Summertime Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders

Kristen Fuller, M.D., Center for Discovery

Despite being the most active and engaging season for some, summer can amplify anxiety over body image insecurities in others. With constant reminders to have the perfect bikini body, it can be a challenge for even confidant women not to become critical of themselves this time of year. Our body image is the perception we have of our bodies, as well as how we perceive others perceptions of our bodies. Psychological in nature, perceived body image is not based on fact, but influenced by self-esteem, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations of and about our bodies. Current studies indicate that only one in five women are satisfied with their body, and that 47% of 5th-12th grade girls reported wanting to lose weight after looking through magazines. Advertising for the summer season has, over the years begun to promote an unrealistic and unhealthy standard for women to achieve the perfect bikini body, which is represented as being very tan, thin and toned. When Seventeen was first published in 1944, the average model was about 5’7” and 130 pounds. Today’s model is roughly 5’10” (taller than most American women) and her average weight of 115 pounds gives her a BMI lower than that of many women in impoverished, developing countries.


Summertime and diets

While diets may begin naively, it is critical to be aware of the implications of this mentality.  No matter what the intentions may be, dieting in any form can be a dangerous means to an end, resulting in physical, emotional, and mental consequences that can lead to something much worse, such as an eating disorder.  Sadly, this approach towards summertime is becoming more commonplace, impacting people of all ages in a harmful way.


Body image in eating disorder recovery

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. Struggling with body image is a continuous battle both inside and outside of eating disorder recovery and you are constantly faced with the size and shape of your body every single day. Improving your body image is usually the last of focus in eating disorder therapy as the primary focus is centered on weight restoration, dispelling negative thoughts and changing behavioral patterns. Body image is deeply ingrained in our minds from a very young age and as a result, these distorted thoughts and images can be very difficult to break. Learning to appreciate your body can boost your self-confidence.


  • Engage in positive body talk.People frequently engage in negative body talk saying things like “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 statementsand 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 ideathat healthy and happy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.