Struggling with body image? Here's what you can do as summer kicks off
"It makes me anxious because I know that I have to start wearing less clothing."
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
The beginning of summer is a time when many celebrate the annual resurgence of exposed shoulders and bare knees — but for those who struggle with body image, the return of the sun is often met with dread.
For 25-year-old Summer Luevano, this happens every year.
Luevano struggles to feel comfortable in summer clothing and constantly worries about how her body looks, she said, preventing her from fully enjoying this otherwise cheerful time of year.
"It makes me anxious because I know that I have to start wearing less clothing, which means people are going to be able to see more of my body," she said.
Luevano struggles with body insecurities all year round, constantly comparing herself to others. But she said she feels a bit more comfortable when her body is less-exposed.
It makes me anxious because I know that I have to start wearing less clothing, which means people are going to be able to see more of my body.Summer Luevano
As a result of her insecurities, Leuvano often isolates herself during the summer and misses out on experiences. The thought of other people seeing her body — especially men — makes her uncomfortable, so she simply chooses to stay home, she admitted.
"I’ll miss out on things, like going to the beach with my friends, because I know they’ll be in bikinis and I don’t feel comfortable having my body out like that, but then I also don’t want to be the only one in my clothes," she said.
"So the easier and less anxiety-inducing choice is to just not go."
She's not alone in this.
Terry Blas, 42, said he’s never more uncomfortable and insecure than when wearing a T-shirt and shorts.
"I feel like people can see the shape of my body and I immediately revert back to childhood when certain family members would call me fat, 'fat boy,' and any other fat slur they could think of," Blas recalled.
"It does impact my self-esteem. I've never felt comfortable in my body and I think for women and a lot of gay men, our world is unfortunately about how you have to look a certain way to be appreciated or loved."
Blas's feelings about his body impact his experiences with loved ones during the warmer months, he said. Even when he does choose to show up to the pool party or weekend getaway, he’s often preoccupied with feeling self-conscious and struggles to enjoy the moment.
I feel like people can see the shape of my body and I immediately revert back to childhood when certain family members would call me fat, 'fat boy,' and any other fat slur they could think of.Terry Blas
On an annual summer trip with friends, for instance, he said he always dreads going to the pool. And though he will go into the water, he’ll try and get in before anyone sees him or cover himself up with a towel as soon as he's out.
When he went on vacation to Puerto Vallarta with his husband a few years ago, he struggled to just enjoy the holiday — without worrying about his appearance.
"I don't think they'd judge me or dislike me for how I look in just a swimsuit, but it has more to do with me worrying about how I look in front of them," he says. "It’s awful."
"Our world is unfortunately about how you have to look a certain way to be appreciated or loved."Terry Blas, 42
Both Luevano and Blas said they’ll often choose to wear black, baggy clothing during the summer — even on the hottest of days — because the discomfort they experience when their body is exposed far outweighs the discomfort of being hot.
Vicious cycle of insecurity
Licensed clinical social worker Alicia Alessandrini frequently sees patients who struggle with these insecurities. She said they get worse in the summer months.
The first thing Alessandrini does with clients who struggle with body image is validate their feelings.
"It makes a lot of sense that they have this concern, that their body is somehow going to change their value or their worth," she told Yahoo Canada.
"We're constantly getting messages that there's one certain way that we should look and that we should try to change our bodies to fit this certain way of being."
When we experience these thoughts and feelings, our first instinct is trying to change how we look.
Alessandrini said this is an effort to reduce the fears we have about not being accepted or loved because of our body, hence all the talk of "bikini bodies" and "getting your body ready for summer."
This, she said, is merely our inner-critic talking, and it’s helpful to know this inner voice isn’t always helpful— or correct.
We're constantly getting messages that there's one certain way that we should look and that we should try to change our bodies to fit this certain way of being.Alicia Alessandrini, licensed clinical social woker
"Part of feeling safe is feeling accepted and feeling like you belong with other people," she said.
"In order to try to help us feel safe and in control, there's this part of our brain that thinks if we can just criticize ourselves enough, we will then be motivated to change ourselves into this version that is maybe more acceptable and safer for us."
But this rarely works.
Instead, we end up in a vicious cycle of feeling insecure and ashamed in our inability to change the way we look. And if we do lose weight, we might find that these negative thoughts don’t simply disappear along with the numbers on the scale — because they come from a much deeper place.
How to silence your inner-critic
To truly silence this inner critic, according to Alessandrini, it’s important to address the root issue at hand: believing our worth comes from how we look.
She encourages her clients to try practicing self-compassion, being kind to themselves and giving themselves the same understanding and grace they’d give someone else.
"Typically, we're so much more critical of ourselves than anybody else," she said. "If one of your friends or loved ones is having these same insecurities as you, is in the same body as you, and you heard that they were feeling this way or thinking these things about themselves, what would you say to them?"
There are some practical things to try, too.
The first is wearing clothes you actually feel physically comfortable in, Alessandrini said, especially for those who are neurodivergent and struggle with sensory issues. Not trying to fit into clothes that don't fit properly, or focusing more on how clothes feel than how they look, can make a big difference.
Alessandrini also recommended making a gratitude list, whether just a mental or a physical one.
Pointing out things you genuinely like about your body may be difficult at first, so you can always start with statements that are neutral or focus more on what your body does for you rather than how it looks.
You can also try affirmations, which involve consistently repeating positive or neutral statements — even if you don’t believe them at first — in an attempt to change your thought patterns.
Some affirmations to try include:
"My value does not come from how I look"
"I can be imperfect and still be worthy"
"My body doesn't determine my value"
"The more we repeat an affirmation, the more automatic that sort of thinking becomes," she says.
Summertime can be a particularly good time to implement some of these new habits since many people’s insecurities are heightened. It can, in a sense, serve as a kind of catalyst for change.
For Terry Blas and Summer Luevano, working to overcome these insecurities is"an ongoing process," but one that’s certainly worth it.
"I think what it comes down to is just accepting myself and [believing that] there is no 'perfect summer body’ because every body is a summer body," Luevano said.
"It’s natural to wear less clothes when you get hot and everyone deserves to feel comfortable doing that. I look at other people and think they look so cute in their summer outfits, so I’m trying to apply the compliments I give other people to myself — because I’m worthy of feeling comfortable too."
Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.