I spoke to an expert about how I survived "bikini body" season with an eating disorder
Summer certainly feels like the season for body shaming — every ad online or commercial on TV seems to be related to achieving that Photoshopped supermodel “beach-ready body.” Friends on Facebook and Instagram start to post about going on a diet to get ready for the pool or shaming themselves for eating with #thisiswhyImfat. Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, all of the negative messages can do a number on your self-esteem.
As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, summer can be a hard time of year.
I’ve been in recovery for almost seven years, but with such high levels of body-shaming in the air, I could have a relapse if I’m not careful.
Luckily, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me to not only survive, but to even enjoy this hot, beautiful season.
I buy cute summer clothes — that fit!
One of the best self-care purchases I’ve ever made was a new summer wardrobe. When I’d go to the mall, I used to make mental notes of all the cute summery fashions I wanted to try once I finally achieved the always elusive “beach body.”
The game is rigged.
For years, internalized body shame was keeping me from wearing what I liked. I believed my body wasn’t “thin enough” to wear cute clothes, so when I finally bought the summer clothes I’d been eyeing, it was a personal statement: My body wasn’t a work in progress. I can accept and love my body just the way it is.
The other major clothing change for me has been only purchasing things in the size that fits me right now, not some goal size. I’d been hanging onto clothing that didn’t fit me anymore as a reminder of the size I thought I “should” be, even though that size had never been healthy for me physically, mentally, or emotionally. So I got rid of all of those clothes.
When I asked Dr. Ashley Solomon, Executive Clinical Director of Eating Recovery Center in Ohio, for her tips on navigating summer with an eating disorder, she said, “Wearing too-tight or ill-fitting clothes is only going to set you up for frustration and discomfort…If your body has changed significantly as a result of eating disorder recovery, or even for other reasons, like having a baby or going through an illness, take the plunge and get clothes that fit and make you feel good.”
This is completely true for me. I always feel happier and more confident when I like what I’m wearing. Clothing used to be the way I body-shamed myself, so choosing to only own clothing that fits me — and that I like — has turned buying clothes into an act of self-care.
I excuse myself from body-shaming conversations.
Unfortunately, body-shaming conversations become a lot more prevalent during summertime — both online and in person. So I’ve found that, in order to focus on body positivity and recovery, I need to look for the nearest exit when negative self-talk comes up.
I keep an eye on my social media feeds, and sometimes I need to unfollow Facebook friends who food-shame or fat-shame themselves, or post regular photo updates about their “bikini body” diets. I wish I could help the people in my life see their beautiful bodies in all their glory, but I can’t force everyone to embrace body positivity. Because my focus is ensuring that I don’t have a relapse, that means sometimes distancing myself from someone’s online behavior until the summer (or their diet) is over.
Not only do I clear out some of the negative self-talk from my feeds, but I add things that are encouraging, supportive, and fun. For me, following body positive Instagrammers is one of my favorite ways to work some positive messages into my social media. Megan Jayne Crabbe (AKA @bodyposipanda), author of the upcoming book Body Positive Power: How to Stop Dieting, Make Peace with Your Body and Live, is my absolute favorite. She’s a rainbow-haired feminist goddess who is crushing body-shaming and inspiring self-love.
Unfortunately, replacing negativity with powerful messages of self-love can be a little more awkward IRL. Dr. Solomon says, “Let them know it bothers you and you want everyone to work on cutting out the negative self-talk. If you don’t feel up to ask them to stop, come up with ways to change the subject or limit how much time you are spending with them.”
I’ve also found that excusing myself to use the bathroom can be helpful — it gives me a few minutes away from a toxic conversation, which then gives me time to take a deep breath and think of a new conversation topic.
I’m honest about how I’m doing.
It’s really important for me to have people in my life who I can talk to when I’m having a hard time. I’ve made a lot of progress in my recovery, but that doesn’t mean my eating disorder never tries to make a comeback. When I pulled out my summer clothes this year and one of the smaller pairs of shorts didn’t fit, I collapsed into a crying ball. I needed someone to remind me that eating disorders lie, and that I’m so much healthier and happier at my current weight than I ever was when I could wear a smaller pair of denim shorts.
Most days, I feel comfortable in my bikini, comfortable in my skin. But not every day — and that’s okay.
Being gentle with myself means that it’s okay to have hard days.
My partner, siblings, and therapist are my #RecoveryHeroes. They help me recognize if I’m struggling because of the negative images we’re constantly bombarded with, or because of something more serious.
If you’re not sure whether you need to call in more specialized support, keep an eye on some of these eating disorder warning signs, as advised by Dr. Solomon:
If you’re noticing any of these behaviors in your own life, it might be time to look for additional support. You can get help from the National Eating Disorders Association by calling their helpline at 1-800-931-2237 , texting “NEDA” to 741741 if you are in a crisis, or chatting with their counselors online here.
You can also use Psychology Today to find therapists in your area that specialize in eating disorders. Finding a therapist can feel awkward and even scary sometimes, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.