The season of summer can bring out a myriad of emotions for many people. It’s supposed to be the season of celebration, joy, warm weather, long days and nights. It’s the season of travel, family vacations and...lots of pictures. This isn’t always a happy experience for everyone.
For one, whenever there is an expectation to be ‘happy’ and ‘joyful’, anyone struggling with mental illness can feel shame. It’s yet another reminder that you are not okay inside- and culturally this can feel unacceptable. You may be struggling even more with thoughts like: what’s wrong with me?! Why is everyone else fine except me?
Two, we often have many childhood memories associated with summer. While for some, they may be happy memories, for others, they may be memories filled with disappointment, neglect, trauma, an unhappy family dynamic or loneliness.
Three, when struggling with an eating disorder and body image issues, summer clothes and events are huge triggers. It’s normal to wear less clothing during this season, but for the person with body image struggles; this brings a hyper-focus and often extremely self critical lens to the body. It’s also a season of picnics, family barbecues and eating out on roadtrips--all difficult and anxiety producing experiences while in the grips of an eating disorder. So what do you do? Do you give in to the eating disorder and miss out on your life? What if there was another way to navigate this season? What if I told you- it’s okay to not be okay? What if you viewed summer in recovery as yet another chance to challenge the eating disorder? Instead of beating yourself up: try to view this as yet another test in recovery that you must pass. Get curious about your triggers: where do they come from? Who created the idea of a ‘beach body’ anyways? Whose voice is it in your head telling you your body isn’t good enough? These messages don’t just happen. They are created. They are passed down from generations, systems of oppression such as fatphobia, sexism and racism. We live in a society designed to make us feel ‘less than.’ We live in a world where we are supposed to hate our bodies- but you aren’t born this way.
After you have identified where these insecurities come from; it’s time to start practicing some body image tools. I often tell my clients to develop a daily body image coping plan. This can include things like: muting/deleting people on social media that make you feel worse about your body (goodbye diet accounts!), following body diverse accounts (the most research backed way to become more accepting of your own unique body), using body neutral mantras DAILY and putting them on sticky notes on your mirror, purchasing clothes that fit your NOW body and feel comfy, writing out a list of all your body parts and what you appreciate about their function (ie: thank you arms for allowing me to hug my partner) and lastly, work on examining your core values. What do you care about most in your life? How do you want to look back on your life when you are 80? List it out. Start cultivating a daily life that reflects how YOU want to look back on your life; not how the eating disorder and culture would like you to live.
Ultimately, it’s okay not to love your looks. The important thing is that you realize you are so much more than a body. The important thing is; you can wake up not loving your body and still be willing to take care of it and treat it with kindness. The important thing is, you don’t miss out on your life because of your body. Your body is the vehicle of your life; it’s not an ornament.
Allyson Ford, MA, LPCC