This blog post is focused on helping with body image issues at the beach. We will talk about factors that can cause anxiety about your body at the beach, as well as how to reduce negative feelings and thoughts about your body during vacations. 

Body Image Issues At The Beach

With bikini season approaching, it can be an overwhelming feeling to think about spring break and summer beach vacations with friends and family, especially if you have an unhealthy relationship with food or struggle with body image. You may even be feeling more dread and anxiety over the idea of going to the beach than excitement. There are many reasons that could be behind why you may be feeling stressed about your beach plans. It could be due to social media, societal standards, our diet culture, messages from your family or peer group, or comparing yourself to those around you. 

Social media can be harmful for your body image

Social media and societal standards go hand in hand with each other. Social media reflects the unrealistic beauty standards that are set by society. Scrolling through social media posts, depending on who you follow, can be very damaging to both your relationship with food and create body image issues because it praises unattainable body features and thinness. It tends to lack representation of diverse body types and shapes, which results in many people believing that the bodies influencers possess are the average, not the exception. Social media sets dangerous body image standards because many of the bodies that are idealized are due to genetics, an eating disorder, or plastic surgery. Of course, this is typically not disclosed by the people posting the pictures. Messages such as, “just work hard enough and you will have a body like me”, or “go to the gym enough days and you too can be thin and attractive” are the main narrative. Social media messages are particularly harmful when bikini season is around the corner because there is a pressure to have the perfect “beach bod.” The reinforcement of this idea that is seen throughout different social media platforms can increase unhealthy eating and exercise habits, depression and anxiety, as well as poor body image. 

A particularly distressing part of beach vacations for many people can be taking pictures for social media. There can be pressure to have your body look a certain way for it to be “acceptable” in pictures. Also, looking back at pictures can turn a good body image day into a bad one. There is a lot of pressure on us to take aesthetic pictures of ourselves to post to social media. 

While it can be challenging to maintain a positive body image while at the beach, it is not impossible. At Best Within You Therapy & Wellness we have worked with many clients who have made tremendous improvements in their body image. Know that it is very possible to feel better about your body. It is also very possible to go on a vacation at the beach and not be focused on your body image issues.   

How to not let your thoughts about your body impact your vacation

When you look back on your trip, you’ll want to remember the memories you made with friends and family, not how much you ate or exercised, how much you followed a diet, or how your photo shoot at the beach turned out during the trip. Practicing mindfulness and thinking of your thoughts as just words and not facts can help in not letting thoughts of food, exercise, and negative body-related beliefs get in the way of enjoying your vacation. The technique we are about to discuss comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is one of the techniques the psychologists at Best Within You Therapy & Wellness use to help clients with anxiety.  

Treat thoughts as words, not facts

It’s important to stay in the moment and not buy into negative thoughts you may be experiencing. Your mind may come up with many unhelpful thoughts during your trip. It is important to look at those unhelpful thoughts as words, not facts. Just like when you go shopping online, you do not buy every single thing that you see. You can look at your mind like an online store. You want to only buy into and listen to the thoughts that align with your values. You do not want the unhelpful or negative thoughts to change your actions and move you away from doing things that are important and meaningful to you. 

For example, you can have the thought, “I look so ugly in this bathing suit I should not go to the pool today” AND you can go to the pool. You do not have to let that thought get in the way of doing something that is important to you and that you enjoy. Something that you can also try is saying in your head, “Is this a helpful thought?”  or “Would I say this to someone I love?” If the answer is no to either of these questions, then treat that thought as just a thought that you are choosing not to buy into. 

Challenge your negative self-talk

Self-talk makes a huge impact on body image issues. Another thing that you can practice both during and prior to your beach vacation is challenging and reframing your self-talk. When we change how we think, we change how we feel and what we do. Whenever you notice your mind thinking something negative, you can try refuting it or reframing it and adding in a compliment. If you catch yourself dissecting your appearance in the mirror or in a picture, try naming one thing you like about yourself. You may not love your body as a whole right away but you can start by complimenting it part by part.  You can also name things you like about yourself as a person; a person who is more than just their physical appearance. A lot of times, our mind comes up with thoughts that are exaggerated or catastrophized. See if you are able to challenge some of your thoughts by asking yourself, “What is the evidence this thought is true?” Do you have any evidence this thought is not true?

Expand the lens in your photos to improve body image 

We don’t mean literally expand the lens, but do so metaphorically. If you look at pictures of yourself either during or after the trip, see if you can think about how you felt in that picture. Also, think about what that picture captured. Zoom out to look at things like the beach, the sun, and not just at your body. When looking at your body try not to focus on the body part you do not like, but instead look at your body as a whole. 

Limit social media usage or be intentional about who you follow 

Another way to reduce anxiety at the beach is to reduce social media consumption or be very intentional about who you are following, and who you are not following. This can reduce the need to take “Instagram worthy” beach pictures. If you know taking pictures will create negative thoughts, try just taking pictures of the ocean, a cool shell, or anything else you find pretty. You could also try taking a few pictures, not too many, and looking at them at a later time so as to not take you away from the moment by being put in a bad mood. You can look at them once you are out of the bikini, out of public, and in a positive mood so you are less likely to dissect your appearance. 

We have created a list of social media accounts that promote positive body image. These accounts are from therapists, dietitians, and activists. The accounts promote positive messages about mental health, body image, and relationships with food. The Instagram accounts also include people from a variety of shapes and sizes. If you take a look at this list, adding these accounts to ones that you currently follow can be beneficial. It will fill your feed with more messages about body acceptance.

Reduce body checking 

Try to limit the amount of time you spend looking in a mirror and critiquing your body. Look at your body as a whole and not parts. 

Body dissatisfaction is common, but you can make a change

It is normal for everyone to feel self-conscious from time to time when putting on beach wear, however it should not feel so stressful to the point where you are not enjoying yourself anymore. You also don’t want to let your thoughts about your body get in the way of your vacation. While on vacation, it is important that your thoughts do not only consist of food, exercise, and body-focused comments. It is important to allow yourself to relax while on vacation and prioritize spending time with friends and family. Try not to get swept down the path of restrictive eating and excessive exercise in an effort to feel good in your body or for social media. Give yourself permission to give into cravings, or anything else your body is telling you it wants. Exercise if you want to, not just to look good in pictures for the trip. Exercise should be enjoyable, like walking in the sand by the ocean or biking across town to explore it. Remember that exercise is not a punishment, but more so a celebration of what your body can do for you. 

Therapy for body image

If you are feeling distressed at all, it is beneficial to seek a professional’s help in creating a positive body image and self-talk narrative, as well as reducing anxiety at the beach. Here at Best Within You Therapy & Wellness, our psychologists have significant experience working with people struggling with disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image issues. It can be overwhelming to go through this alone, so feel free to reach out and schedule a appointment with a psychologist for therapy. You can schedule an online therapy appointment or free phone consultation. It is important to enjoy your time with friends and family, and to remember that every body is a beach body.

This blog post was written by Atlanta Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Leslie and Marcella Peach. Marcella is interning for Best Within You Therapy & Wellness and is a college student at the University of Georgia.