Think of your idea of a perfect summer”¦ long days, relaxing at the beach, fresh fruit, swimming in pools, outdoor barbecues, vacation days, warm skin, and a certain languidness and relaxation permeating all of it.
But for a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons, summer never lives up to its promise. And when you have issues with your body, summer can be a kind of nightmare. You might spend the summer avoiding situations that would involve bathing suits (pool parties, beaches, even cooling off at a sprinkler) and you may dread parties and weddings (sleeveless dresses & the photographic record that shows up on Facebook immediately). Essentially, you may find yourself hiding out as much as possible (hopefully, in the air-conditioning) just waiting for the weather to cool down so that you can cover up more.
Dealing With Body Shame
Last weekend, I went to a pool party that a friend from childhood was having. I knew it was going to be a pretty big party (probably about 70 people) and I knew some of the people who would be there, but definitely not everyone. I also knew that some people who were going were thin and some were going to be closer to my size, but I could easily be the fattest woman there.
As I was getting ready, I did the usual stuff – packed a bag with towels and sunscreen and a change of clothes, picked out my favorite bathing suit to wear, etc. Then all of a sudden, I was stricken by how completely relaxed and excited I felt. I just couldn’t wait to see my friend and get in the pool. I didn’t care too much about who would be there or what anyone would think. I just felt happy that I was going to be in a nice pool on a really hot day.
As you might imagine, this journey did not happen overnight. Situations like this were often terrifying before I learned to love and accept my body.
The Key Is Changing Focus
When you’re struggling with body shame, your focus is on all the things you’re unhappy with. Here are just a few things that you might be focusing on now:
- arm jiggles
- arm redness
- chubby thighs
- errant body hair
- belly roundness
- suit fit issues
- messy hair
- people making fun
I probably could have made that list much longer, but I wanted to write out just a couple of typical body image concerns to show you that you probably resonated with a few of those body image concerns and not others. Some of them probably really jumped out at you and some felt unimportant. I did that to show you that the things you fixate on as awful are really just that – things that you’ve learned to fixate on. They’re not universally embarrassing, but you’ve come to see them that way for various reasons. In other words, your perception of your body is a learned behavior, and it can be unlearned.
So it’s time to refocus and reframe. So the question becomes, where can you put your focus if you stop putting it on what you perceive as wrong with your body?
Refocus On Pleasure
One of the most lovely ways to refocus your thoughts is to focus on pleasure. You can do this in many ways.
One is more cerebral – ask yourself, “What would be fun to do or experience?” If you really want to go to the beach, if your body and mind is saying that it would be pleasurable, then it’s time to take action.
Once you’re there, you can focus on the pleasure you’re experiencing in your body. How does it feel to smell the sea air? How does it feel to have the warm breeze on your skin, the sand on your feet? How does it feel when the waves caress your body? This focus on the pleasure of sensation will bring you back to the wonders of your body and the world around you.
Refocus on Connection
When you’re stuck in a cycle of thinking negatively about your body, you can’t relax and be present. You may find yourself having a conversation with someone while focusing on pulling your shirt down to cover your belly and worrying over the way your arm must have looked when you waved hello.
One way to change this is to focus on connection. When you’re having a conversation with someone, focus 100% of your energy on that person, listening to them, sharing your thoughts and ideas and feelings with them, etc. This is such a powerful practice that not only will it make you feel good, but the other person will feel good as well. This practice will ground you in what’s important and makes us all feel good – real connection with one another.
Refocus on Beauty
Body image coaches will often say that you should refocus on what’s beautiful about your body. I agree with that, but an easier (and really valuable) thing to try first is to start seeing the beauty all around you.
Seek out beauty and you will find it in abundance in places you never thought to look. Of course, if you try refocusing on pleasure and it brings you to a lovely outdoor destination, you will likely find beauty there. But you can also think about looking for it new places, and in people that you might not normally think of as beautiful (or whose beauty you might not normally look for). When you begin to see the abundance of beauty all around you, you may find it easier to find it in yourself.
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Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight.