By Alison Kouba, graduate student at Bastyr University; reviewed by Dr. Cristen Harris
Aw, Spring! A season full of budding trees, blooming flowers, longer and sunnier days, and oh yes, the return of swimsuit season. While this time of year brings joy in many ways, it’s not uncommon to experience a bit of anxiety and body insecurity for individuals with all different relationships with their bodies. And no wonder! Everyday we are bombarded with advertisements and magazines telling us to try the latest diet plan or workout routine so that we can get “beach ready in no time!!” And let’s not forget the new use of social media in promoting the thin ideal. It’s hard to not be affected by these constant messages that tell us that we have to look a very certain way to ‘belong’ in a swimsuit.
So what exactly is the definition of the oh so coveted “bikini body?” It turns out to be much simpler than you’d think. The true definition of a bikini body is, well, a body with a bikini on it. Not exactly what we’re used to hearing, but think about it. It’s ironic that by the age of six we are already taught that every human on the planet is genetically unique and that no two people share the same face, yet we simultaneously see societal messages that we should all look only one way and that somehow if we don’t, we are inadequate. With such conflicting messages, it’s obvious why we’re all confused and question our attractiveness at times: we’ve been conditioned to think that there is single definition of beauty. But this spring it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with the truth we learned in grade school: we are all physically unique and that very individuality and rarity is what makes the world so colorful, vibrant, and interesting! We should all be celebrating the color and complexity that we each uniquely bring to the world.
It’s pleasing to see that in recent years people have caught on to this message, as seen by the greater push towards body acceptance in the media and modeling world, yet the mission is far from complete. It’s time to change the story and free ourselves from the anxiety and body shame that accompanies some of the most beautiful months of the year! How different would it feel if this year we put the magazines away, ignored the infomercials on the latest ‘bikini body’ workout, and put on that swimsuit with pride? How would it feel to respect and appreciate the wonderful diversity of body shapes and sizes that exists in the world, just as we appreciate the diversity of faces? How freeing would it be to let go of the impossible pursuit and need to fit into a certain mold and love our body the way it is? And how amazing would it feel to go to the beach this year like you did when you were a kid, without any thought to what you looked like and completely captivated in having fun with friends and family? I can feel the relief already!
As great as all this sounds, body acceptance is no simple feat and is a lifelong work in progress! But today is the day to start, and here are several ways to start that new conversation with yourself.
- Take control over your Environment.
Start by taking control over the parts of your environment you can change. Become a critical viewer of media messages. Figure out the content on social media that triggers your own negative body image and remove the posts from your feed. Instead, follow sites and organizations that promote positive body image and make you appreciate yourself the way you are.
- Listen to the messages you are saying to yourself.
Through no fault of our own, the external messages we’ve been conditioned to believe come out in our own words to ourselves. When was the last time you looked in the mirror and had 100% positive thoughts and comments? Remember that no one has ever hated themselves into happiness and health. It can be helpful to pay attention to the voice we use with ourselves and ask, would I say this to a child? If you would never hold a child to the same expectations you have for yourself or if you would never say things to a child that you tell yourself, then the thoughts are neither helpful nor compassionate. We all deserve the same love and acceptance, and learning how to catch our self-critic and change our self-talk to one of compassion is a huge step towards a life of happiness and freedom from shame.
- Let go of conditions for self-acceptance.
Conditions can be goals or rules that we set that limit our self-acceptance to a future time. For example, once I can run X amount of miles, I will believe I’m fit; or once I look like X, I will be happy. The problem with conditions is that they put happiness and acceptance in the future, and self-love is only achieved once we feel we’ve earned the right to it. Thinking back to those positive self-messages in #2, do children need to earn our acceptance and love? Absolutely not, and neither do you!
4.Forgive yourself when you struggle.
All of this body appreciation and self-acceptance only makes sense if we can forgive ourselves when we have moments of weakness. As said before, body acceptance is a lifelong journey, and that journey doesn’t follow a straight line. You may have times that you speed forward, fall off a cliff, march steady, and struggle up hill. But no matter where you are in your journey, the important thing to remember is to have the courage to keep moving.
So this week, in celebrating that all bodies are bikini bodies, what do you love about your bikini body?