Body confidence activist & writer, Alex Light, explores how we can all feel good about our bodies this summer
Whether you’re heading to festivals armed with glitter and sequins, spending slow afternoons with friends drinking spritzers at a barbecue, or laying around on a sandy beach, summer is the fun, sunny season that gives us ample opportunity to let loose and hang out with the people we love. But the warmer weather can also give rise to a great deal of body image issues and insecurities – all of which can be compounded by messaging from the media telling us we need to ‘shape up for summer’ or ‘get a bikini body’.
This dread of wearing clothing that shows off our bodies can stop us from going to social events, the beach, the pool, or even going on holiday – which is particularly sad after two years of cancellations, social distancing and isolating. We should be enjoying this summer no matter what, we deserve it!
Lack of representation
But while it’s easy to say we need to stop worrying about how our bodies look, it’s much more difficult to make self-love a reality, and I know that all too well: I used to dread summer. Anxiety would creep in at the first hint of warmer weather and I’d feel incredibly uncomfortable about having to swap my usual uniform of baggy, oversized layers that hid my body, for skimpy summer clothing that left me feeling exposed and vulnerable.
Sound familiar? So many of us have experienced this and still do. "From age 12, I’ve always worn shorts over my swimsuits in the water, and I’ve always worn a one-piece to cover myself, because I wasn’t comfortable in my body," says plus-size model Kyra Jane, who also has vitiligo, a skin condition where patches of skin loses its pigment.
Laura Adlington, a plus-size fashion influencer who was a finalist on Great British Bake Off in 2020, has a similar story. "Until recently, I had never worn a bikini. I’ve always been big and struggled with my weight my entire life. Growing up in the 90s and not seeing myself reflected in magazines, TV or films, I became aware very early on that my body was not a desirable body," she says.
It’s fair to say that lack of representation has impacted our collective body image and confidence – traditionally, we only saw one body type in the media and it has overwhelmingly pushed an ‘ideal’ onto us.
Despite having never worn a bikini, never mind taken a picture of herself in one, Laura recently made the decision to share a swimsuit snap to her 200k+ followers on Instagram (@laura.adlington). "The last few years, I’ve come to realise there are loads of women who look like me who have been made to feel like they are not good enough, and that, actually, all bodies are good bodies," she explains. "So it was important for me to post a bikini picture. It was my hope that it inspired other plus-size women to get in a bikini and not hide away," she says.
Kyra has also come a long way. "My relationship with my body is ever changing, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as confident in myself as I am right now," she says. "My vitiligo is sensitive to the sun, and burns easily, but now I have a skincare routine that works for me, I’m actually looking forward to having my body out all summer."
When it comes to my own body, I can’t lie, I still have residual anxiety about the summer and exposing my body. It gets easier with every year, but it’s still there, because shifting your mindset from self-shame to self-love is really hard, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it might not happen at all! But before you feel discouraged, let me explain – self-love isn’t a destination, there is no end point. It’s a skill, a journey, and something you continually have to choose for yourself daily. You don’t graduate and walk off into the sunset with a first-class honours in self-love; you have to keep at it.
Unpicking a lifetime of conditioning is a long process and requires time, patience and effort.
Be kind to yourself
Acknowledging this process was hard for me. I wanted self-love and I wanted it now, and any time I ‘relapsed’ and experienced negativity around my body, I felt like I hadn’t made progress. But, actually, these allowed me to continue making progress; where I was able to learn even more coping mechanisms and arm myself with extra self-love tools.
Above all, afford yourself and your body as much compassion as you can. Remember that your body is a powerful vessel that allows you to navigate the world. It is not an object to be picked and prodded at, criticised and manipulated until it’s ‘good enough’.
Your body is already good enough. YOU are already good enough. Now, buy that bikini and enjoy a well-deserved self-love summer.
How to love your body
So, how can we start feeling better about our bodies? What are some tangible actions we can take to help ourselves feel more comfortable this summer? Here’s some of my favourite ideas:
Diversify your feed
Go through your social media channels – who are you following? Is it a diverse range of people with all different shapes and sizes? Taking stock of your feed by unfollowing people who make you feel bad and following lots of different people who both look like you and don’t, is a powerful and easy way to help you realise there is beauty in all bodies.
Be mindful of your inner dialogue
We get away with saying all sorts of negative things to ourselves, and it’s totally unfair. Ask yourself, ‘Would I say this to my best friend, or my sister, or my mum?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then simply don’t say it to yourself!
Cut the comparison
We’ve all heard the quote ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ – it’s simple, but so powerful. Throughout every step of our lives, we compare ourselves to others, whether it’s through accomplishments, looks, athletic prowess, grades or popularity. And now we have social media, which has hugely exacerbated comparison, particularly with body image. Remember that much of what you see on social media is heavily curated, filtered and edited – it’s a totally unfair comparison.
Know that different is good
There is a huge amount of beauty in diversity; it is my personal opinion that beauty lies in diversity. The fact that we all have different genes, different DNA and are all unique is a wonderful thing, and it’s such a shame we’re taught otherwise and encouraged to chase a very narrow body and beauty ‘ideal’. But opening your eyes up to the diverse beauty all around us will help open your eyes to your own beauty, too.
Wear the bikini (or the swimsuit, shorts or summer dress!)
Pushing through your fears and wearing the clothing that scares you is so hard, but so worth it. Something that helped me with this process was remembering that everyone is too caught up in their own insecurities to take any notice of my body, never mind judge it. And look, if people do notice the things you perceive as ‘flaws’, so what?
You Are Not a Before Picture (£14.99, HarperCollins) by Alex Light (@alexlight_ldn) is out now.