Bathing Suit Blues?

Summer is a season of many perks…beach vacations, picnics, holiday weekends,  longer days, blooming gardens, swimming pools, lightning bugs and flip flops, just to name a few.  But for males and females who struggle with their body image, this otherwise pleasant season can be overshadowed by anxiety and dread.  Like clockwork, every spring we are bombarded by messages telling us to “Shape Up for Summer” or “Shed those Extra Winter Pounds”.  As weather gets warmer and clothes get skimpier, even people who coasted through winter without worry, suddenly become more aware of their body weight and shape. And for those who struggle on a daily basis with negative body image or eating disorders, summer offers added challenges along the journey towards finding body confidence.  Pressure to conform can be overwhelming when surrounded by friends or family on that illusive search for the “perfect” beach body – a fruitless and unrealistic ideal sold to us by advertisers, often with complete disregard for health. For some, just the thought of purchasing a bathing suit can trigger enough worry and self doubt to allow these harmful media messages to seep in.  From crash diets to tanning beds, summer can quickly become a minefield of dangerous behaviors and deteriorating health.

So what can you do if summertime stress has you low on body confidence?  Can you make it through the barrage of destructive messages this summer and still come out okay?  Better yet, can you use it as an opportunity to gain confidence, positivity and strength?  We say yes, you can! Here are some suggestions:

Talk back. Okay, maybe this goes against everything your parents ever told you but certainly they won’t mind a little attitude if directed at the media and not at them.  Dispute harmful summer body myths with positive self-talk, and say it like you mean it…

“No one can tell me what I can and can’t wear; I will find and wear a swimsuit that fits and flatters my body JUST AS I AM instead of trying to change my body to fit into a pre-determined size or style.”

 “I refuse to miss out on fun opportunities in my life because some magazine tells me I’m not skinny enough, tan enough or muscular enough to be seen in a bathing suit.”

Stop and smell the roses…literally and figuratively.  Grow a garden, plant a tree, feel the grass between your toes, and breathe in the sweet summer air.  Sit outside and read a good book feeling the warm sunshine upon your face.  Look up in the night sky and gaze at the stars.  Be mindful of the scenery and sounds around you this summer. Sail on a boat, take a nature walk, listen to the rain on the roof during a thunder storm.  Enjoy all of your five senses with gratitude, and remember to give your body credit for allowing you to do all of these awesome things.

Accessorize. It can be fun to sport a great sun hat or trendy sunglasses that make you feel great and don’t have a size on their tag.  And while those accessories are eye-catching, we’d argue that the best beach bodies are those adorned with confidence and a smile.  If authentic confidence is hard for you right now, practice the “fake it until you make it” technique consistently, especially if you are going to be around young kids or adolescents who will be modeling your body image behaviors.

Teach others about a healthy lifestyle and show them the power of your positive energy.  Refrain from reading articles focused on weight, and talk often about how good health has nothing to do with the number on a scale.  Remind yourself and others that pressures from society regarding body size are unrealistic, unhealthy and dangerous.  Spend extra time with supportive friends and loved ones who also understand, appreciate, and embrace a diverse definition of beauty.

Change it up! Wear a different color, try a new sport or connect with a new friend.  Take a day trip somewhere you’ve never been or try a hobby you were always curious about.  Relish in the extra hours of sunlight and remember that a changing of the seasons is not about how you look in a bathing suit, but rather how you live your life.

Be kind. Treat your body, and other people’s bodies, with respect and dignity.

We’ve said it before… and we’ll say it again: Dieting does not work.  In fact, dieting damages your physical and mental well being. Chronic dieters are more likely to be depressed, have low self-esteem and most will end up at higher weights than they started. There’s a reason counting calories and adding up meal points were not included in our list of fun things about summer.   Summer is bound to go by quickly… try spending your time and energy on activities that are actually enjoyable and beneficial.  Dieting is neither of those things.

Let’s welcome summer and bid farewell to any lingering anxiety.  We hope you can spend time appreciating where you and your body are in this moment.

What are you doing to make the best of your summer and to turn the bathing suit blues into body confidence? Share your strategy on our Facebook page!

Find out more about The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt at www.eatingdisorder.org.

