Summertime is here, which means more sunshine, longer days, spontaneous getaways, and more time outdoors. However, it also means short shorts, tank tops, bathing suits, and a bombardment of advertising geared toward getting “beach body ready” …and of course all the fad diets and weight loss supplements that accompany that.
If you’re feeling anxiety about sporting your bathing suit this year, you are not alone. We are conditioned to think that as summer approaches, we need to shrink our body, build muscle, or “tone up” to fit society’s standard of beauty that’s unattainable for most people.
And if you don’t fit that very narrow standard, you’re convinced you’re not good enough until you get your body ready.
It’s no wonder so many people experience bathing suit anxiety and insecurity as the weather warms up, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In this post, I’ll explain what bathing suit anxiety is, where it comes from, and my tips for managing it so you can spend more time enjoying your summer and less time stressing.
Table of Contents
What is Bathing Suit Anxiety?
While ‘bathing suit anxiety’ is not a clinical term, it doesn’t mean that it’s not real. Bathing suit anxiety is the anxious and apprehensive feeling that stems from more skin exposure when wearing the most revealing attire – the bathing suit.
Even if you’re comfortable with your appearance, wearing a bathing suit can cause you to think about how you look constantly.
While some people who experience bathing anxiety can move past it and carry on like usual, it can be debilitating for others.
In some, swimsuit anxiety can lead to avoidance of activities, isolation, disordered eating, preoccupation with food or body, or loss of joy in activities. If you’re feeling this, know that you’re not alone, and it is possible to overcome it.
Statistics on Swimsuit Anxiety
I wish I could say bathing suit anxiety was uncommon, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t feel at least a bit of unease in the warmer months.
While there aren’t many studies done on this topic, here are a few stats.
In a study of 52,677 heterosexual adults aged 18-65:
- 31% of women and 16% of men AVOID wearing a swimsuit in public.
- 61% of women and 41% of men report being too heavy
- 21% of women and 11% of men rated their bodies as unattractive (1).
That’s nearly ⅓ of adult women that feel so apprehensive in bathing suits that they avoid wearing them altogether.
Why Do We Have Bathing Suit Anxiety?
There are many reasons that adorning scantily clad summer clothes can trigger anxiety, but ultimately it almost always boils down to body image. A negative body image can range from minor insecurities to body dysmorphic disorder.
Body image can be positive, negative, or neutral and can be compounded by certain situations. For example, putting on a bikini can trigger a negative body image to intensify.
We live in an objectifying society that values appearance above all else. We are often defined by how we look, so appearance becomes the most important thing about us.
When appearance is highly valued, no matter how you feel about your body, wearing a swimsuit is likely to cause you to think about how you look while you’re wearing it. This preoccupation with how you look can lead to body anxiety, and it steals your energy away from the things that truly matter.
What is Body Image and What Affects It?
Body image is the way you perceive how you look, which encompasses your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors toward your body.
There are many factors (internal and external) that influence body image. Experiences from past and present, including friends and family, personality traits, the media, and more, all influence one’s body image.
A negative body image is usually the result of multiple factors that interrelate. There’s not a simple, straightforward answer and often it varies from person to person.
It’s important to note, that body image actually has very little to do with how the body actually looks. You can improve your body image without changing your appearance, and similarly, you can change your appearance without improving your body image.
Why is Overcoming Swimsuit Anxiety Worth it?
Since bathing suit anxiety stems from a negative body image, overcoming bathing suit anxiety entails working on body image.
A negative body image can lead to low self-esteem, chronic dieting, depression, disordered eating, or an eating disorder and it can impact many aspects of life.
For example, someone experiencing swimsuit anxiety may be so preoccupied with how they look, that they miss out on making memories with their family and children on a beach vacation.
Or maybe they stay home from a pool or lake party and miss out on quality time with friends or family altogether.
Or maybe they feel like they need to crash diet before being seen in a bikini which can lead to poor energy, irritability, and nutrient deficiencies… not to mention missing out on favorite summertime foods.
When you look back on your life, what’s going to matter to you more? How you appeared to other people in your bathing suit or memories made with your friends and family.
