By: Danielle Scarapicchia, LLMSW
Do you ever feel that your anxiety increases as summer approaches? You may start daydreaming around having ice cream dates with your best friend, but then it hits you: “It’s bathing suit season.” Suddenly you have a pit in your stomach and your heart starts to race because the thought of getting into a bathing suit and having others judge your body is so overwhelming to think about! This can be a big trigger for those having negative thoughts about their body. Body image anxiety can cause one to feel the constant need to look at themselves in the mirror and fixate on their flaws or “defects.” This is also known as body checking.
Is it hyperawareness or is it socially cultivated? We live in a society that rewards smaller waists when some of us are not predisposed that way purely based on genetics. Why do we punish ourselves over something that was created to profit from body image?
From weight loss supplement pop-up ads on Instagram and Tik Tok to a parent saying: “I need to lose five pounds because we’re going on vacation next week” conditions the next generation to become dissatisfied with their body.
It’s important to recognize that insecurities are not something we’re born with, it’s something we’re conditioned to.
When will the next generation be able to accept their bodies and not have to justify how they look? There are many factors that impact our body size such as: stress, high cortisol levels, genetics, medications, hormone imbalances, etc. Our bodies are constantly changing and that may be hard for us to accept at times. But it’s important to remember that we do not owe an explanation about our body to anyone! I remember a time when I tried on my jeans, and they were too tight; this is when the self-deprecating comments started to flood my brain. Maybe you can relate?
It was a vicious cycle that consisted of shame, low self-esteem and low-self-worth. I had never struggled with how I felt and how I perceived my body until I was in the thick of graduate school. All through my adolescence I was a confident young girl until I started to over analyze self-image in my early twenties. This was the first time in my life I was balancing much more on my plate that I thought I could handle. I was working long hours trying to manage my internship all while trying to prove I was an excellent student by excelling in my classes. Then…BOOM! A three-year pandemic hit. It’s safe to say that I was drowning, and my mental and physical health was low on the priority list. I knew something needed to change.
Not only has the pandemic caused an increased rate in anxiety, depression, mood disorders, substance abuse, and trauma from domestic violence and abuse but also a drastic increase in eating disorders. Eating disorders such as: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder. According to research findings “C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which saw a more than 2-fold increase in hospital admissions among patients aged 10 to 23 years with eating disorders during the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
If you’ve been struggling with negative thoughts about your own body image, here are five ways you can combat body image anxiety:
#1) Remember our thoughts shape our reality. Our thoughts influence our feelings which influence our mood and feelings which then impact our behavior. If you are constantly thinking and feeling negatively about yourself, you may notice a pattern of self-isolation.
Here’s an example:
Thought (cognitive & perceptual body image): “Wow, I look absolutely horrible in this shirt – my arms are huge”
Feeling & Body Sensation (affective body image): Disappointed, anxious, sad, deep pit in stomach
Behavior (behavioral body image): Bails on plans with friends and stays inside for the rest of the evening.
#2) Body Acceptance & Body Neutrality: let’s shift the lens from body positivity to body neutrality. Body positivity promotes everyone being beautiful no matter what, which is true, everyone is beautiful in their own way. But body neutrality places emphasis on your self-worth not being defined by your overall physical appearance.
“You’ll find a girl prettier than me, smarter than me, and funnier than me, but you will never find a girl just like me.” – unknown
#3) Exercise: Ask yourself “why am I actually exercising?” There’s a variety of reasons why people exercise. It’s one of the healthiest ways to release stress and endorphins. As we all know, when supplemented with a healthy lifestyle, exercise burns calories. If you’re noticing that you’re only exercising for aesthetic purposes while trying to obtain an unrealistic body – ask yourself “what motivates me outside of my body?”
#4) Self-Awareness & Compliments: Start catching the way you perpetuate diet culture. How do you compliment others other than their body? How do you perpetuate the cycle? Dig deep.
#5) Reach out to a licensed professional: Remember, we can do all the right things and still need additional support and we want you to know THAT’S OKAY. This is what therapists are for. We are here to help and support you along the way!