Pre-Summer Body Image Triggers in this Social Media Ad Age and Our Upcoming Series
It’s that time of the year again! We’re right in the beginning of bikini and swim trunk season and as you know if you’ve read this blog and listened to our podcast before, I never leave you hanging during a time in which so many of us struggle with body image issues. That time of year when many of us feel nervous about pool parties, that week at the beach, or the season of shedding all those extra winter layers of clothing that seem to feel safe somehow.
If you’re new, we have a massive source of support and inspiration in our Bikini Revolution Series. Find all the posts here or listen to episodes 29-32 in our podcast. This series was all about the truest source of empowerment. It was about enjoying one of the most fun moments of the year, in which we seem to be able to disconnect and spend time outside, take time off of work, sit in cute terrace cafés, and take relaxing dips in the ocean or pool, no matter what we look like or how big or small our bodies are.
Last year we had another super cool pre-summer episode and post, titled external body mage triggers and remembering we have all the tools (episode 81). You might also enjoy one of my favorite series in the blog and podcast, our body image series (episodes 60-63).
There is so much inspiration there and we definitely talk about social media in those posts and episodes as well, but today I wanted to have a chat about how triggering this time of year can be for many, and especially how this social media ad age we’re currently living in can have a huge impact on our body image.
It happens every year
Although body image triggers come into my experience every year before pool season, every year there have been massive changes in the way I react to them. This has of course taken years of work in healing my relationship with food, exercise and my body. Last year I saw that our neighbourhood pool was being uncovered and cleaned, and noticed I was excited about the wonderful poolside memories of the previous year, as opposed to the body shame and quest for perfection that had always been triggered (huge win!). The season had begun and I felt I had come such a long way until I walked (figuratively) right into the glass wall of some of my family members going on diets and talking about changing their appearance for summer (I share all of those stories here).
Of course there was a huge road travelled and so many milestones crossed, but still, there’s something about swimsuit season that always seems to trigger a little something old and blue. If it isn’t a coworker talking about slimming down for summer or doing a detox before their week at the beach, it’s social media posts about getting bikini ready. It could be something as simple as making plans for a fun family trip or a vacation in the shore with friends. Although I’ve gotten so great at unfollowing accounts and cancelling magazine subscriptions that reinforce the message that unless we have a specific body type we are somehow not beach ready, something very different happened this year that I wasn’t prepared for. It gave me an eye opening look at how these messages can still seep into our feeds and our minds.
Social media ads, algorithms, ad pixels and how we can see these for what they are
As you know, movement (and that can be anything from a walk with my dogs, to a yoga class, to a run, to a dance class, or whatever I feel like doing) is a big part of my self care, especially as it pertains to letting go of anxiety and feeling good. You probably also know I’m not a big fan of gyms, or of rigid plans or any type of exercise that I don’t enjoy doing. Carlos and I almost always have a subscription to one of the many online streaming services with exercise classes you can do at home, and we switch them around every few months so that we have a bit of everything and lots of variety. Sometimes it’s a website that offers streaming yoga classes, other times it’s one that caters to all types of fitness, sometimes it’s one that includes classes from a specific teacher I love. They always, always, have to include dance classes as this is my go-to form of movement simply because it makes me smile and laugh at myself, giving me such stress relief. For some reason, because we recently changed one subscription for another that seemed lots of fun, at least one of those funny techie terms like ad pixels or algorithms inserted itself into my life and the minute spring turned into summer, I start seeing ad after ad in my social media feed for programs promising to “get me bikini ready in just X amount of weeks”.
Had I not done all the work I’ve done these past few years this would have been extremely triggering for me. This time, I noticed them as if I had walked into the woods and had suddenly encountered the Mad Hatter prepping his table for a Mad Tea Party. Instead of getting hooked and sitting down to mindlessly drink tea, I saw these for what they were, old paths already travelled that pulled me away from wellbeing and contributed to horrible disordered eating, bingeing, obsessive work and tweaking my body only to find that the more my body changed (and this change was always as short lived as brownies left on a kitchen counter), the worse my body image got, and the more I feared weight coming back on.