How to Reduce Bathing Suit Anxiety
So, you’ve decided you’re ready to take the first steps toward reducing bathing suit anxiety and start living your life. That’s great! What does that look like?
If you listen to every influencer, diet company, magazine cover, etc., it’s about changing the way you look and “working on getting your beach body”.
It’s easy to see why so many are tempted to change the way their body looks this time of year. However, reducing bathing suit anxiety is actually more about changing the way you perceive your body and less about actually changing your body.
Moving toward a positive body image involves working on internal acceptance rather than actually changing the appearance of your body, which can actually amplify a negative body image.
So, if the solution isn’t to diet, it must be to embrace the skin we’re in, right? Eh, better, but not quite. There are things that the “body positivity” movement gets wrong as well.
What ‘Body Positivity’ Gets Wrong
As more and more people become aware of the harms of diet culture, they quit supporting companies that perpetuate it. These companies took note and so arose the body positivity movement, the antithesis of dieting.
While I do think that is a move in the right direction, there are some flaws to the body positivity movement.
Of course, more body diversity and representation in media is great and we need to see more of it because body diversity exists every body IS a beach body.
However, messages like “love the skin you’re in” can be somewhat problematic.
First, it keeps a high value on appearance, which sustains self-objectification. You’re more than just a body to be looked at. In fact, your body is your least interesting attribute.
Also, you’re not always going to love the way you look, that’s not realistic. However, that doesn’t mean your body is unworthy of living, enjoying experiences, and being taken care of.
Instead of pushing for all bodies to be seen as “good”, we should be pushing for people to be valued as more than just a body to be looked at.
“Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it’s knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.”Dr. Lexie Kite and Dr. Lindsey Kite
5 Tips for Overcoming Bathing Suit Anxiety
So, if “body positivity” or jumping on another diet arent the answer, what CAN you do?
Well, it’s different for everyone depending on the root cause of your body image, your personality, and your life experiences, but here are some tips that you can implement today!
Be Particular About the Media you Consume
One of the biggest predictors of a negative body image is internalization of society’s beauty ideal which is ever-evolving and often unrealistic and unattainable for the majority of the population.
We live in a society that places high value on appearance and unfortunately, the appearance standard is very narrow and only fits a very small minority of the population.
When so much emphasis and value is placed on how we look and the standards of beauty are so unrealistic, it makes sense that we’d feel poorly about our appearance.
Internalization (believing) of society’s beauty ideal can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and an increased risk of eating disorders.
Take note of what you see and how you feel when you scroll through social media and watch TV or movies.
Are you bombarded with unrealistic pictures or watch shows that have little body diversity and sexualize the female characters? Do you feel better about yourself or worse? If the answer is the latter, it may be time to clean up your feed and/or limit what you watch.
Unfollow the accounts of unrealistic and photoshopped bodies and follow pages with more varied and realistic bodies. Instead, follow accounts that are body positive, limit screen time, and learn media literacy.
….and remember, much of what you see in the media and on social media is fake anyway. Influencers are notorious for using filters, editing pics, knowing the right poses, etc. Even the influencers and models don’t actually look like their pictures!
Appreciate What Your Body Can Do
Oftentimes, we’re so focused on how our body looks that we forget to appreciate all the things our bodies can DO, which is so sad given that’s the main purpose of our bodies!
Appreciating all the things that your body can do for you is called body functionality. Cultivating an appreciation for what the body can do is associated with more consistent eating and exercise behaviors, lower anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, and higher overall well-being.
To practice appreciating your body’s functionality, create a journal of all the things you appreciate about what your body can do versus how it looks. Write “I appreciate that….”, and come up with a list of everything you can think of. For some examples:
- My arms are able to wrap my child in a hug.
- My legs allow me to hike different trails around the world
- My brain has helped me to [aspect of career or creative endeavor that you’re proud of]
- My nose allows me to smell fresh-cut flowers in the summertime.
Anytime you feel yourself focusing too much on appearance, revisit your list of everything you appreciate about what your body can do for you.
Wear Something You’re Comfortable In
This point is an important one and something we hear often but may interpret wrong.
