Freeing yourself from “the summer body” compulsion

Please, oh please, do not let the quest for an unrealistic, unattainable standard of so-called “beauty” define your summer.

The days are longer and, if you’re lucky, someone else in your house has cleaned the barbie. All of this spells:  SUMMER!  But many Australians of both genders view this season with trepidation.  It also means a time when warmer temperatures encourage us to dress with fewer layers, exposing more flesh. For those who possess a “summer body compulsion” as tightly worn as their bathing togs, summer can be a time of enormous stress, discouragement and angst.

The internet on “summer body”

A recent search on Google for “summer body in Australia” turned up the following just on the first page:

“Change your workout for the ultimate summer body”
“Healthy, sexy summer bodies”
“Get cut up:  your leanest summer ever”
“Workouts and exercises to help you get your perfect body”
“Let’s get skinny for summer”
“Perfect body in summer”
“Skinny summer bod”

What’s the real message?

Now, let’s be clear from the start:  there are some preparations that – in the interest of sheer physical health – we should definitely observe as summer heats up.  We should, for example, make sure we have sunscreen, sun hats, and sun shirts.  However, the highest results on Google have a distinct emphasis on body attractiveness and not necessarily health.

Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with being attractive!  And to be fair, a few advertisers encourage a balanced approach to body-image issues (like the Dove “real women” campaign).  But others want to sell you their products and services with the promise of giving you “the perfect  summer body” – and these messages can be destructive, not positive.  The subtext is if you don’t buy the advertised products/services, you won’t attain the perfect body and should remain in a king sized Homer Simpson Muumuu all summer – hiding your imperfect body!
Are we buying from compulsion?

And here’s the scary bit:  we are uncritically buying into it!  Australians purchased $8 billion dollars worth of beauty products in 2012; that was in addition to the $10.5 billion we spent on “personal care” that year (ASIC MoneySmart, 2014).  There is an underlying belief that, when we buy beauty products, we are not buying “beauty” itself, but rather, we are buying hope.  This hope however, springs from a sad motivation:  the desperate need to look good because we see ourselves through a distorted lens, one which says we must look “perfect” (that is:  glossy-magazine, unrealistic, celebrity “perfect”) or else we have no value at all.

The distorted lens means that the thoughts we generate about ourselves are distortions.  Called “cognitive distortions”, they come from maladaptive beliefs about ourselves, such as that we “should” or “must” be or look a particular way to have worth.  It’s only a tiny baby step from this realisation to the awareness that, when we fork over hard-earned cash for that hugely expensive cosmetic procedure, we are not entirely objective in our decision-making.  We are acting from compulsion, which is a similar process to what happens in the brain when people become addicted to a substance.  

We say: enjoy your summer! Go for an enhanced “body beautiful” if it helps you to feel more confident.  But please, oh please, do not let the quest for an unrealistic, unattainable standard of so-called “beauty” define your summer – or any season.  Acting from compulsion has never given human beings the long-term happiness they seek from it.

Is your life out of balance? Try the Wheel of Balance today to help you prioritise and get things back on track!

Dr. Meg Carbonatto

Meg completed her B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in the United States before moving to New Zealand. In Auckland, Meg gained her counselling and psychotherapy diplomas and worked in private practice. She has written two books, the more recent one, published in 2009 and entitled Back From the Edge, is a collection of stories celebrating resilience in adversity. Meg started at the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors in 2011, where she has been happily writing counselling and psychotherapy courses.  She also sees therapy clients privately. Meg brings to all her professional activities a commitment to helping people manifest their full potential, creating lives infused with meaning and joy.

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