5 Tips to Avoid Toxic Beach Body Culture

By Shannon Bay Gregory

It's been an exceptionally hot summer and taking a trip to cool off shouldn't feel like a mental mine-field of insecurity. The beach isn’t supposed to be about body-builders and bikini models, but it can feel that way. If you've ever felt anxious in a swimsuit, or at the thought of going to the beach, you're nowhere near alone.

Research shows feelings of stress can peak at the beach because it's when bodies are most frequently discussed and when we're encouraged to focus on the way we look. From years of battling anorexia and working with others who struggle with eating disorders, I’ve noticed that the beach can be a hotspot for body-checking. There have been times when I simply wouldn’t eat in order to have a “bikini body.” And we know that women aren't alone. I've known men who try to “get a pump” before heading to the beach in order to look more ripped. In reality, these are habits of starvation and over-exercise and they happen more often than we discuss. So, let's change that. Here's a few ways we can all combat "beach body culture." I hope the following tips are helpful and provide some support as you navigate the sunny season.

1. Prioritize food

Be the friend who takes charge of getting everyone lunch. If you're someone who's struggled with disordered eating, being in control of the food is a great way to take the focus off of body image. Propose a picnic or a place to stop for lunch before you set out for the sand. It makes things so much easier to have the food covered ahead of time.

If you bring a picnic, make it a fun activity that everyone partakes in while beaching. It'll help normalize putting snacking and swimwear in the same equation. If you're getting food before the beach, make it worthwhile! Stop at a delicious lunch spot that will ensure everyone is fed and no one is thinking about "skipping a meal" before getting into a bathing suit.

2. Wear what makes you confident

Whether you’re looking for board shorts, a bikini, or even a beach cover-up, those fluorescent lights and unflattering mirrors can make us feel like we're not "beach ready” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). Regardless of what’s on trend, put yourself first and wear what makes you comfortable.

A great tip I've learned is to size up with swimwear. I often feel like my suit is hugging me in all the wrong places. So, I get a relaxed fit and I don't have to feel overly-aware of my body. Make it a priority to find out what swimwear suits you - it looks different on everyone and can completely change your experience at the beach.

3. No overly-posed photos

When we hear “Hot Girl Summer," many of us think of model poses and aesthetics. But I believe it can mean whatever we want! Beaches aren’t just backdrops for photoshoots. Try pushing back on the heavily posed photos. Instead, consider candids-only! They'll be the pictures everyone remembers, anyways. Or, you can focus on scenery and avoid the body-shots altogether. It's a great reminder that you're so much more than your "aesthetic."

4. Side-step the body talk

The body comments at the beach can feel unavoidable. All the “look at so-and-so” or “I wish my [physical attribute] looked like that” get blurted out nonchalantly, but we have the power to shut it down. Steer the conversation in a different direction. I’ve gotten in the habit of kindly asking that we don’t talk diet, looks, or give body-centered compliments. It works! And it leaves open space for more interesting topics of conversation. 

5. Bring games and activities

The ocean is the star of the beach, after all. It can be refreshing and even healing to spend some time in the water. If you’d rather stay on the sand, bring a football or another beach ball and start a game! If you prefer to lounge, bring a deck of cards. It's about finding a relaxing way to keep your mind active and not staring at everyone else walking around in their "beach bodies."

Final thoughts...

Baywatch and the influencers you see on your feed are not accurate representations of the way we all look in swim suits. Ultimately, going to the beach is supposed to be a fun escape from our busy, everyday lives. It doesn't need to be full of uneasiness and you definitely don't need to punish yourself by avoiding it altogether. Take these tips and head out to the sand. Remember: you're defined by your personality and presence, not your physical appearance.

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// Robert Frost