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.
Read more #bodypositivesummer posts here:
- Introduction to a Body Positive Summer
- Glossary of Body Image Terms
- Mom & Athlete, Erin Mandras Embraces Body Acceptance
- Building a Body Positive Presence Online
1. Cryder CE1, Lerner JS, Gross JJ, Dahl RE. (2008) Misery is not miserly: sad and self-focused individuals spend more. Psychol Sci. Jun;19(6):525-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18578840