Dispelling the Myth of the Perfect, Post-Pandemic “Summer Body”
Let's rē•think the way we perceive ourselves this summer
As the weather warms up every summer, the pressure to meet society’s criteria for the perfect “summer body” resurfaces. But this summer is unlike any other, as the pandemic has wrought havoc on each person’s body image, skewing self-perception in ways, unlike other years… Stressful is an understatement, but learning to rē•spin the way you view and interact with common body image insecurities can promote inner-outer wellness.
The Pandemic and Body Image
Body image has a long and complicated history. It is subjective, rē-flecting the evolving beauty standards of what society deems desirable. Over the years, these body ideals have contradicted one another, creating an inescapable aesthetic cycle of unattainable standards and an ever-changing bar for perfection. As quickly as media and pop culture designs the “perfect” body, the trends change, and every few years, this new standard disrupts the sense of self-acceptance. While these issues have existed since before the pandemic, body image dysmorphia has reached a new high after almost a year and a half of seclusion.
Pandemic-induced stress has been linked to increased mental health issues in men and women regarding body image. Social and physical isolation, and dramatic changes to lifestyles and routines, have caused anxiety to spike; with it, body image woes. One study, performed by the scientific journal, Personality and Individual Differences, reveals that women want to be thinner, men want to be more muscular, and the pandemic increased self-imposed pressure to look a certain way.
The Pandemic-Era Body Image Experience
Maxine Goynes, the founder of MG Method, tells rē•spin that her clients have opened up about the pandemic affecting the way they feel in their skin. “Immediately, there was an honest shift and necessary acknowledgment regarding how we felt within our bodies,” she says. “[Clients have shared things like]: ‘I’m noticing I’m more anxious.’; ‘My hips feel tight.’; ‘My lower back is bothering me.’; ‘I haven’t been sleeping well.’; ‘I feel like I have gained a little weight.'” But the fact is, as the environment changed and behaviors followed suit, bodies naturally reflected those changes. “Understandably, any form of trauma can and will manifest in the body,” Goynes says.
As you emerge from your cocoons for the first time in over a year, you might suddenly find yourself facing an onslaught of negative thoughts, but rē-spinning the way that you interact with these thoughts holds the key to a pro-health future. It’s not easy to face them head-on, deconstruct them one-by-one, or cope with newly rē-emerged body image issues that have taken a hiatus for the last year or so. It’s impossible to rid your minds completely of negative thoughts, but you can accept, acknowledge, and move through them, finding a safe place without internalizing them. By adopting this realistic approach, you can minimize internal resistance, create your inner environments, and curate daily rituals that are both preventative and proactive, helping to prevent overwhelm. “The pandemic has been an opportunity for us to utilize the systems and foundation that we are always working on,” Goynes says. “It’s inevitable that life is a playground for navigating and exploring adversity.”
Physical Steps to Combat Negative Body Image
Remember, this is a process, and practice makes perfect; be patient with yourself. To get started, Goynes recommends connecting and attuning to the ways you feel and think and then fine-tuning your lifestyle and self-care practices. Finally, she encourages you to ask yourself, “What healthy habits for mind, body, and spirit can I pick up… to tackle these body [image] issues?”
“Whenever we are in uncertain terrain, our brains and bodies require us to lean into areas that we can be certain of to create safety,” she explains. “What helps us with our challenges is to rē-define our metrics for success. [So], instead of focusing on our body image, we [can] pour our energy into those rituals that help us feel great within our bodies.” Essentially, focus on what you can control; not what you cannot; focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. This helps cultivate a sense of self-mastery, restoring your perceived locus of control rather than feelings of helplessness and defeatedness.
Goynes identifies two core areas to begin: prioritizing sleep and taking walks. By creating a routine centered around your circadian rhythms, you can avoid sending mixed signals to your brain and body. Sleep can help you rē-store, rē-cover, and rē-pair and is a core pillar of your overall health — not to mention, quality sleep is one of the most incredible natural antidotes to stress. As for taking walks, make them mindful escapes from your daily work. Goynes advises that you shift away from thinking of them as designated exercise and more like full-body, functional movement to enhance your life.
rē-frame Your Perspective: Performance vs. Appearance
Lastly, make a conscious effort to think about how your bodies perform rather than how they appear. “A difficult aspect of taking care of yourself is knowing what to look for. For a very long time, we have focused on aesthetics because we may not have understood other key metrics to consider,” Goynes says. For instance, tune-into how you feel within your bodies versus how you feel when perceiving them. “When you focus on internal wellbeing, it changes the lens [with] which you view your physical body. Your body is documenting your life, so those changes shift the way you view your life experiences, and those experiences shape the way you view your body.”
You have the power to shift your perspective in how you view your bodies from one of criticism to one of encouragement and self-love, from your scars to your stretch marks (which absolutely no one is exempt from, by the way). “The idea that a body is meant to look a certain way for the summer for you to enjoy your life is a false narrative,” Goynes rē-iterates. “We like to use fitness for function so we can go out and enjoy our lives.”
So try this mantra on for size: Your connection to the world exists through your purpose, removing the emphasis on physical appearance for value or validation. Instead, examine how you relate to your bodies, and make the relationship a more supportive one. Are you all just looking through a lens that has been obstructed by the media and society’s normative claims? Forget the shoulds and embrace what speaks to you. Prioritize your relationship with yourself as a happy, healthy, and loving one. As breathwork facilitator Erika Polsinelli often points out, “Remember — every cell of your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts.” This is all the more reason to make them kind ones.