Summer means baring more beachside or poolside, but body image issues may also be revealed as the weather warms up.
Summer means baring more beachside or poolside, but body image issues may also be revealed as the weather warms up. David De Lossy

Body Image: Out the body bullies

FOR me it's the time when I adjust my clothing choices to suit both the heat and humidity and the Arctic air-conditioning favoured by so many offices and shopping centres (and Nick).

Because we need to keep cool, summer clothes are generally lighter and may be more revealing; we are likely to be more physically exposed than usual and may feel emotionally exposed when reminded of those bits of our bodies we're not so keen on and prefer to hide where possible.

It's also when we start to be surrounded by messages, some subtle and others not so, that reinforce our physical insecurities. You know the ones. "Sexier by summer; 12-week beach body workout plan” and "Get a bikini body in four weeks”, "30 ways to get a flat belly for summer and bikini season” that are often accompanied by images of the "perfect'' male or female beach body. They don't just target women, there are similar messages for men to get "built for the beach” and "shred”.

We're told what and when to eat and how and when to exercise and some people put themselves through extreme discomfort, pain and distress expecting to look like the person in the image who is probably young and gorgeous, appears bronzed and healthy and is most likely photo-shopped. Many will end up disappointed and disillusioned when that doesn't happen.

I work with men and women of all ages who often have low self-esteem, negative body image and are very self-conscious. Reminders like these do nothing to help them feel more positive about themselves. These messages and images are having a powerful impact on people at a younger and younger age. It's far from healthy psychologically or physically and can have long-term consequences on overall health and wellbeing.

This type of social and cultural pressure, and the unrealistic expectations we often place on ourselves to look a certain way to feel more acceptable, are creating a lot of stress and general anxiety for many people. It does nothing for body acceptance and self-confidence and is more likely to create embarrassment and shame and have us feel that we are not enough as we are.

I suggest that it's time to shift that. It's about outing the body-shaming bullies and helping those we love to understand that humans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; that it's who we are and not what we look like that is important. Our body is neither our enemy nor something to feel ashamed of but to be understood, respected, appreciated and cared for in all of its wonderful complexity and uniqueness, whatever the season.

Rowena Hardy is a facilitator, performance coach and partner of Minds Aligned: