Body Image and Summer

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

beach-690125_640With tank tops, shorts, and swimsuits, summertime reveals skin along with body insecurities. Stripping down to a swimsuit, skimpy or not, increases anxiety in women and men who don’t feel so great about their body. And that’s many, if not most, of them.

About 45% of men are unhappy with their bodies, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. That’s slightly less than half of girls and young women who are also dissatisfied with their bodies1. Some sources report more than 90% of females are disappointed with their bodies.

Body Dissatisfaction and Eating Disorders

Body dissatisfaction, regardless of body size and race is “one of the most consistent and robust risk factors for eating disorders and a significant predictor of low self-esteem, depression, and obesity,” the study says.

Most media messages only reinforce people’s deflated body image, telling us on magazine covers how to get “bikini ready,” and asking us on billboards “Are you beach body ready?” This particular billboard, which posed the question alongside a super-thin model wearing a slinky bikini, provoked public outrage in Britain until it government banned it. The billboard crossed the pond to New York just in time for summer.

Models and Photoshop

surfers-554355_640Ubiquitous is the super-thin model, who on average weighs about 23% less than the average woman, and unavoidable is the message an average woman is given: thinner is better2. In reality, only 5% of American women naturally have the slim female body most often depicted in media3.

Add photoshop and digital retouching to an already thin model, and there is a chasm between what we see in magazines and what we see on the street. Last year, an angry audience slapped mega-merchandiser Target on the wrist when one of their online swimsuit models was obviously photoshopped to shrink her torso and expand her thigh gap. Target publicly apologized and removed the picture from its site.

Body Dissatisfaction and Social Activities

The vast incongruity between media and reality punctures the public’s body image — especially when swimsuit season forces fewer layers and more skin. When someone tells a woman she looks good in her swimsuit, only 1 in 4 believe it, mostly likely because the woman doesn’t believe it herself, according to a survey of more than 1,000 women by Fitness magazine4.

In the same survey, 36% of women said they wouldn’t accept an invitation from Justin Timberlake — JT himself — to a beach party because they don’t believe their bodies are in good enough shape.

Target’s Focus Towards Body Positivity

2462608262_6c2048beab_zSpeaking to this insecurity, and perhaps making up for last year’s Photoshop gaff, Target released this summer a swimsuit advertising campaign some journalists are calling the “most body-positive ad ever.”5

The online video advertisement interviews four women who are reluctantly shopping for swimsuits, and with the help of a stylist, find a suit to highlight favored parts of their bodies and diminish the not-so-favorite parts. While Target shows a hopeful turn in advertising, such campaigns remain rare enough to make news.

Tips to Improve Body Image

Still body image is up us an individuals, to each of us to consider and believe ourselves beautiful. Here are some tips to help6:

  • Engage in positive body talk. People frequently engage in negative body talk or “fat talk” – saying things like “I’m so fat,” “I really need to lose some weight,” and “I’m not wearing shorts until I tone up.” Replace those negative statements with positive ones like “I am strong” and “I care for and nurture my body.”
  • Write out positive body statements and strategically place them in your home – for example on your bathroom mirror or on your phone. That way, the notes will remind you to engage in positive body talk.
  • Focus on what your body can do. Be proactive… learn a new physical activity, go to the park with your family, train for a 5k, or get a pedometer and work your way up to walking 10,000 steps a day (the current recommendation for adults). Appreciate what you are able to do with your body and enjoy being active.
  • Accept the idea that healthy and happy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What positive statements have you made to yourself to promote a positive body image?

About the Author:

Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


  1. Grabe, S., Ward, L., & Hyde, J. (2008). The role of the media in body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134(3), 460-476.
  2. National Eating Disorder Association Unveils Powerful & Provocative Ad Campaign, National Eating Disorders Association. (2009, February 26). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  3. 11 Facts About Body Image. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2015, from
  4. Brennan, N., Khai, M., and Pino, S. Surprising Secrets About Women and Swimsuits. (2015, June 1). Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  5. Manning, C. (2015, June 12). Target Solves Real-Girl Swimsuit Problems in the Most Body-Positive Ad Ever. Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  6. Greenleaf, C. (n.d.) Body Image and Physical Activity. Retrieved June 10, 2015, from

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 1st, 2015
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