It’s summertime, and we’re diving head first into how you feel about your body at the beach. It’s the season of summer dresses, shorts, bathing suits, more skin exposure and the time of year when diet ads are usually at their peak. How do we approach body image during the summer through a weight-inclusive, non-diet, self-compassionate lens? Let’s talk about it!
First of all, the reason you feel uncomfy at the beach has (most likely) nothing to do with your actual body.
Feeling uncomfortable in your body has everything to do with our society’s views on bodies. Which is fucked up in a lot of ways, but the biggest reason is this: if we collectively decided that all bodies are inherently beach bodies, simply by just being a body at the beach, then it wouldn’t be that uncomfy anymore. And a LOT of companies (namely Beach Body lolz) would start losing money.
Reminder: people and companies profit off insecurities. What better way to profit than making sure that EVERY SINGLE SUMMER SEASON there’s an influx of new customers determined to shred n’ shrink themselves so they can “be ready” for the beach/pool/swimsuit. So to achieve this? They perpetuate the idea (aka spend a lot of marketing $$) that a beach body or a bikini body or a summer body looks a certain way, is a certain size or has a certain shape.
So in short, the reason you’re uncomfy at the beach isn’t because of your body. Your actual physical body is just FINE at the beach! You’re likely uncomfy at the beach because of society’s (and therefore your own) views about what it MEANS to have a body at the beach.
Quick side note and personal story:
I grew up on Cape Cod, MA. Meaning I was born and raised there and lived there year round until I left for college around age 18. Which means I (in a very cliche way) literally was raised on the beach. We went all year. In elementary school my mom would pick me up and drive by the beach on our way home. In middle school, we took regular field trips to the beach. In high school we’d skip class and run down to the beach (our high school was super close to Nauset Light in Eastham.) It’s in my blood and – I swear – my DNA!
It’s always been a place I go when I’m feeling stressed, confused, lost, or overwhelmed with life. The saltwater air and meditative nature of the crashing waves soothes my spirit immediately. It has a healing way about it that I’m sure many of you understand! Whether you’re spending the day at the beach catching up with a friend, flying solo and escaping with a good book, vacationing with your friends/family, or watching your kiddo eat sand for the first time, nothing should hold you back from a.) going and b.) enjoying and being present for every moment.
So what really fucking pisses me off is when our fatphobic society steals that joy, experience, and fun away by convincing you that you’re anything short of beach body material.
It breaks my heart how many people feel left out of the beach/summer/pool/swimsuit vibe.
And honestly? It makes ZERO sense. The (filtered, unrealistic) images we see of bodies enjoying the beach, summer, pool, & swimsuits are… what? Mostly white, thin, tall, cellulite/stretch mark-free, able-bodied, etc. IDK about you, but when I go to the beach (all over the world, not just in my little Boston bubble) I see ALL kinds of bodies. Fat, round, short, thin, thick, tall, dimpled, cellulite, multiple races, wheelchairs, etc. No matter where in the world your beach day is happening, I can guarantee you that the mainstream media doesn’t align with reality in terms of what it means to have a “beach body.”
Look around the next time you’re at the beach and compare this bullshit “beach body” narrative to reality. It’s far off. People naturally exist in a WIDE range of diverse bodies, and ALL people deserve a shame-free, enjoyable and life-giving summer.
So let me say it again:
The beach isn’t uncomfortable because of your body, it’s uncomfortable because of the social construct that a body-obsessed, weight-focused culture has developed around what kind of body looks “best” in a bikini.
I urge you to resist the narrative saying you need to trim, nip, shrink, or tone yourself before rocking a swimsuit. It’s bullshit and I’m not here for it.
I work with SO. MANY. CLIENTS. who are like, “But Lexy, I’m NOT _____ (going to the beach, dating, having a baby, going wedding dress shopping, etc) unless I lose weight.” And let me first acknowledge: YES, our society is cruel and harmful towards certain types of bodies. People in fat (or other marginalized) bodies are bullied, shamed, ridiculed or harassed and even receive stigmatizing, unequal healthcare. But our culture isn’t going to change overnight. And it’s def not gonna change if we keep allowing it to be an asshole. So what can we do? We can change our own relationship with our body. And we can set boundaries so that diet culture doesn’t get to dictate how we show up in the world.
Generally, after a few months of doing some deep soul work together, these same clients tell me:
“OMG I’m dating!” or
“I’m pregnant!” or
“I went to the beach!”
… yet their bodies didn’t change. Their relationships with their bodies changed.
I had three clients just within the last week who went on beach vacations – without changing their bodies – and here’s what they said:
“I went to the beach and did not let my self consciousness make me avoid doing things! I went in the water and wore a bathing suit. I have been having a better summer than usual because of it!”
“I’ve managed to conquer the anxiety and fear I had about wearing my swimsuit on vacation. Noticing that the majority of the people on the actual beach look nothing like the images we are flooded with everyday is a welcome site. Seeing people of all shapes and sizes seemingly enjoy themselves no matter what they look like.”
“It’s just so bananas how we’re constantly deprogramming ourselves from what we were told is ‘beautiful’. I’m so grateful to be in this process Lexy 🙂 I happily wore my two piece at the beach today.”
So today I’m drawing directly from how I coach my clients and sharing a process with all of you so you don’t have to get to the end of your life and realized you missed out on years at the beach. Go ahead and read on, you beach-goer you!
How to show up and feel your best in your beach body
Step 1: Assess the facts of what kind of culture you are surrounded by.
People are jerks about bodies, especially certain ones at the beach/pool/in swimsuits. Why? Mainly because of long perpetuated fatphobia and a diet, wellness and weight loss industry that profits ($72 billion worth) off people (especially women) by convincing them that the best body is a smaller/fitter/thinner body which we should all try to achieve at all costs. (Read more about how and when pursuing weight loss *could* be bad for your health in this post.)
Step 2: Validate your own feelings.
It makes perfect sense why you feel hesitant about throwing on a swimsuit and strutting your stuff in front of other people. It’s common to feel insecure and uncomfortable because all of us are living in the same messed up world that perpetuates completely untrue and harmful ideas about body size equating to worth, value or happiness.
Step 3: Look at your options and consider the costs.
Option 1: Say no. To the beach, pool, etc. What does this represent? A win for “them”. They win because they stole an experience from you by promising that if you just ___ (do this diet, take this supplement, purchase this exercise program, focus on the pursuit of thinness, etc) then you can enjoy that beach day. They’ve turned a fun, carefree day in the outdoors into a bribe to further convince you of your “need” for a product/service/lifestyle change to earn or deserve that experience.
What is the cost of saying no or letting your body insecurities keep you indoors / covered up? You miss out on that experience, that time with loved ones or just with yourself, that soothing sound of the waves, that feeling of Vitamin D on your skin, the refreshing feel of floating weightlessly in the pool and on and on. You give your body insecurities one more day of controlling your decision-making and the kind of life you are living. And honestly, they keep getting stronger. What we feed grows!
Option 2: Say fuck off diet culture, and go for it! Find a bathing suit or summer outfit that fits and feels comfortable. Find people around whom you can completely be yourself. Find an activity that will bring you joy, and get yourself there STAT.
What is the cost of saying yes? You might get some looks from the assholes out there who have fucked up ideas about what kinds of bodies deserve to wear bikinis and enjoy the beach. You may even get a verbal comment if said asshole is also a loudmouth (this says everything about them and nothing about you, PS – you have to be a PRETTY miserable person to do that kinda shit!) You may endure some initial discomfort simply in the newness of this sensation – exposing so much skin or sitting on a towel on the sand or being in a dress at a cafe, etc. If this is new for you, it may take some adjusting as you remind yourself: I deserve this experience. This experience is here for ME in my NOW body.
I FULLY encourage you to walk through the pain/fear/anxiety/etc and focus INTENTLY on the moment. How does the sun feel on your skin? How refreshing is that cool water you get to float in? Try your best to be present with your PURPOSE for going to the beach. Your purpose is to, “bring light into this world, not decorate it” (from More than a Body by Lexie and Lindsay Kite.) Your friends want you there. Your family wants you there. YOU want you there. And your body DESERVES to be there!
Every time you stand up against those assholes in real life or the oppressive/obsessive/negative part of your own brain, they/it gets quieter. When you keep making the decision to CHOOSE life experiences regardless of your body size, you improve your relationship with your body. You respect it, care for it, and give it the experiences due any and all humans. And you’re GROWING the part of you that’s your truest, healthiest, happiest self. This creates more positive body image – which isn’t believing your body looks good – it’s knowing your body IS good, regardless of how it looks.
You may be thinking, “easy for her to say, she’s thin” and you’d be right.
It is easy for me to say. Which is why I say it. Rather than being another voice in your ear making you feel like you’re not good enough, I’m here to tell you that you ARE good enough, right now as you are. I’ve seen too many people hold themselves back in life, and from the beach in particular, because of their limiting beliefs about their bodies – unkindly given to them by society. You CAN choose to refuse this narrative. You CAN write a new story.
Hear this: at my smallest weight/most “fit” body – I remember feeling SO uncomfortable at the beach. I obsessed over my body on vacation to the point that I wasn’t present at ALL. Now that I’m a good amount above that weight and probably the least physically active of my life (due to mold sickness, a story for another day!), I’ve never felt more comfortable in my bathing suit or at the beach than I do today.
**note: even at my higher weight I am STILL relatively safe from the severely oppressive, harmful and stigmatizing experiences that most of my clients (and maybe you yourself) in larger bodies deal with on a daily basis. I am by no means attempting to take away from the very real oppression that exists for people in fat (and especially for fat BIPOC) bodies. My intention here is to provide a frame of reference – as someone who had the “ideal” body and was still miserable. I do not however know what it’s like to have your lived experience, and whatever your experience and feelings about it are, I’m here to validate you 800%.
So, where did this body confidence and comfort come from?
It’s certainly not from shrinking my body. It’s not from toning up. It’s from developing a more positive body image. It’s from approaching my body with acceptance, respect, care and compassion. It’s from creating a my-personal-values-based life vs. a what-“they”-say-I-should-do life. It’s from rejecting the bullshit idea that our external appearance is what matters and should have the power to dictate what activities we engage in.
Instead of all this talk about “summer bodies” and focusing on how your body looks, let’s focus on laughing with friends, eating delicious food, riding bikes along the beach, swimming in the ocean, sitting by the lake, or hiking new mountain trails. Let’s celebrate our bodies for what they DO for us and for the unique and beautiful souls they house. Let’s dream about how we can live bigger, fuller lives than ever before.
If you’re on a path to weight loss, I understand. Going back to step 2, that desire is completely validated and understandable. And it’s 100% your body. You have FULL autonomy. But if you’re sick of all that and tired of feeling like a constant work-in-progress, I want you to know there’s another way, another path. This other path involves respecting and nurturing your body regardless of its size. It involves learning how to meet it where it’s at. And it means you get to live your life to the fullest REGARDLESS if you’re a size ___ or a size ___.
My closing thoughts:
BUY THE SWIMSUIT. GET TO THE BEACH. LIFE IS TOO SHORT.
Live for you, not for “them.”
One last note: I’ve recently fallen in LOVE with Summersalt (not an ad). I’m just ALL ABOUT their unapologetic dedication to uplifting, inspiring and empowering ALL bodies to feel comfortable at the beach. I’ve also had my eye on a company called Londre after their recent collaboration with The Birds Papaya. Check ‘em out if you’re in the market for a new suit!
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