form of mocking, bullying, or insults focused on deviations from body or appearance “norms”. This type of bullying behavior can take place in person during face-to-face interactions or online across social media platforms. Body shaming is normalized and encouraged by advertisements that imply certain bodies are not suited for certain places (like the beach) or for specific articles of clothing (like shorts or a bathing suit).
The antidote to body dissatisfaction is body acceptance. Body Acceptance is approving of and caring for your body despite it’s real or perceived “imperfections”. This is inclusive of other terms like body positive, body neutrality and size acceptance. Being body positive or working towards body acceptance, doesn’t mean you absolutely love the way you look all the time. It simply means you accept and honor all bodies – including your own – as good and worthy of care and respect. It also means you are willing to confront your own internalized weight bias and challenge other stereotypes or assumptions based on a person’s appearance.
We live within a culture that encourages body dissatisfaction. But we have within us individually, the power to be body positive. In doing this for ourselves, we also create space for others, including friends and family members with eating disorders and/or serious body image disturbances, to re-engage in experiences they might be prone to avoid.
Be a part of the #bodypositivesummer movement. Follow along on Twitter or Facebook for blogs, tips, resources and opportunities to tell us how you are creating a season of body positivity.
By now you may have already considered whether you are “beach body ready,” but the seasonal push to pressure individuals into body conformity hasn’t even peaked yet, as it does each summer. In hopes of increasing revenue, the diet companies, tanning salons and hair removal industries have created a standard bikini body goal they’d like us all to strive for. Typically for women this involves being smaller, thinner, toned, hairless and voluptuous in all the right places. The same cultural undertow usually promotes height, muscularity, definition, and, increasingly body hair removal for men as well. Both sexes will be bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to have skin that is “golden” or “bronzed”, or as one indoor tanning company so directly put it in their recent ads, “bea better shade of you”.
In the words of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on SNL, “Really!?”
Help us set a new standard for summer bodies, one that is inclusive and enjoyable. Striving for a #bodypositivesummer is an ideal that involves using your body and brain to enjoy your summer instead of spending your summer and your brainpower trying to change your body.This is an opportunity to encourage yourself and your friends to stop skipping, missing out on, or postponing summer fun due to body dissatisfaction. It’s also an opportunity to focus on well-being and self-care instead of putting your health at risk to meet narrow and arbitrary goals that include futile weight loss, unsafe tanning or even expensive hair removal procedures.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating a #bodypositivesummer. There are no prerequisites for joining in. Despite what the advertisements depict, bodies of all shapes, sizes, shades and abilities can engage in summer fun. Being body positive doesn’t mean you absolutely love your body right now. In this case, being body positive just means you’re interested in helping to override negative body image norms that might otherwise hold you, or your friends, back from fun, important or beneficial moments in your life.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring tips and strategies for establishing a summer removed from socially constructed beauty ideals that reinforce body dissatisfaction, self-hatred and disordered eating . We’ve invited some of our body positive friends and colleagues to share what they’re doing to override body anxiety and make the most of summer so you’ll be hearing from them along the way too.
You can help encourage your friends and family to embrace body positivity too by educating them about the widespread impacts of body dissatisfaction. This infographic is an easy shareable way to get the message across. Feeling badly about your body is not just an inconvenience. It can have serious repercussions for a person’s quality of life at any age.
If you are one of the many people who dread summer because of heightened body anxiety or you find yourself getting sucked in to the massive marketing campaigns telling you that your body isn’t good enough, stick around and follow the hashtag #bodypositivesummer on Twitter and Facebook for tips, strategies and stories from people who’ve risen above body shame in order to re-engage with life – even during the summer months!
These are just a few ways to get involved:
Educate friends and colleagues about the real scope and impact of body dissatisfaction.
Read and comment along with us as we share tips and ideas for maintaining a body positive summer, including upcoming guest posts from Erin Mandras, Dianne Bondy and others!
Share about your own summer adventures with the hashtag #bodypositivesummer. We’ll be sharing helpful prompts along the way to get people thinking about their summer narratives in ways that don’t include body shape/size prerequisites. At summer’s end we’ll be compiling all of the wonderful body acceptance stories and photos we come across to help keep the body positivity going long after summer is gone.
If you see or hear a body acceptance story or idea you think others could benefit from, send it our way. Send via email to email@example.com or tweet us @CEDSheppPratt.
Not sure what it all means? Find a glossary of body image terms here.
Please note: we manage all of our social media sites from a recovery-focused perspective and try very hard to keep these spaces free from triggering content. When sharing your posts, pictures, comments or tweets, we ask that you do so in a way that does not include before/after pics, specific weights, clothing sizes or descriptions of eating disorder symptoms. THANK YOU.
You can download and print your own copy of this handout here. Hang it by your desk or stick it in a favorite notebook to remind yourself about the importance of nourishing a healthy online experience.