Blog contributions by Amy Scott, LCPC

Jet Fuel and a Handful of No Regrets: The subtle reasons why Media Literacy is so important when it comes to messages about food and weight

Earlier this week we were prepping for a media literacy presentation when we came across a few examples that point to some of the very reasons why media literacy education is so important.  Of course, it’s always very easy to locate magazine ads that exemplify the ills of photoshopping (cue the recent ALDO billboard photoshop fail) or products that perpetuate an unhealthy body ideal and the sexualization of girls (cue the recent Abercrombie & Fitch push-up bikini for 8 year olds).  And, there’s certainly no shortage of  overtly harmful (and grossly inaccurate) claims about food and weight in ads for trendy diets and diet products.  These, unfortunately, very effective ads rake in more than $40 billion a year for the diet industry.  But some of the messages we get about weight, size and food are much more subtle and in many ways, that makes them even more detrimental.

Check out these two ads for almonds found in Men’s Health – a men’s fitness magazine.   Despite the magazine’s title and efforts at health-focused articles, most readers would agree, the general tone of the magazine is usually just as image-focused as any women’s fashion magazine.   Focus on health often seems secondary to the focus on rock-hard abs and a heavy dose of scantily-clad women.  However, we found the following almond ads were somewhat effective at marketing the product in a healthful and holistic way without focusing on the body. What do you think?

“A Handful of Good News…because they’re packed with great stories to tell. Like how just a handful a day gives you 6g protein, 3.5g fiber and can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

“A handful of jet fuel. Grab a snack that’ll give you a boost anytime, anywhere. A handful of heart-smart, nutrient-rich California Almonds with 6 grams of protein power can be just the lift you need. It can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol.”

To be honest, we were fairly surprised to see an ad for anything in this men’s fitness magazine that didn’t include a photoshopped close-up of a chiseled body.  But we were  pleasantly surprised to see these ads focusing on health vs. weight and even highlighting the utility of the body vs. how it looks.  Eating for nourishment and strength to do the things that we enjoy – for example, playing with your kids – is a healthful concept that we fully support and one that is also important throughout the eating disorder recovery process.

We were fully prepared to give this company an A+  for their marketing messages until we found the ads’ female counterparts in Real Simple, a women’s magazine that generally delivers a better-than-average display of body/size diversity and emphasizes physical and mental well-being.  Notice the difference in the  marketing  of the same exact product when it is targeted towards women?

“A handful of chocolate-covered permission. Looking to maximize goodness and minimize guilt? Satisfy more than just your sweet tooth with the antioxidant-rich duo of dark chocolate and California Almonds.”
“A handful of no regrets…Want a simple snack without the guilty aftertaste? Make sure your heart-smart, nutrient-rich California almonds are always within reach. Just a handful a day can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

Internal feelings of “guilt” and “regret” are introduced to the female consumer where previously existed “good news” and “fuel”.  A very different message gets portrayed – one that implies women should rely on external permission to have a snack instead of their own body’s internal hunger cues and legitimate need for nourishment and strength.  These ads also suggest that women should feel guilty or experience regret if they eat certain foods.  These are not uncommon experiences for individuals who struggle with disordered eating*, and it is often this very cycle of eating and the subsequent guilt/regret that perpetuates chronic dieting and many of the symptoms involved with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.  While extreme dieting and eating disorders are a growing problem for both females and males, this marketing campaign clearly capitalizes on the female experience.

Ads such as these do not cause negative body image or disordered eating by themselves.  However, they help to perpetuate unhealthy beliefs within a culture that is already saturated with mixed message about food, weight and an obsession with unrealistic beauty ideals.  Most interesting in this example may be the clear distinction between the two genders.   It’s essential to educate youth and adults about media literacy so we can collectively begin to protect ourselves and our families from the repercussions.  It’s also important to remember that sometimes the very subtle messages about how we “should” relate to food are even more invasive than those with obvious intentions to mislead us.

Be a critical viewer of the media.  Question the images and the advertisements you come across.  Compare ads that are targeted to different genders, ethnicities and ages.   Ask yourself what messages they are sending and what effect they might have.

Do you consider yourself to be media literate?  How do you resist subtle messages like the ones discussed above? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.

*Disordered Eating: A significant deviation from normalized eating patterns that may include dieting, fasting, bingeing, or skipping meals. Disordered eating disregards internal regulation of hunger and fullness and provides the body with much more or much less than the body needs to function properly.  Instead of feeling good after a meal, someone who has disordered eating will often experience feelings of guilt, shame, discomfort, fear or discontent.

