It happens every year as summer turns to spring, as predictable as seasonal allergies: advertisers, marketers, and influencers will start throwing around the phrases “bikini body” and “beach body.” Now that we’re well into June, it’s likely you’ve already seen a decent number of social media posts, ads, articles, and more imploring you to get your body “summer-ready.” This tactic isn’t new, and for some of us it might be easy to simply roll our eyes at the tired messaging. But for those who struggle with body image or an eating disorder, it can, at worst, lead to disordered behaviors, and, at best, strip all the fun out of what’s meant to be a joyful and carefree season.
Let’s unpack where these body image pressures come from, why they’re a problem, and how to shake them off.
The problem with phrases like “bikini body”
In many ways, messaging around looking a certain way for the summer is just an intensified version of the societal pressure to be thin that exists year-round—a pressure that many of us absorb without questioning (thanks, diet culture). “Rarely do people talk about the costs that come from pursuing the ‘ideal’ summer body: the time it takes to focus on new diets or exercise routines, the moments you miss out on because you’re focused on how your body should look rather than being in the present, the physical toll of weight cycling and major nutrients not being included in your meals,” says Equip Senior Program Development Lead Ally Duvall. “We’re told that once we achieve the perfect summer body, we will achieve anything. But that assumes we’ll have the brain space and energy to do so, and that the ideal body will stay the same—which it never does.”
Equip Peer Mentor Ethan Lopez agrees, noting that descriptors like “summer body” promote the idea that your physical body is what people will be focusing on most (and, thus, what you should focus on most), rather than their own personal enjoyment of the day. Shifting the emphasis to appearance, he says, robs people of an ability to actually enjoy whatever activity they’re engaging in—which is a pretty sad prospect given how precious summertime is to most people.
Jessie Menzel, Equip’s VP of Program Development, points out that language emphasizing the idea of a “summer body” compounds the body image pressures that already tend to stack up this time of year. “Summer is a time when bodies are really put on display, with the warm weather and the choice of clothing that comes with it—tank tops, no shirts, shorts, swimsuits,” Menzel says. “For many people, knowing that others are seeing your body increases your own anxiety and awareness of your body and how it looks to others.”
Of course, the very notion of a “beach body” or “bikini body” perpetuates the myth that certain body types are better than others, which Equip Peer Mentor Janina Larsen adamantly calls out as a false and damaging premise. “By using these terms, you're reinforcing the idea that people need to look a certain way in order to enjoy spending time at the beach or wearing a bikini. In reality, everyone can enjoy these activities regardless of what they look like,” she says. Lopez agrees, noting that, “when people think of a ‘beach body’ or ‘bikini body,’ the image of a thin white woman or a muscular white man are probably the first images that pop into their mind, because that’s what we see in the media. All bodies exist and should be celebrated as they are, rather than shamed into conforming to a mold that’s usually unattainable for most.”
In order for summer to be fun, fulfilling, and truly healthy, it’s important that those struggling with body image or affected by eating disorders are especially mindful about the messages they internalize. The five strategies below can help you tune out the noise and refocus your attention on the joy of summer, rather than allowing the “beach body” narrative to once again run the show.
5 strategies to bolster body image during beach season
1. Pay close attention to the messages you see online and IRL
Experts often recommend taking inventory of the social media accounts you follow (as well as the friends and acquaintances you spend time with) and letting go of any unhelpful, unhealthy, or downright dangerous messages that may be infiltrating your mind. Summer is as good a time as any to hit the “unfollow” button or step away from any toxic relationships that negatively impact your self-esteem and body image.
“Anything that focuses on how to achieve a certain body ideal in a short time period screams to me as extremely harmful,” Duvall says. “I see ‘how to get your tummy summer-ready in four weeks’ or ‘beach-ready in one month’ and not only do those messages reinforce that you have to change your body in order to enjoy the summer, but they also heavily encourage eating disorder behaviors as the means to achieve those body changes.”
Lopez says that as a trans person, they’ve seen a troubling trend impacting the trans community each summer: the drive to achieve thinness or muscularity in order to fit a stereotypical cisgender standard. “I see an influx of people going to the gym in order to be ‘presentable’ at the beach. I find it troubling that folks are told to change their bodies in order to be in public spaces (but still have underlying fears of microaggressions, safety as a visible trans person, etc.).”
Recognizing, interrogating, and ultimately discarding messages that you deem problematic or triggering may help set you up for a healthier, happier summer. “If you use social media, follow hashtags that show a diverse range of bodies to help make your feed more reflective of the ‘real world,’” Lopez says.
2. Buy (or borrow) clothes that make you feel confident
One of the bright spots in the sometimes-bleak landscape of social media is the body diversity that can be found, and the number of influencers and users who offer fashion ideas, styling tips, and shopping recommendations for every shape and size. And while the fashion industry still has a long way to go in terms of size availability, there are more options than ever to create cute, comfy looks that can help you feel confident in your skin.
Rather than buying clothing that’s too snug as “motivation” or because you feel you “should” fit into it, be honest with yourself about what makes your body feel good, and get that instead. “Wear what makes you feel comfortable!” Larsen says. “Clothes are meant to fit you, not the other way around.”
3. Tune into the sensory experience of each summer activity
Lopez says that being a neurodivergent person has encouraged them to focus on the sensory joys that the season can bring—and that wisdom can help any person become more mindful and connected to their internal experience instead of their external appearance.
“For example, feeling the warm sand under my toes and the rays of sunshine on my skin, the smell of the beach mist with a hint of seaweed, and enjoying the taste of a cold soft serve while resting helps keep my mind off of any negative body talk that might come up,” Lopez says.
4. Set healthy boundaries with those around you
Establishing healthy boundaries with friends, family, and even strangers upfront can spare you a negative thought spiral.
“Set boundaries with people in your life who make harmful comments about bodies, including their own,” Larsen advises. “It's okay to struggle with body image and it's not acceptable to project your insecurities onto others. Use statements like, ‘I'm not interested in discussing people's bodies’ or ‘please don't comment on my body or anyone else's’ to redirect the conversation and practice body neutrality.”
5. Practice self-compassion every chance you get
Perhaps one of the toughest parts of building body image resilience is learning to be kind to yourself, but strengthening this skill can be an invaluable tool in preventing negative body image messages from seeping in.
“We can get caught up in our own thoughts about how our body will look, how we will feel about it, how others will perceive it, making it impossible to enjoy the present moment,” Duvall says. “And understandably so: everywhere you look, there’s a new product to tighten your tummy or new summer diet to try. I always recommend that folks start with self-compassion, because it makes a lot of sense that we feel the way we do about our bodies. Feeling bad about feeling bad only continues a body shame cycle.”
There are countless other ways to cultivate a healthier body image, even in the face of “beach body” toxicity. But these five tips are a great place to start laying the foundation for a more embodied, joy-filled summer—and hopefully beyond.