When bathing suit season starts to quickly approach it can feel suffocating to someone who struggles with poor body image thoughts. There are several factors we could blame (diet culture, social media and unrealistic expectations that you have to look a certain way in order to enjoy the beach, just to name a few).
I wish there was a 3 point plan I could roll out where everyone’s body image could drastically improve overnight. However, it takes time, effort and a lot of practice to improve body image. But with dedication and often the help of a therapist, body image can be drastically improved.
Body Image Therapy
When helping people improve their body image there’s 4 points I tend to review with everyone during the summer seasons. #1 and #3 are often the most impactful.
1. Start with social media: Research now shows that most people spend more time on social media than they do watching television so let’s start with where you’re dedicating your attention. You want to go into all your social media accounts and totally revamp how you are using social media because I can guarantee it’s triggering some of these thoughts. Here’s some questions to ask yourself:
- Does this account make me feel bad about the way I look? If the answer is yes, unfollow/unfriend. We want to cut out any accounts that are making you feel “less than”. It doesn’t even have to make sense why so-and-so’s pictures make you feel inferior, but they do so we want to at least temporarily cut them out of your exposure. It can be really helpful to later process the accounts you unfollowed with your therapist to discuss what feelings they brought up and why.
- Is this account telling me I need to eat a certain way or look a certain way? If yes, unfollow.
- Is this instagram model unhealthy to my mental health currently? Yep, let’s hit unfollow.
Now comes the fun part where we want replace these accounts with NEW accounts that help you start to counter-condition your thoughts around body image.
My top favorite body positivity accounts:
If you’d like a list of top three accounts I like look up: Victoria Myers (owner of Nourishing Minds Nutrition), Jennifer Rollin (Founder of The Eating Disorder Center) and Dr. Colleen Reichmann.
Play around and find accounts that help build you up. Looking up body positivity can be a fun place to start. By making these changes the time you spend on social media is now sending you messages of positivity and self-love. Unfollowing any accounts that talk about food is going to be important as they are often focused on weight loss or have orthorexic tones, which can lead to binge eating and does not support body positivity.
(* Read more information therapy for orthorexia and binge eating here).
2 .Focus on counter-conditioning: If you are struggling with poor body image thoughts there’s a chance those have been occurring for quite some time now. You aren’t born with thoughts of disliking the way you look, messages are received throughout your lifetime that led you to believe that the way your body looks is not good enough. This belief is conditioned overtime through various outlets. In order to change this, we need to counter-condition these thoughts and beliefs. This takes time and effort, but the good news is that it’s totally do-able!
- Post a body positive message on your bathroom mirror, or wherever you find yourself being critical of your body. Pick a new message to post every week.
- Follow blogs that write about body positivity. Find songs that make you feel empowered and beautiful. Listen to podcasts that promote body positivity.Cut out environments and people that make you feel less than. We want to flood your brain with messages that you are good enough.
3. Work with an eating disorder therapist to discover what is underlying poor body thoughts. It’s not always what it seems. Simply because you are body checking, and having poor body image thoughts does not mean it’s actually about your body. Often, through work in therapy people discover that when they are feeling anxious about _______(fill in the blank) their mind automatically resorts to thoughts of body image because it’s distracting and something that you feel you have control over. For example, you might find that every time you get in a fight with your significant other you start feeling critical of your body. So instead of thinking about the argument or feeling hurt, your mind turns to thoughts about your body. So examine what else is actually going on beneath the surface.
4. Lastly, reflect on what you want to remember about this summer. Do you want to remember this summer as the one where you wouldn’t go to the pool with friends because you had to wear a bathing suit? Or do you want to have fun memories of late summer nights eating ice cream with friends? It’s possible to enjoy this summer’s cookouts, pool parties, and vacations and not be stuck in your own head about your physical appearance.
You have so much more to offer the world than the number that comes up on the scale.
Body image work is hard work. It takes a lot of self-reflection and self-awareness to understand it and counter-condition it. But understanding that you don’t have to live the rest of your life being unsatisfied with the way you look is a good start. Find a therapist you trust and can help you improve your body image.
About Danielle Swimm, LCPC: Danielle offers eating disorder therapy in Annapolis and online eating disorder therapy for Maryland residents. She enjoys helping others improve their relationship with food and their body. Her areas of concentration include eating disorders, anxiety, and body image improvement for adults and adolescents. She also works with a variety of disordered eating and has a passion for mind-body health.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a replacement for a therapeutic relationship or mental health services. This is for educational purposes only and should be in used only in conjunction in working with a licensed mental health professional. If you are a Maryland resident feel free to use contact to request an appointment or search Psychologytoday.com for local therapists in your area.