Wearing a bathing suit you’re comfortable in means wearing something that is physically comfortable in and also allows you to do the things you love.
Wearing something comfortable doesn’t mean wearing something that “hides your flaws”.
The concept of “hiding your flaws” has two problems:
- While this might provide more comfort than wearing a tiny bikini, it keeps you in a mental state of thinking about how you look while you go about your life rather than actually LIVING your life and enjoying the world around you. It keeps you focusing on how the world perceives how you look rather than LIVING inside a body that is good for sooo much more than just being looked at. This is self-objectification and it keeps you stuck in a state of body dissatisfaction.
- We are labeling normal body features like cellulite, stretch marks, or fat rolls as flaws. These are not flaws. Period. These are normal parts of almost all human bodies. It’d be weird if we DIDN’T have these. Human bodies are not Barbie dolls or fake, airbrushed photos.
Instead, wear something that allows you to be present in the moment, so you’re able to enjoy your experience and live up to your capabilities. Wear the bathing suit that allows you to be the most comfortable swimming, running, and LIVING!
Self-compassion is extending the same kindness and care to yourself in times of difficulty or failure that you would to others, and acknowledging that suffering is part of the shared human experience. There are three main elements of self-compassion, self-kindness vs self-judgment, common humanity vs isolation, and mindfulness vs over-identification.
Studies have shown that self-compassion is a trait that can be learned and it is associated with positive body image and higher body appreciation and is inversely associated with eating pathology and body concerns (2).
Check out Dr. Kristin Neff for many free activities and tips on cultivating and practicing self-compassion.
Embrace Intuitive Eating Instead of Going on Another Diet
When you’re feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, your first instinct may be to hop onto another diet. That’s completely understandable. Especially when we’re constantly being pushed toward a new diet or “6-week bikini body challenge”.
However, you can’t fix your body image by “fixing the outside.” Women tend to view their bodies as a constant work in progress, thinking ‘oh I’ll be happy once I fix ____ ‘, but constantly chasing an elusive standard.
Think back to the last time you dieted. Were you happy with the result or did you want “just 10 more lbs”? If you were happy, did it last?
You can improve your body image without changing how you look and conversely, you can change how you look without improving your body image.
In fact, going on a restrictive diet is actually likely to make body image issues worse.
As tempting as it can be, instead of jumping on the next diet, I recommend embracing Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach that fosters a positive relationship with food and body image.
With dieting, the primary end goal is weight loss. With Intuitive Eating, the primary end goal is health gain. Intuitive Eating focuses on using your body’s internal wisdom by adding nutrition and movement in a way that feels best for you.
That means you’re able to enjoy an ice cream cone on a hot sunny day with your kids or a perfectly grilled hamburger at the neighborhood BBQ… without a side of guilt! Because summertime is too short to be spent counting every calorie, avoiding your favorite foods, and missing out on summer memories… just to lose those “last 5 lbs”.
Want to learn more? Read all about the benefits of Intuitive Eating. Still feeling skeptical about it? Completely understandable! Read about the criticism of Intuitive Eating to determine if it’s even right for you.
And remember, there’s no requirement that says you have to look a certain way to enjoy the beach or pool! You don’t need abs to feel the sand between your toes, relax to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, or feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, all you need is a body.
So, at the end of the day, be kind to yourself! Instead of a crash diet or detox that interferes with the small joys of summer, focus on building self-compassion and nourishing your body in a balanced way that feels good for YOU.
I hope these tips help if you’re experiencing bathing suit anxiety. These are just some methods, but not all. Body image is complex and multifactorial, but it can be improved. If you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, you are not alone. It can help reach out to a body image or nutrition professional for extra support.
If you’d like to learn more about Intuitive Eating, check out my free Beginner’s Guide to Intuitive Eating, or if you’re looking for one on one support and guidance, check out my Body Image and Intuitive Eating services.
Kristin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics with a concentration in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has experience conducting systematic reviews and writing and evaluating scientific literature in peer-reviewed journals. She has a goal of making evidence-based nutrition information accessible and easy to understand.