Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Content warning: topics of body image, body dysmorphia, and public messaging about standards and expectations for “summer bodies."
Let us start by asking: "What does summer mean for our bodies?" Sit with this question for a minute.
What comes up for you? Perhaps there’s some discomfort, some sadness, some excitement, some shame. There may be several competing thoughts and feelings which may come up for you (and that's okay).
There is a widely-accepted narrative that summer is a time to relax and take advantage of the warm weather. A time to let our bodies breathe and be free, wearing less clothing, showing more skin. However, due to cultural expectations around the way that people dress and show themselves in the summer; some may feel shame or embarrassment if they wish to cover themselves.
Due to these narratives, we are inundated with messages all year round about how we have to prepare our body to look a certain way for the summer season. Diets, workout programs, and media use words like “beach body” and “summer ready." These messages impact us. So, what happens if my body doesn’t look the way I’m told it’s supposed to for summer? Does that mean I’m not worthy of having an enjoyable summer? If my body isn’t “summer ready," what does that say about me as a person?
If my body isn’t “summer ready," what does that say about me as a person?
Summer can be a time when our deepest insecurities are magnified on a daily basis. It can lead us down paths of questioning our own self-worth, feeling shameful about the way we look, noticing all of the ways we don’t “measure up” to the people around us. Summer can bring the stories we have about our bodies to the surface, which can collide with the stories we’re “supposed” to have about the fun and relaxation summer brings.
We want to make a clear distinction here between being motivated and feeling good about taking care of your body through health & fitness; and feeling shame about yourself when you have not met unreasonable expectations for your precious body.
We believe it is important to open up this conversation and allow room for every person’s experience. We (Zoë and Arianna) have written this together and share some of our own personal experiences with these narratives. We want to acknowledge that this blog post is written by two female-identifying people; and want to encourage of all genders to engage with this material and space as feels best for you.
“I have a complicated relationship with the summer season. It’s almost as if my body knows that this time of year is nearing. I notice myself fixating on how my body looks, grappling with the fact that I’ll soon be wearing shorts and bathing suits more regularly. Part of me looks forward to the warm weather and summer activities, but another part dreads the vulnerability that summer clothing and expectations bring. I feel as if I’m on display, constantly being measured against the people around me (and the people on my social media). So, because of this belief, I become obsessed with what others look like around me, internally comparing myself to them. This then leads to some anxiety, some body dysmorphia, and some feelings of shame. ‘Why can’t I just get it together and look like those other people?’ ‘Why can’t I eat healthier?’ ‘I’m doing something wrong here’, ‘I’m the one to blame’, ‘The same thing happens every year - you’re not ever summer ready’.
It’s been like this my whole life. Every time summer rolls around, those same thoughts come up (and let’s be honest - they’re there throughout the year too). But what the f*ck does ‘summer ready’ even mean? Who is anyone to say that I can’t enjoy my summer because I don’t look a certain way? Part of me knows that no one’s ever told me that directly, and someone may look at me and think I have nothing to worry about, but I internalized the messages I received about what summer means for my body. And that internalization led to shame, embarrassment, and discomfort.
I will say that these thoughts and emotions don’t get in the way of me enjoying my summer. I have ways of separating myself from them. But, now that I reflect on it, I think that they’re always there - I’m just able to put them in the background when I need to. It feels pretty freeing to talk openly about them. Part of the shame comes from believing that I’m the only one who has these thoughts, this feeling of being on display, this shame. Acknowledging what happens for me internally feels pretty empowering. I don’t know if it’ll ever change, but knowing that it’s there oddly brings me a sense of peace.”
Ari: “I have always been someone who is motivated by goals. I thrive on making goals for myself and achieving them. Once achieved I feel a rush. For basically my whole teenage and adult life I have always been active and “fit”. I always had a body that fit the typical “summer ready” narrative. This did not save me from having insecurities, but I really did not struggle with having to do much to be ready for the summer. I did, however, absolutely buy into the story about hibernating in the Winter and in the Spring hitting diets and workouts hard so I looked my best for the summer season. This kind of motivation was exciting and enjoyable for me. For the past couple of years, my body has changed a lot. More recently, my body went through a huge transition in pregnancy & labour and now postpartum. I have never seen my body look like it does right now. It has stretched, grown, changed. Some days I don’t even recognize her anymore. I felt absolute pride and gratitude for my precious body and all that she is and does. I wish I could have stayed in that place. But the outside expectations started internalizing. I had my baby at the beginning of last summer. The pressure to “bounce back” to my pre-pregnancy body was blaring. Well intended friends & family asked about my plan to lose the “baby weight”. I saw moms on instagram who had just given birth in bikinis and a tight, small stomach. The pressure started sinking in and I started feeling shame about my body. I worked hard to get back into working out, eating healthy and was shocked by how my body didn’t budge. In fact, I grew more. I was confronted with how debilitating the pressure was for me. So, I had a decision to make. I could continue to believe that my body had to be and look a certain way or I could slow down, appreciate my body and start to undo the narratives that have been so engrained. I am now a year postpartum and back in the summer season and have given my body the greatest gift I could, starting to undo some of the shameful stories and remind her that she is “summer ready” because she breathes, moves, explores, eats not because she looks a certain way. The messages have been so potent, so I am sure they will find their way in. But summer by summer I hope to continue to love and honour my body well by letting her be free no matter what she looks like.
How about you:
So, how have these messages impacted you? What have you absorbed from these messages? Have they motivated you? Has it been positive? Have you felt shame from these messages? Have you ever wanted to explore how these messages have impacted your mental health or wellbeing? Have these messages or stories about your body left you feeling like you may need to talk with a professional? Our counsellors at Wingfield Counselling & Psychotherapy Services have the space and tools to help guide you as you explore! Contact us today if you would like to talk with one of our trained counsellors.
Google Doc: We would love to hear from you! As a way to give you a space to start this dialogue and reflection within yourself, we’ve created a Google Doc. On this google doc we have questions listed and hope you feel safe and comfortable to share your experience with your body. To share anonymously, make sure to sign out of your google account OR access the Doc in Incognito Mode!
Do you have any feedback/questions on this article? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know. I'd love to continue learning with you :)