A road already travelled
It is so important if you’ve gone through countless fad diets, rigid exercise regimes or attempts at shrinking your body, that you keep your past experiences nearby to help you remember you’ve gone down this road before. Now even after unfollowing accounts that were damaging to our sense of wellbeing, we find that the same content can seep in if we’ve bought something as simple as a new pair of trainers or yoga pants. A few years ago I would have seen the very carefully constructed ad and my finger would have had a life of its own, clicking away, and then purchasing whatever program or plan the person was selling.
It can be so helpful to know that we can most definitely move our bodies in ways that feel good to us (if this is a possibility for us), and we can most definitely eat what will both nourish us and feed the little kid inside us. It is essential to know that as human beings we have a right to pleasures in life like getting into that perfect glistening afternoon sea for a swim no matter what we look like.
We tend to forget this when we’re knee deep in body shame and the fear of not belonging if our body doesn’t look like what we see in the media as the “ideal”. When we’re in this space it can be so easy to fall into the ever-present “fix yourself” messaging we see this time of year. Messages like these:
The “different” promise: X program/plan is different to everything you’ve tried before and here’s why.
The shame in the form of a question promise: “Don’t you want to feel confident at the beach this summer?” (FYI confidence has nothing to do with the size of our bodies).
The “easy or quick” promise: You can do this because we’ve designed it so that with just X amount of minutes and in just X amount of weeks you can have the body of your dreams.
The “health” promise: “We want you to be healthy, and the best possible version of yourself you can be while rocking those skinny jeans” (newsflash, the words skinny jeans and any mention of health is a big red flag).
The “this is not a…” promise: “Forget about rigid meal plans that no one can stick to, with this you’ll eat all the time.”
The “look like me” promise: The expert du jour is portraying the false sense that this is all they do to have the appearance they decide to show you, when in fact many of these fitness gurus do much more than what they sell. Add to that the fact that they often go on very restrictive plans before filming these videos or taking these photos, which to top things off are professionally lit, airbrushed, and photoshopped.
The “all you have to do is exercise for X minutes a day and you’ll get these results” promise (plus an abundance of before and after picture testimonials): Only to find out when signing up that the people in the pictures were indeed following an additional (but offered as optional) calorie restrictive meal plan.
All of these promises were present in JUST ONE ad I clicked through in preparation for this post and podcast episode, and let me tell you that the old me would have fallen down a deep dark hole with just one.
It’s so important to remember that this is a road we’ve already travelled, a road that keeps us from finding true confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves. A road that pulls us away from our own internal signals, those that our bodies are so equipped to share with us to help inform our choices. It’s a path that puts the focus back on perfectionism, body tweaking and body shame, even when sold as the pursuit of health. It’s a path that can lead us to negative body image, serious health issues and so much anxiety and overworrying, and even disordered eating, compensatory behaviors, or a full blown eating disorder.
So what can we do?
We can click on the “don’t show me this ad again” button which is so helpful. However these might still make their way through to your feed, so what can you do then?
Remind yourself of these little mantras:
“I have been down this road before and it wasn’t good for me”
“I am already ‘beach ready’”
“I am entitled to the pleasures of life no matter my size”
“I’m in charge now of knowing how to move and feed myself. Listening to my body and what it needs, not external rules and regulations, but my own inner wisdom and self care”.
These little reminders can help us so much. Until body acceptance becomes mainstream, until self kindness and self compassion is what is celebrated. Until bodies of all shapes, colors and sizes are shown to us as equally deserving, we must be our own little body image activists and remind ourselves that we now have the tools, and they start and end with kindness.
Here’s to a glorious summer with fantastic fun under the sun if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, and delicious hot chocolate if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Here’s to the special moments of life we can never get back if we waste them worrying about whether we’re enough, rather than fully immersed in the experience.
This is also a great opportunity to announce that soon we’ll be starting a new series in the blog and podcast titled the “Relationship with Food Series”, it will be filled with tools and self discovery exercises to help you on this quest to finding a happy place with food and your body. It’s coming really soon so stay tuned!