Positive Body Image is Always In Season: 7 Tips for Year-Round Body Image Boosting

With two of the most influential annual body image campaigns about a week behind us, the seeds for change have been planted once again.  As proposed in our previous post,  Fat Talk Free Week is Over – Now What?, it becomes important for each of us to think about how we can maintain the national momentum of positive body image on a long-term basis in our own lives.  Yesterday, we shared a few startling statistics that show just how pervasive negative body image is in our country;  whether you’re three years-old or thirty-years old, it is something that can have profound effects on self-esteem and overall quality of life.  So in an effort to help fuel the positive energy triggered by Fat Talk Free Week and Love Your Body Day, we wanted to share several easy ideas for body image building all year long.

  1. Plan ahead. It’s always okay to schedule a positive body image session for a later date.  Page through your daily planner (or scroll into the future on your iPhone calendar) and jump ahead a few weeks or months.  Insert positive body image statements on random days or write down empowering statements on birthdays and special events that will help you remember and commit to appreciating your body and being “fat talk free”.
  2. Don’t forget to share. Have you seen this Tri Delta Fat Talk Free Video from the 2008 campaign?  This is powerful stuff!  Post it on your Facebook page or share it with co-workers any day of the year.  Spread the word so that you can begin building a support system of body positive people around you who also choose not to engage in “fat talk”.
  3. Speaking of Facebook…check out the Center for Eating Disorders FB page and become a fan to receive positive body image status updates, motivational quotes, and links to helpful resources and events.
  4. Reconsider monthly magazine subscriptions.  Research has shown that even just 3 minutes of looking at fashion/women’s magazines can have a significantly negative impact on our self-esteem and body image.  Similar effects can be attributed to men’s health/fitness magazines which have been shown to encourage body dissatisfaction and unhealthy weight control behaviors among males.  Consider switching subscriptions or signing up for a positive affirmation email so you get a reliable dose of confidence in your inbox instead of a monthly blow to your self esteem.
  5. Celebrate the seasons. As the season changes and autumn is here, feel the brisk air as you breathe, notice the colors of the leaves you can see, taking in all that nature can offer and remember that it is your body that allows you to have these experiences.   Start to focus on your body’s functionality more often.  In each season there are opportunities to reflect on what the body can do and its ability to maintain balance even as things change around us.
  6. Break it down. For individuals with eating disorders or severe body image distortion even just one day of “loving” your body may seem like an insurmountable or overwhelming task.  Setting goals is good but when we set goals too high too quickly we set ourselves up for failure.  If  loving your body doesn’t sound do-able at this time in your life, remember that body image is not an “all or nothing” concept.   Any changes, even small ones, that can be made to help you realize how special, unique and beautiful your body truly is can be seen as an important step forward in recovery that often leads to further acceptance of self and health.  Start with something small like giving yourself permission to accept a compliment instead of immediately trying to disprove it.  Or, you can work with a therapist to come up with a specific body image goal that’s right for you.
What else have you tried to keep the positive body image momentum going?  Share your comments below or on our Facebook Page, and check out some of our most popular body image blogs from the past year:

Written by Kate Clemmer, CED Outreach Coordinator and  Amy Scott, CED Admissions Coordinator

Above photos courtesy of  blogs.targetx.com and www.youtube.com

“Fat Talk Free” Week is Over – Now What?

Last week was an important one in the world of positive body image promotion and eating disorder awareness.  Tri Delta’s Fat Talk Free Week (Oct. 18-22) interjected with the NOW Foundation’s  Love Your Body Day (Oct. 20)  created some much needed opportunities for public discussion around our country’s deeply rooted body image struggles.  On an individual level, these national campaigns provided people of all ages with a platform on which they could freely verbalize or begin to feel love for their bodies and hopefully offered an extra incentive not to engage in the destructive day-to-day “fat chat” that is so common among friends and family.

On a national and even international level, these campaigns garner a lot of well-deserved attention, stimulate some incredible events (especially on college campuses nationwide) and provide much needed education and awareness about body image health, media literacy and self-acceptance.  This year, media attention for Fat Talk Free Week seemed to grow, even catching mentions on MSNBC, Rosie O’donnell’s radio talk show and many online sources including Time magazine , Marie Claire and  Glamour.

Today, however, is a new week and these great campaigns are officially behind us until October of 2011.  So what  happens now that the event fliers are coming down and press outlets have stopped paying attention?  What happens to our ability to appreciate our bodies today, next week or next month?  And how can we make sure that the messages of Love Your Body  Day and Fat Talk Free Week stick with us even after these campaigns come to a close?  Consider for a moment that we celebrated  “Love Your Best Friend Day” once a year… surely we wouldn’t have much trouble remembering to feel gratitude for our bff a month later, and we certainly wouldn’t let his or her pant size determine their worth in our lives.  Yet, sadly it continues to be difficult to bestow this same respect on ourselves and our own bodies after the public attention to the cause dies down.

When people feel badly about their bodies it can affect their core sense of self, inhibit interpersonal relationships, impact school/work performance, deter participation in sports and social activities, and it is the most reliably observed risk factor for the development of serious eating disorders.  Despite our increasing knowledge about these consequences, there’s  expanding normative discontent with our bodies across all ages and gender:   

  • Nearly one-third of 3 to 6 year-old girls would change something about their physical appearance and nearly half of them worry about being fat.
  • At age 13, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies” –  this grows to 78% by the time girls reach age 17.
  • 67% of women over 30 were dissatisfied with their body weight
  • 62% of women over age 65 want to lose weight
  • In the past two decades the number of men who openly report dissatisfaction with their physical appearance has tripled — and today, nearly as many men as women say they are unhappy with how they look. (Males & Body Image)

Certainly, the goal of national body image campaigns are not to reverse these trends overnight but instead, they provide a jumping off point and help to plant seeds for ongoing change and steady progress.  Now it’s up to each of us to take the small steps necessary to make sure they grow into something that is long-lasting and, hopefully, contagious.

Check out our follow up to this  post about daily, monthly and seasonal steps you can take to make long-term improvements to your body image… Positive Body Image is Always In Season: 7 Tips for Year Round Body Image Boosting. You can also click on the photos above to find out more about how the NOW Foundation and Tri Delta are continuing to spread important education and messages about body image all year round.

Questions about treatment for eating disorders and body image? Visit  The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt homepage or call us at (410) 938-5252.

National Men’s Health Week, June 14th – 20th, 2010

Reality and research have shown us that eating disorders do not discriminate based on age, race, ethnicity, or gender.  No one is immune, yet males who struggle with eating disorders – sons, husbands, fathers, grandfathers – can often feel extremely resistant to asking for help or seeking treatment for an illness which, for so long, was viewed primarily as a women’s issue.  In recognition of National Men’s Health Week, we want to help men, and the people who support them understand the importance of pursuing recovery  and remind everyone that seeking help is a sign of incredible strength, regardless of gender.  

Over the last ten years, the number of males in the U.S. with serious eating disorders has grown to more than one million.  This rising number is likely representative of our culture’s ever intensifying focus on appearance, bodily perfection and the relatively newer trend of  diet, exercise and fashion industries heavily marketing to men.  Societal body pressures for males might be different in shape – for example, muscular for men versus thin for women – but the intensity of these messages is often just as pervasive.  However, eating disorders are not 100% about body image, and its important to remember that men are just as emotionally impacted by these illnesses as women.  Acting on symptoms of an eating disorder becomes a way to cope with stress, discontent and difficult or uncomfortable emotions which may be exacerbated by a trauma history, co-occurring substance abuse or interpersonal problems.   Likewise, men’s bodies are just as susceptible to the serious physical health repercussions of eating disorders including cardiac irregularities, electrolyte imbalances, bone loss, serious gastrointestinal problems, dental erosion, infertility and even death.  These are just a few of the consequences that make it an important topic for discussion during National Men’s Health Week 2010.   

While its certainly not a positive sign to see eating disorders on the rise in any segment of the population, its quite possible that part of the increase we’ve seen in males with eating disorders may actually not be an increase at all but just a more accurate sample as a result of decreasing stigma.   Improved treatment options for males has helped lessen stigma and the subsequent secrecy and isolation for those with the disorder.  As a result, it’s meant more males are speaking out about their struggle and more are being counted.  We are encouraged to see more boys and men seeking treatment for their eating disorders – overcoming  internal and societal resistance  to find their way into support group circles, therapy sessions and nutrition appointments in an effort to move towards emotional and physical health.  

As National Men’s Health Week culminates with the celebration of Father’s Day on Sunday, we encourage you to take time to recognize the men in your life.  Remind them to schedule regular check-ups, sreening tests and follow-ups with specialists as necessary.  Educate yourself and others on the signs and symptoms of eating disorders.  If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder and you’d like to ask questions or find out more about treatment, please call us at (410) 938-5252.

 

Visit The Center for Eating Disorders on the web:
Homepage:  www.eatingdisorder.org
Facebook: http://facebook.com/eatingdisorderhelp 
Twitter: http://twitter.com/CEDSheppPratt