This summer has seen more dialogue about reclaiming our self-confidence than ever before. "Take back the beach," "Every body is a summer body," "Why I'm not brave for wearing a swimsuit"—these are the voices we're hearing loud and clear, and they're telling us that swimsuit season shouldn't have to be synonymous with insecurity, much less self-loathing.
Yet it's not as easy as simply condemning the unrealistic standards. The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report revealed last year that, "Nearly all women (85%) and girls (79%)...opt out of important life activities—such as trying out for a team or club, and engaging with family or loved ones—when they don't feel good about the way they look."
The reason we're doing this series, "Beyond Your Summer Body," is because we want to continue to help, you, our readers feel better about who you are. But we also know that change takes time. Deep-rooted insecurity or years of feeling inadequate wont disappear overnight. Here, we spoke separately with licensed therapist Jessica Aron and Mel Parrish, a plus-size model and body image activist who has worked hard to combat her own insecurities, about how to actively work at feeling better about yourself and making this a summer you'll truly enjoy.
Verily: What's the most common thing you hear regarding body insecurity?
Dr. Aron: When it comes to body insecurity, the most common factor I encounter in patients is shame. Many individuals hold themselves to unrealistic body standards, which are impossible to attain. This typically leads to feelings of shame and a negative sense of self. This experience is not uncommon for individuals in our society, and the need for effective coping skills as well as self-empowerment is critical.
Mel Parrish: The most common issue I see is women opting out of life because of their feelings about their bodies.
How can women work to silence self-doubt (or even self-hatred)?
Dr. Aron: Self-hatred is a negative inner dialogue that becomes stronger over time, often leaving the individual with emotional wounds. Self-compassion is one of the keys to overcoming and healing from self-hatred. This is because if you are trying to heal, you will need to be gentle with yourself. Research shows that self-compassion reduces one's suffering and increases their resilience. You can cultivate self-compassion by engaging in a new dialogue with yourself that is more supportive and encouraging. Another way to increase self-compassion is through recognizing that you are not alone. Many people are struggling with body insecurity and by acknowledging this, you will feel less isolated in your pain. You can also be present with your emotions and your experience. That means not avoiding or ignoring your struggles, but identifying them so that you can do what is needed to feel better.
MP: In my experience this starts with a very conscious choice to embrace your body as it is. For me, this was my "bathtub moment" before my wedding. Once you really choose to love your body harder than ever before, you'll start to see a shift.
What can a person do in a moment of self-loathing to come back from it?
Dr. Aron: The key here is awareness—you must first realize you are doing it. Many of my patients have struggled with self-loathing for so long that it has essentially become automatic. You must notice that you are doing it and then cope effectively.
When it comes to coping, there are many ways of doing so. You can practice noticing your negative thoughts and then changing them to more realistic, positive thoughts. For example, instead of, "I'm not good enough," you can think, "There is no such thing as perfection."
Another way of coping is to share these thoughts with family and/or friends who accept you unconditionally. So often, people keep their negative thoughts and insecurities bottled up—this never helps, in fact, it almost always makes things worse. You can also distract yourself. When you notice negative thoughts coming up for you go for a walk, listen to music, write in a journal, read a book, or watch your favorite show.
If negative thoughts about yourself are causing you distress and/or impacting your daily life, you may want to seek professional help for even more support.
MP: Mantras are great tools for when you start back-sliding into self-loathing. One of my mine is, "I am enough." Because underlying most of our issues with our bodies is a core belief that we are not enough for the lives of our dreams, so for me, this one statement holds a lot of power. Bonus points for doing this in the mirror, a la Louise Hay's "mirror work" method.
What are the best self-care techniques for fighting comparison complexes brought on by social media and the like?
Dr. Aron: Social media is all about image-crafting, and even though we know there are tons of ways to manipulate images, people often find themselves engaging in harsh comparisons. If you're finding yourself in this situation, your social media feed may need a refresh. This might mean unfollowing, unfriending, or even blocking people or accounts that leave you feeling down on yourself. Create a social media feed that will empower you, accept you, and inspire you to embrace who you are. If you're looking for other ways to cope with social media, you can always unplug for a set amount of time and do something that will create positive emotions instead, such as making some tea and reading a book.
MP: Every time I find myself looking at another woman's body, IRL or online, and thinking, "Ugh, she's so perfect, I hate her" or, "I hate me," I try to shift that energy to celebrating her rather than tearing her, or myself, down. I try to cultivate thoughts like, "I love how she prioritizes her self-care routine," or, "She has such beautiful, strong arms; that's possible for me too!" If you're doing this online, solidify the feelings by liking her post and leaving a positive comment, like "Go Girl!" When you celebrate other women, instead of coveting their situation or turning that negativity inward on yourself, you create a positive ripple effect that everyone benefits from—including you!
Share your own summer stories with us using #VerilyMoment and #BeyondYourSummerBody on social media!
Photo Credit: Mellisa Toms