Self criticism: Does our body image decline during the summertime?

body with wrinkles and lines filled in with gold

Summer is officially here. While that can be exciting for some, for others, it can be a time of stress, self criticism and frustration. I am a firm believer and supporter that your body is your own and you can wear, dress, do whatever you like. Unfortunately, some women tend to avoid wearing certain things because of shame. And that shame is none other than impossible beauty standards mixed in with a little fatphobia. Perpetuated by social media, magazines, diet culture… you know the drill. I am sure you’ve heard about it before, and probably even talked about it with someone. So welcome to this article  — Body image and summertime. Rather, I think a more appropriate title would be perceived body image and summertime. 


Where did all this shame even come from?

We could go back in time to the 1930s, 40s, or 50s. But I’m going to zoom right past that for now and land smack in the 90s. Ah, yes, the 1990s; the Spice Girls, Friends, Sex and the City, Naomi Campbell, and of course Kate Moss, just to name a few. The 1990s supermodel era that brought about the ‘heroin chic’ look. Quite literally trying to encapsulate Moss’s aesthetic, ‘heroin chic’ was characterised by very low body weight, protruding bones, lacy bras, slip dresses and cigarettes. There was also an implication that the aforementioned were the results of drug use. The 90s may have brought us some great things, but they also led to horrifying phrases such as “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and the like. Tremendously dangerous and tremendously false.

Of course, along with the supermodels on the covers of glossy magazines came a string of unhealthy and unsustainable behaviours. These included (and still do) fad diets, ‘tips and tricks’ to lose weight, quick-fix diets, demonisation of carbs, no food after 7pm etc. Cue the self criticism! The narrative became centred around a very specific body shape, low self-image and a heartbreaking message that we are as worthy as the number of our pant size. We are not.

We are worthy full stop.

Yet if you take a look at rates of eating disorders, especially centered around pop culture (such as Princess Diana battling bulimia nervosa), the numbers have skyrocketed. 

This piece isn’t focused on eating disorders. But, I want to highlight some parts of what has lead us to be so self-critical. The concept that women should not have visible cellulite, facial, body or leg hair, or any other mix of imperfections is, frankly, disturbing. This is not a jab at hair removal itself, but more so a look at why having it to begin with is so, so normal. In short, I want to help empower you dear reader. Help you stop the shame and self-criticism you may be feeling over being your beautiful self.

Cellulite and sex

Please feel free to research this further, but fat cells are shaped differently. That’s right. Fat cells in female bodies are a different shape than those in male bodies. That’s why females tend to have cellulite and males…well, don’t really. Let me clarify real quick and say that this is in reference to assigned sex at birth and not gender. The structure of adipose tissue (fat) is characterised by a crisscross pattern in males. In females, it is oblong or oval shaped. Guess which one leads to ‘bumpy’ looking skin. Research has even indicated that oestrogen and leptin are important hormones in metabolising fat in the female body.

So now you know why those creams won’t work. As Lucy Mountain gracefully puts it,  “no external cream is going to make you grow a different internal cell structure”.

We all have fat cells. We all need fat to survive. There is nothing wrong with you therefore for having fat cells shaped differently. It does not take away from who you are and what you have to offer to this world. (And we all have something good to offer).

Hair shame

Now, hair. Hair is a little more complex because it has a lot more to do with hormone production and secretion. Having said that, we all have hair. We all need hair to survive. However, in some cases, women are ashamed of it. Again, supermodels, magazines, and even editing applications used for social media have distorted our view. It’s fine to admire that, it’s fine to edit your own pictures yourself. I’m not here to judge. I am here though, to let you know that having hair is normal. Yes, I know, some people have more, others less, some lighter others darker. That may be the beauty of it though. An increase in testosterone and other androgens (a cluster of hormones responsible for male characteristics) can sometimes lead to excessive hair in women (hirsutism).

Look out for an article in the near future where we will delve into that further.

Facial hair, body hair, leg hair, is absolutely fine unless it is unwanted. In fact, even if it is unwanted it’s still fine. But it is understandable that you may want to remove it. Do what works for you but please stay safe. For example, if you decide to get laser hair removal, make sure the place is reputable, licensed, and technicians know how to use the machines properly.

Similarly, if shaving is your go-to, make sure you use a different razor for different body parts. This is because bacteria can be transferred from your legs to your bikini area, for example. My best advice to you is to keep things clean (hygienic) and safe.

Building confidence and stopping the self-criticism

With the current Y2K and 90s fashion revival, I sincerely hope we can leave the outdated beauty standards in the past. Having said that, it’s perfectly natural to want to be desired and perceived as attractive. What we need to change is the way we view desirability and attractiveness. But that’s another rant for another time. 

Something that was very effective for me and stopped my own self-criticism is body positive/neutral influencers. I know it may sound counter-productive. Especially since I focused on the beauty ideals that are being reinforced by social media. But you get used to what you are exposed to. So if your feed is filled with models or fitness influencers it’s no surprise you’re feeling a little down about yourself. Once I made the switch to following empowering women, real women, authentic women — things changed. I hope this summer you can let go of the shame and guilt and enjoy being your beautiful and authentic self, dear reader.

From me to you, here is your sign to wear the damn shorts. Wear the dress, wear the crop top, wear whatever the hell you feel comfortable and happy in. That’s all.

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Posted By  : Anna Paspala

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