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Maintaining a Healthy and Realistic Attitude toward Body Image during the Summer Months

June 10, 2009

First, if you haven’t read Monday’s guest post please check it out. We’re all talking about the summer months and having a healthy body image these days, and it’s no wonder why: “bikini season” is screaming at us from every medium available.

A recent post written by Dara at You’d Be So Pretty If… really captures just how far we have lost sight of the meaning of summer and a swimsuit. As she points out, practically all of the information thrown at us about summer and having fun revolves around the presumption that every single one of us a) are insecure about our bodies and thus looking for a way to cover ourselves up as much as possible, b) have “flaws” that absolutely must be concealed lest someone else realize that we don’t in fact look like an airbrushed supermodel, or c) are in the ongoing process of trying to lose weight. Because why wouldn’t we want to lose weight? That’s what we’re supposed to spend our lives doing, right?

It’s despicable that a perfectly healthy person can feel fine about themselves and be proud of what they’ve got and not have any issues with wearing a bikini, and then open up a magazine or glance over at a billboard and begin to second guess themselves that maybe they ought to lose another five pounds. What is five pounds going to change when you’re a healthy person? I firmly believe that when you look good, you feel good, but I also believe that I’m probably the only one who is going to notice if I lose or gain a few pounds. It’s still going to leave me within the healthy range of the BMI, and I doubt it’s going to put a huge strain on the fit of my clothes (except for those skinny jeans. But that’s because they’re the lie-down-on-the-bed-to-wriggle-into-them type, and that’s first thing in the morning before I’ve got any food in my stomach).

When I was reading this article about changing your mindset to lose weight for health reasons, this line really jumped out at me when they discuss mantras to say to yourself: “I am happy RIGHT NOW and I am choosing to lose weight to improve my health”.

Let me repeat that: To improve my health.

That does not include vanity pounds.

When did this cycle begin? When did everyone I know begin to say “I’d really like to lose another five pounds”? Poor or distorted body image seems to plague all of us. LoveIN My Tummy wrote a beautiful post about this in which she writes:

Even though I’m fairly certain my body fat hovers around the 15% range, if not lower, and I was in the gym, busting out 45 min. each on the elliptical and in the weight room, working hard  to ‘tone up’… This got me thinking about all the different ways of eating I’ve tried in the last several years and how my body really hasn’t changed that much (well, aside from carting a few babies around in my uterus).  But why am I always searching for the NEXT BEST THING?  Why am I not good enough just how I am?

Ask yourself the following questions:

Is it your job to look like a supermodel?

Are your thighs airbrushable when you’re going about your daily life?

Are you at a healthy weight (which may or may not be within the Body Mass Index, depending on how much muscle you have and your body type)?

Do you eat fairly well and exercise regularly?

Are you capable of (without ailments preventing you from) playing in the sun?

If you answered “no” to the first two questions and “yes” to the last three questions, then ask yourself these ones:

Am I happy with how I look? If I’m not, why am I not?

Chances are, those “flaws” that society tells us to conceal because they are just so ghastly aren’t even noticeable by anyone else. Because, let’s face it, if we’re looking at all this magazine junk about bikini season, we’re probably doing it to improve ourselves, whatever that means, and really not caring much about how other people around us look.

When I was an au pair living in Spain, my house mother once noticed that my thighs had “unsightly” stretch marks on them and she asked me in a tone of fascination and disgust, “What are those?”. She then made a couple other derogatory statements regarding weight and stretch marks which I’d rather not repeat here, but suffice it to say that I lounged by the pool in my bikini the very next day in defiance.

These remarks came from not only a 40 year old woman, but also a mother of two. I find it very hard to believe that she, unlike the rest of the population, did not have stretch marks somewhere on her body. It’s a fact of life, people.

I don’t know about you, but I’m wearing a bikini this summer, just like I do every year. Life is too short to worry that we might not have perfectly toned legs or a sculpted washboard for a stomach. We’re all swimsuit ready! If you’re reasonably healthy and do not have medical concerns, then stop thinking that you need to lose the vanity pounds and start enjoying life.

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What do you think? How’s your body image treating you these days? Is anything holding you back? Share in the comments and we’ll persuade the confidence to come shining through!

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33 comments

  1. Great post, thankyou.

    What happened in our world that we are so fearful of the natural human form? Is it that it’s a reminder that we age, change, die? Or is it just a mean trick from industry to scare us into buying their latest product?

    Whatever it is, I’m with you Sagan, we’re all swimsuit ready. I don’t know how many summers I will be blessed with in my life, but I do know that I want to enjoy each and everyone of them, in my swimsuit, living my life.


  2. amazing post. and I, too, saw that at luv in my tummy and was touched.
    for me it has been 80% aging which has made me FINALLY care NOT what I look like in the suit (which, ironically, has probably contributed to my looking better in the suit. To shedding excess weight as it is 100% NO LONGER ABOUT THE VESSEL).

    Losing friends to cancer.
    Watching friend who would give ANYTHING to be able to have my luxury of fretting about something as benign as appearance.
    Realizing life is too short to miss out on living.

    For me that is what FINALLY made me realize we are all swimsuit “ready”


  3. Awesome post. I think most people are generally very self-conscious about their appearance, which is why people are always desperate to try and lose more weight and look better. I think the media plays a big role in deciding what is an acceptable looking body as well. I’m not gonna lie, I want to be swimsuit ready but ehhhhh I still need to lose another 60 pounds lol.


  4. LOL I think the 60-year-old overweight guys in the speedos have more fun at the beach than any of us :)


  5. Since I stopped watching most TV shows and stopping reading magazines, I have not been plagued by low body image in the last few years. I don’t want to know how celebrities with all their fortune and privileges were able to bounce back within days of giving birth or years of sullen drunkenness to look like a goddess for an appearance. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Because I do not know, I do not have to hold them as a yardstick to measure myself against.


  6. I love your story about wearing your bikini in defiance. I’ve never worn a bikini in my life, and I want to change that by the end of this summer.

    I’ve come a long way with accepting myself, and I’ve gradually learned to take pride in my shape, even if it isn’t the societal idea. I can genuinely say that I like the way I look right now.


  7. Great article! Having lost 100 pounds at the age of 50, I’m left with a bit of “aftermath.” :) It bugs me, yes, and I’m trying to improve it, but I’ve figured out two things: 1) my body doesn’t define me, and 2) the “look” of my body doesn’t determine what I can and can’t do. And it never will again.


  8. Berni- it might be in part the fear of age, but then I think I would ask how long it’s been going on for that we’ve been afraid of our bodies… which would lead to the conclusion that the notion of it being a mean trick plays a big role!

    MizFit- precisely! Perspective changes everything.

    Tony- if only we weren’t all so terribly self conscious…

    Chocolate-Covered Katie- gotta have some confidence!

    Small Steps to Health- you are so wise.

    Hil- SO GLAD to hear that!!

    Cammy- *hugs* beautifully said.


  9. Great post! My friend, who can probably lose about 0 pounds, carries herself so well and has such confidence that she totally rocks a bikini!


  10. I try to maintain a fairly healthy body image. But unfortunately, I am never fully happy.


  11. I’ve learned the same lesions you have, Sagan! I just didn’t learn them as soon as you :-)


  12. I found that when I’m at the beach I more than likely not there to impress anyone. I’m just there to cool off with a dip in the water. I must be happy since I think I smile a lot.


  13. That makes me so incredibly sad to hear that your house mom actually said that….what an incredibly unhappy woman.

    I agree that confidence goes WAY farther than losing weight during bathing suit season. There was a time when I looked sick and weighed 15 pounds less than I do now, and another time when I weighed 15 pounds more. Both times I wanted to be covered up in my bathing suit…I just wanted to hide.

    But now? It’s like night and day difference. I feel strong and healthy and FIT. That goes much farther in my book!


  14. I have changed my mantra about losing weight for health reasons because I want the quality of my life to be better.

    I actually don’t worry about how I look so much, of course I need to lose more weight, but I am having fun making things that I LOVE but are within my calorie budget and I don’t feel deprived at all.

    I agree, I hate seeing the ads about being “bikini ready!” It’s too much!


  15. Hey, Sagan, thanks for the shout-out! And I love, love, love the idea of you as defiant bikini-wearer.

    Great post!


  16. Hanlie & Tom- feeling comfy with ourselves is so important.

    Kristisummer- sighs. It’s HARD, isn’t it?

    Dr. J- life is a constant learning process :)

    Holly & Jenn- so glad to hear about your body confidence!

    Dara- am hoping to one day lead an army of healthy body image focused people in protest against the nasty comments in the world :D


  17. i think people feel like its conceited to say you are happy with the way you look. like the second you say it, everyone is going to look at you and say “why?” and then focus on all your flaws.

    Some said to me once that a great thing to say every morning, if you are trying to lose weight is “I love the way I look and its only goiong to get better.” There is nothing wrong with you right now, but its ok to want to improve, too.


  18. I love the bikini wearing defiance! I can’t believe a mother of two would not have stretch marks? Maybe she just wanted to know what to call them because she noticed them all over herself too?

    That is outrageous! I agree- We should cherish the time we have by enjoying it instead of concerning ourselves with flaws! Our bodies do so much for us!


  19. You are right and yet I’ve bombarded my brain for some many years with the bikini ready mantra that I still feel like I need to get “there”. Mind you, I still wear one and enjoy it but I still wish I could flaunt it. I’m clearly not over it and glad that it’s winter here!


  20. it’s absolutely true that swim suits have NOTHING to do with the pleasures of summer: swimming, lying in a hammock, playing croquet on the lawn, having a picnic with the kids, riding a bike, everything can and should be enjoyed at all sizes! all ages! all levels of ability and health!
    I think this swimsuit fear/obsession is nearly universal in our culture. I am an artist, and I did an illustration on this very same topic http://tinyurl.com/n6uf3l


  21. Okay, I’m sold, I, too, will be wearing a bikini this summer. Seriously, good sound advice about fitness for health versus vanity–makes sense.

    peace,
    mike
    livelife365


  22. Thank you for kindly quoting my post. I love your take on it as well. It’s not my job to have the “perfect” body. I certainly am not getting paid! I’m glad I discovered your wonderful blog!


  23. Hmm…this is a tough one. I’ve never been comfortable in a swimsuit at all, let alone a bikini. I agree with everything said in the post, however, I am still not comfortable enough with my body to bare it for strangers. I don’t think it has so much to do with loosing weight as it does with feeling fit. I don’t feel fit, so I am self conscious about my body.

    Thanks for the great links too! I’ve now added to my list of Must Read Blogs yet again!


  24. Great post. I’m in my late 20s now and would never want to go back to being younger because I was so insecure about how I looked and so hard on myself. Now I throw on a bikini without a second thought. No, my body isn’t objectively perfect, but I’ve found that people react to what I project as much as how I actually look. And if I feel good about myself–which I do–that shows :)


  25. Kelly- I like that phrase! We should keep striving to improve ourselves but also be happy with the way we are NOW too.

    bHealthier- we definitely don’t give our bodies enough credit.

    Spring Girl- I think that wearing one, even if you’re not quite feeling the flaunting, is a big step. Confidence can grow from that.

    Elizabeth- thanks for linking to it! Your art is gorgeous.

    Mike- I know that I’ve done my work well if I’ve convinced a guy to wear a bikini ;)

    Sarah- and I’m so glad to have discovered YOURS!

    Meg- granted, there are many reasons why we might feel uncomfortable. But you’re working on becoming fitter- look at all the running you’ve been doing!! And you should absolutely be proud of that :)

    Rachel- SO TRUE that people react to projection rather than anything else.


  26. Hi Sagan, thanks for entering my Chobani giveaway! I love that your blog encourages a very healthy perspective on weight loss and body image. Consider me a subscriber :)


  27. A great post and you present some very thought provoking question. I found your comment regarding your time in Spain very interesting. It is one thing to be exposed to all the negativity regarding looks in the US, but it has been such an adventure to experience them in another country as well.

    The famous Brazilian bikini can be seen everywhere on the beaches here of course. While I think the same body image concerns plague the women I know in Brazil they also have a confidence and a no-care attitude about revealing their bodies which is refreshing. One-piece bathing suits can rarely be found here and that goes for being on people from age 5 to 75. Cover ups are not as common. It seems more accepted to be yourself despite your size and flaws and the revealing suits are just common and accepted. Sometimes I really welcome the change in attitude.


  28. Did that ever sum up what i’ve been thinking lately. I finally had my “Ah Ha!” moment when i realized that i need to stop exercising so i can be more active and start being more active. It’s been fun so far. I jogged up to a park near by and kicked the soccer ball around with my boys. Even the 18mo old rand the whole length of the field =) Like you said “enjoy life.”


  29. Nomeatathlete- DITTO for your blog :)

    Lori- while I was in Spain we also went to a nude beach, and at first when I was covered up I got strange looks for it! Everyone bares all without a care in the world. It was really amazing.

    Fitness Surfer- I kicked the soccer ball around tonight too! It’s great to run around and have fun and then realize “oh… this totally counts as exercise!”


  30. The key is to feel comfortable with yourself. If you can do that, and take solace in the fact that you’re working towards a healthy life and body, then nothing else should matter.

    Don’t be afraid to wear a bathing suit. It’s why you worked so hard all year. Summer is the reward. Go out there with a smile and come back with a nice tan.


  31. wow, amazing post sagan. and i love sarah’s comment about looking for the next best thing/being good enough as is. i really need this to hit home, and reading positive posts like this helps!


  32. It is so unfortunate that today’s fitness society focuses so heavily on physical appearance rather than health. Gyms never advertise “Be active and have more energy, become healthy and live longer.” Instead it always shows some bikini clad model on a beach and a slogan like: “Join now to achieve your bikini body!” If you are happy in your own skin and physically active for the health benefits, no matter what, you will look and feel your best. Perfection is not a requirement.


  33. Ahh the bathing suit. I’ve raced in one several times. I try my best to ignore the stares as I bike or run by. I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more accepting of myself and understanding of the whole media’s role in the mockery of real women.



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