Shouldn’t we be excited about the summer? Cookouts, holidays, beaches, fun and frolicking in the sun. When we were kids, we loved summer. Time to just relax and play outside. But for many midlife women, this is not the case. The onset of the good season is actually one of the most dreaded times.
Bikinis and bathing suits invade our favourite store, causing an overwhelming influx of stress and nerves. This is when all the anxiety starts. Summer means wearing fewer layers, less clothing, and possibly a swimsuit. Arms and legs come out of jumpers, shirts, trousers and jeans, begging to see the sun. Just the thought of it makes many of us sweat. We worry or feel ashamed about the size of our thighs, tummies or arms and we vow to get in shape and lose weight, in order to just consider going to the beach.
Our body insecurities suddenly seem to steal our joy for the summer season.
I know that for sure as I spent way too many years punishing my body with hours of endless exercise, and worried about everything I put into my mouth. Why? Because I grew up thinking: “If I’d lost weight and looked like everyone else, I would have been happier and my life better”.
For several years, I bought into these beliefs, and why wouldn’t I? Pictures of perfect, trim and fit bodies are everywhere you look. All with the same messages: in order to be accepted and feel good about yourself, you need to look a certain way. If you don’t, you’re likely to succumb to harsh self-criticism, deep shame, and never-ending comparison to others.
Practise Body Neutrality
Concerns about body image and appearance, while often associated with younger people, are not exclusive to youth. Though our appearance and our relationship with our bodies change as we age, we do not stop valuing our bodies, and body image concerns can still remain.
According to a survey by The Mental Health Foundation: “Around one in five adults aged 55+ felt anxious (20%) or depressed (23%) specifically because of their body image, demonstrating that body image continues to affect our mental health into later life“.
So, how can we break free from this Diet Culture that makes us believe appearance and body shape are more important than physical, psychological, and general well-being?
Enter Body Neutrality, a new way to see ourselves. It’s a belief that the size and shape of our bodies are not tied to our worth as a person. It focuses on body function over appearance.
Our body image falls on a continuum: on one side is body hate, and on the other side is body love. Body Neutrality is a steppingstone and a quiet resting place away from body hatred and toward body acceptance.
Basically, this approach sees our body as the vehicle we experience our life in. The vehicle we hug our child in, make a work proposal in, call that friend in, and enjoy your coffee in. That’s it. We don’t have to buy into hating it or loving it if we don’t want to as Body Neutrality focuses on function, the way the body enables us to live our life.
Say No To The Diet Culture
The only true way to be free from the negative thoughts around our bodies, is ironically, to start appreciating the things our body does for us. This is when we show up as our true selves, and people notice. They notice how your smile brightens a room when you are feeling nourished and good about yourself. They notice that your laugh is louder when you are free of the obsessive thoughts of judgment and comparison. Our own beliefs about our bodies might be the actual reason we stay trapped.
My own decades of this self-flagellation led me to say, “enough is enough”. Especially when I realised I found myself passing the same thoughts and beliefs on to my daughters.
It was time to pause, come up for air, take a new breath and choose to think differently about myself. I chose Body Neutrality so that I could help change the trajectory of our next generation. By deciding to turn away from the diet culture (a $ 71 billion/year industry), I started realizing the amazing things my body does for me every day. And I would encourage you to do the same.
Here’s my personal roadmap:
- I stopped weighing myself and giving my power away to a number. That piece of metal in my bathroom dictated my mood, energy, decisions and life for way too long.
- I began a daily body gratitude journal. Every night, I thank my body for what it did for me that day. From tasting my first sip of coffee to driving to a doctor’s appointment. It didn’t matter what I wrote, I found things I was grateful for.
- I decided to tell myself every day: “My body is the vehicle I experience my life in”. What it looks like is the least interesting thing about me. Didn’t you notice reasons for your friends like you 95% of the time have nothing to do with the size of your body?
- I decided NOT to miss the joy I always feel when I am at the beach jumping the waves with my grandson, making a sandcastle with my daughters, or enjoying the sun with a good book.
- I began to really tune into my body and listen to it. I ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, slept when I was tired and moved my body when it was begging for it.
- I focused on doing things that made me feel good, like drinking water, getting outside, prioritizing my sleep, laughing, etc.
No more missing out on those life memories or shying away from pictures. It’s time to see our bodies differently and enjoy them, rather than killing a good time worrying about the size of my thighs.
So here is the secret to having a beach-ready body: have a body, go to the beach.