It’s such a colorful time of year in Philadelphia when the weather begins to warm. More people frolicking out and about on the historic, cobblestone streets. Bikers weave in and out of SEPTA’s way. Rittenhouse Square is filled with picnic baskets and playful dogs. Tulips, cherry blossoms, and azaleas line Pine St., Delancey St. and Fitler Square. You catch the reflection of Center City in the flowing Schuylkill River from the South Street bridge. You walk past the smiling faces and clinking glasses of Philly locals and tourists alike at the French-inspired tables of Parc and Rouge, and you begin to wonder why you aren’t experiencing the same sense of excitement and joy as it seems your fellow Philadelphians are at the promise of sunshine and another Philadelphia winter passing us by.
In fact, all you can find yourself thinking about as you travel the Center City streets is how uncomfortable you feel in your body. You find yourself worried that others are judging the way your body looks in your newly purchased spring attire. You gaze at the peeking of skin in others you pass and you feel like you do not deserve to show your flesh. You wish you could hide safely nuzzled in the camouflage of your winter coat. You want so badly to feel happy in the changing of the seasons, but you can’t. You dread the warmer weather and the body shame it brings. You consider what some of your friends are doing like the Keto diet or the Whole 30 so you too can have a “summer body”, but you’ve tried diets so many times. Maybe you’ve lost the weight and gained it back and you’re tired of yo-yo dieting. You find yourself wondering if that “summer body” is really worth all the shame it brings with it.
You may be living with or in recovery from an eating disorder or maybe you just know what its like to experience body shame with the diet culture we live in. Spring and Summer can be a trigger to restrictive urges, body comparisons and self-judgement.
But, we have good news! You don’t have to diet to find happiness!
We’ve described some tools below to help you start the process to reclaiming the excitement and joy that warming weather can bring!
3 Tools for Improving your Body Image in Warmer Weather-
Practice mindfulness to neutralize your thoughts about your body.
• Reclaiming your body image doesn’t have to mean you love how it looks all the time or you are never uncomfortable in your body. If that is our beginning goal, we may give up before we get there! Reclaiming your body image actually means that you can be with your body without the usual judgements or qualifications or evaluations and focus on living your life.
• Mindfulness (being with the present moment without judgement) provides a frame of mind to neutralize your experience in your body. Try using only objective, fact-based descriptors when thinking or talking about your body. For example, instead of “I hate my thunder thighs in these shorts!”, try “I can feel the way my shorts fit around my thighs”.
• The next tool is to eliminate the label of good or bad. So, when you notice that you feel your shorts around your thighs, instead of thinking “that’s bad (or gross or disgusting or enter negative belief here)”, you can practice saying “I am learning that this is neither good or bad. It just is.”We only believe it to be bad because of the rigidity of diet culture ideals!
• Lastly, when practicing mindfulness, don’t judge your judging. Its only natural that your mind will return to the habitual judgement patterns for a while. When this happens, simply name it- “I noticed a judgement thought”, then give yourself permission to practice recreating a new, nonjudgmental thought to follow it up.
2. Surround yourself with AntiDiet, Health at Every Size, Body Liberation messages
• We are bombarded with harmful diet culture messages repetitively throughout the day. Do a quick experiment and see if you can notice how many messages about changing your body, losing weight, trying the next diet, getting fit, judging food,etc. you come across in a day. These messages live on billboards, internet ads, television and radio commercials, magazines and common talk. It’s everywhere!! And whether we like it or not, our minds are very susceptible to repetitive messages, so its practically impossible for our thoughts to not be influenced by the broken record of diet culture.
• Good news! Because our minds are susceptible to repetitive messaging and our brain is malleable, we can counteract this by filling our daily thoughts with messages of body liberation, food neutrality and self acceptance. If you are a daily scroller, one powerful way of doing this is by taking time to personalize your social media feeds. Delete accounts that promote unhealthy thin or fitness ideals, diet mentality, restrictive wellness and body shame and follow supporters of Health at Every Size, Anti-Diet, Intuitive Eating and Body Love perspectives. We’ve created a starter list for you below. (add IG follow sheet) Please feel free to share others in the comment section if you have them! Reclaiming our body image means reclaiming the stories we are told about our body and self worth, and paying attention to only the messages we choose to believe.
3. Take the time to realize that you are so much more than your body.
• Like we said before, true body acceptance isn’t about always loving the way your body looks. It’s actually moving away from the idea that your body’s appearance is one of the most important aspects of you and toward a belief that you are much, much more than your body.
• You consist of values and morals and dreams. You hold the ability to create and nurture and play. You’re worth is not determined by the shape of your flesh. Practice focusing on other aspects of yourself that make you you! Listen to music you are interested in, have conversations that ignite your passions and open your mind, connect with others who see your light. Paint, draw, dance, play, laugh, cry, feel, care, grieve, inspire, be. The more we connect with the deeper, more intrinsic and core aspects of ourselves, the more we lean into body acceptance, because we begin to cherish this container that holds our soul and provides us an ability to love and explore and be. Then we can appreciate our body for what it offers us- a way to travel about this life, to feel the warmth of the sun, to connect with other beings and our senses. Create a list (remember your mindfulness skills here) of other aspects that make up you and spend time each day engaging in these parts of you. Then, create another list of other ways your body can function for you during the warmer months besides as an illustration of your worth. Choose at least one to mindfully focus on each day!
If you feel you need more support, set yourself up with a body positive treatment team. Find a therapist and dietitian in Philadelphia who work from a Health at Every Size, Body Positive perspective. Maybe this Spring and Summer can be the beginning of a fresh, life- giving relationship with warmer weather, with your body and with yourself!
Melanie Taylor is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist speacializing in Eating Disorders and Yoga Therapy. Melanie is the Assistant Clinical Director at Spilove Psychotherapy.