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Body-shaming is everywhere this summer

<i>thianchai sitthikongsak/Moment RF/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Summer can often put pressure on people to look a certain way and expect high-end vacations like those seen on social media.
thianchai sitthikongsak/Moment RF/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Summer can often put pressure on people to look a certain way and expect high-end vacations like those seen on social media.

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

(CNN) — Did you sculpt your “bikini body”? Is your skin soft and tan and free of body hair? Are you ready for your summer vacation?

The pressures around how people’s bodies look can feel particularly high in summer, and it can come from everywhere: advertisements, celebrities, influencers, your friends on social media and even that voice in your head when looking in the mirror.

“I see it impact people … whether it’s a mom who doesn’t let herself go in the pool with her kids because she’s afraid of how she looks in a swimsuit, or people with eating disorders who will choose to not go out with friends because they’re struggling particularly hard that day,” said Rebecca Moravec, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver.

“The way we’re in relationship with our bodies directly impacts how we participate in our day-to-day life.”

Body image is the way you think and feel about your body, but it isn’t influenced just by what you see in the mirror, said Bri Campos, a body image coach in Paramus, New Jersey. Messages from the culture around you and even your broader mental health can affect your relationship with your body, she said.

In the thick of summer, here are the things that might be affecting your relationship with your body and what you can do about them — so you can enjoy the season with less stress.

Comfort and connection

In addition to all the messages about what people should look like, the physical sensations of summer often bring increased attention to people’s bodies, Campos said.

“You’re being forced to feel your body when you’re forced to feel that sweat, to feel that heat — it can be really uncomfortable,” she said.

But instead of acknowledging that heat, sweating, sticking and chafing are just part of the experience of summer, people often attribute it to a problem with themselves, Campos said.

“When we experience discomfort, our brain is automatically going to try to find whose fault is it. And for most of us, we’re going to blame our body,” she added.

For a better relationship with your body this summer, Campos recommends finding ways to connect with yourself in more enjoyable ways.

Wearing ill-fitting clothing — whether too large or too small — will make you feel uncomfortable and angry at your body all day, she said. Instead, put something on that feels good.

And look for ways to connect with your body that aren’t uncomfortable — such as focusing your attention on how it feels to dunk in a cool pool, take that first sip of coffee in the morning, cuddle with a pet or hug someone you love, she said.

“That is a connected moment where I can say, ‘This feels good in my body,’” Campos said.

Instagram vs. reality

Summer can look glamorous on social media — perfectly posed bathing suit pictures, luxurious vacations and radiant sunshine.

It can feel as though everyone is having a better and more beautiful time than you, Moravec said. And many people think if they don’t fit that image, everyone will notice, said Dr. Whitney Trotter, a doctor of nursing practice, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner and registered dietitian in Austin, Texas.

Campos’ clients often share that they feel worried about going to cookouts and get-togethers over the summer because they think others will be eyeing the choices they make around food.

“Most people are worried about their own bodies, and they’re worried about their own food choices, but yet the pressure is still there,” she said.

One helpful practice can be to go out into the world — parties, the beach, the pool or restaurants — and simply observe who is out there participating, Moravec said. It isn’t just the curated images of social media. Instead you’ll find people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds who are getting together and having fun.

“The reality is that life is happening with or without (the image management),” she said. “If you were to focus on simply connecting with other people connecting with yourself, what would life look like?”

Looking for belonging

Often, behind the efforts to achieve the socially ideal body are notions that you will have access to the more important things once you get it.

“We all carry an underlying story about what we need or who we need to be to get love or belonging or safety,” Moravec said. And bodies are an easy target.

If only you looked different, then maybe you would also be staring at a sunset with someone you love, splashing in the waves happily with your kids or enjoying a vacation with a group of close friends, right?

“Our work is to really challenge that,” Moravec said. “When I think about the friends that I have the deepest friendships with, I’m not thinking about how tan their skin is. I’m not thinking about how they look in a bathing suit.”

The idea that a different image may help foster a sense of belonging in a season of vacationing may feel present for people of color, Trotter said.

“For African Americans, (vacationing in popular locations) was not always available,” she said. “There is kind of this pressure now … ‘How do I vacation the right way?’

“And oftentimes, that leads to dieting and weight loss, because they want to have a thin body, or a body that appears more accessible,” Trotter said.

Moravec recommends shifting the focus away from how your body looks and striving toward those things you desire in your life.

“When somebody’s having a hard body image day … I want them to check in about what else is going on,” she said. “Are they feeling lonely? Are they feeling disconnected? Are they not feeling good enough?”

Rarely, if ever, do we love people just because of how they look, so there are better ways than changing your body to get the connection you are looking for, Moravec said.

Can you spend more quality time with your loved ones? Can you be more present by playing in the pool without worrying about what you look like?

Be aware that changing your body doesn’t always mean problems of connection and belonging will be fixed, Campos said.

“It’s like getting a haircut after a breakup,” she added. “You might feel better, but it doesn’t actually change anything in your body. It is just in the temporary relief from a bigger, more systemic issue.”

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