It’s spring break and many people are making an annual pilgrimage to hot sun and warm beaches.
For some people, spring break is not just a vacation, it’s a deadline for achieving a swimsuit-ready body. Web sites and social media offer dozens of ways to lose winter weight. Heather Gallivan, PsyD, clinical director for Melrose Center, says that focus on having the perfect body can trigger unhealthy body-image anxieties. She offers some ways to avoid falling in to the beach body trap.
Body image is sometimes confused with self-esteem. Self-esteem is how you think and feel about yourself. Body image is how you think and feel about your body. So body image is one part of self-esteem.
Research shows that more than 80 percent of U.S. women don’t like how they look. That often leads to dieting and can also trigger an eating disorder. One of the biggest factors in body dissatisfaction, especially for adolescent girls, is if their peers are focused on appearance. Parents also influence body esteem by talking about weight and shape and focusing on dieting.
Media also plays a role. Women’s magazines have about ten times the content related to dieting and weight loss compared to men’s magazines. Project EAT found that girls who read articles on dieting or weight loss were six times more likely to have unhealthy behavior to control their weight. Boys were four times more likely.
To make matters worse, dieting can have the opposite effect of what you intended. It sets unreasonable expectations for depriving yourself of food and tolerating high levels of hunger. People get so hungry, they end up binge eating. Perhaps worst of all, dieting can result in positive cultural feedback. People might say, “You look great!” so they start to believe that what everyone wants of them is to not eat and to look thin.
Here are some ways to counteract negative media messages for yourself or your children:
- Know that healthy bodies come in all shapes, sizes and abilities.
- Focus on what you can do, not what you look like.
- Be aware of media exposure. Don’t watch TV during meals. Pay attention to the magazines you read.
- Be aware of the web and social media sites your teens are visiting.
- Watch TV with your teen and talk about the messages being given.
- Don’t criticize what people eat, how they look, or how much they exercise.
- Talk to your children and others about finding balance with eating and exercise.
- Be a good role model by practicing good habits.
Fortunately, there is a movement towards positive body image. The Dove Campaign offers positive messages about body image. Another is the Body Image Movement. It was started by an Australian body image activist, Taryn Brumfit. She posted an unconventional before-and-after photo of herself in 2013. It was seen by more than 100 million people worldwide. It was the beginning of a movement and led to her making the movie: Embrace the documentary. We can all participate by respecting bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities. Check out Melrose Center’s website for more information about the importance of positive body image.