9 Tips for Dealing With a Bad Body Image Day This Summer

Practical advice from people who get it.
illustration of women with different skin tones in swimsuits
Taisiia Iaremchuk/Getty Images

Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with summer. On the one hand, the season brings more leisure time for many of us, whether we’re on a school break or taking a big chunk of our hard-earned PTO. Plus, the abundance of activities available to fill those extra hours of sunlight—swimming, grilling, spending entire days outdoors sans several layers of clothing—make it that much easier to get out of the house.

On the less-bright side, summer is loaded with body image triggers. Clothes are more revealing (because who wants to wear pants and long sleeves when it’s 80-plus degrees out?). Social events like weddings and barbecues can make you feel like you’re on display (and probably put you in front of cameras more often than usual). And despite the growing movement toward body acceptance, there’s still plenty of cultural pressure to “slim down for summer.” (Ugh.)

While many of these triggers are unavoidable, it’s possible to navigate them in a way that allows you to enjoy the sunny season without a constant cloud of self-critical thoughts hovering over you. SELF asked four experts to share their best advice for how to deal with a bad body image day this summer.

1. Know that bad body image days—when you feel uncomfortable or distressed in your body—are inevitable, and that's okay.

“I'd say it's rare, if not impossible, to meet a person who feels confident and content in their body 100% of the time. Summer can be extra hard because, with more social events and less clothing, there are more opportunities for others to perceive our bodies than in other seasons. Increased self-judgment is an expected, normal reaction when we have been socialized to believe that our worth comes from what we look like or, more specifically, how others perceive our appearance. But know this: Your worth is not determined by how you look, and if you have days when you feel uncomfortable in your body or you’re more critical of your appearance, you're not alone.” —Serena Nangia, Colorado Springs–based public speaker and owner of the Body Activists, a group that fights weight stigma, narrow body standards, and body-based oppression

2. Challenge your negative body image thoughts and try to reframe them.

“If you start to have negative feelings about your body, try some cognitive challenging (a cognitive behavioral therapy technique): Pay attention and catch yourself when you’re thinking or saying unkind things about your body and its capabilities. Reword, reframe, and rename anything that includes language of judgment, resentment, or disdain.

An example: You’re shopping for a bathing suit. You try it on, and as soon as you look in the mirror, your face wrinkles and you think, UGH, I hate how big I am, or, I wish I looked different. As you recognize yourself having those thoughts, immediately follow it up with something like, My body has done really incredible things, I am proud of the things my body has allowed me to do, or any other words that show kindness and compassion to yourself. Think of it as a quick love letter to your body. The premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is that changing what you say and think can eventually change how you feel.” —Danielle Flint, LMSW, founder of Imani ya Kupinga (which roughly translates to “faith in resistance” in Swahili), a therapy and consulting practice in Southfield, Michigan

3. Or, instead of trying to “fix” your bad body image thoughts, do what you can to feel more comfortable in the moment.

“One approach to bad body image days that I really appreciate is figuring out how to make my body feel safer and more grounded by exploring my sensory needs. For example, if I feel uncomfortable in my body, I might try putting on my favorite loose T-shirt and soft shorts or sweatpants. It may not change how I feel about the size or shape of my body, but it allows me to detach enough from the distress to focus on doing something enjoyable like watching TV or talking with friends.” —Mimi Cole, LPC-MHSP, a Nashville-based therapist and host of The Lovely Becoming Podcast

4. Find summer clothes that fit—and don’t blame yourself when something you try on doesn’t work.

“Does the thought of buying new summer clothes make you anxious? Or perhaps you feel guilty that last year's wardrobe doesn’t fit, and you're afraid to face the reality of your new size. Wherever you land in these scenarios, shopping for summer outfits can be daunting, especially when you feel your body needs to fit into the latest styles on the rack. It’s essential to recognize that it's not you; it's them! Fashion trends constantly change and historically overlook the needs (and sizes) of the average consumer.

To even the score, I recommend learning to appreciate your body in its current state. For example, you can identify which colors are in style for the season, choose the ones you like, and then select items in those shades that fit your frame and make you feel confident—that way, you can make the trends work for you, not the other way around. And if you find an outfit you love but a few areas are a little tighter than you’d like, give yourself permission to purchase a larger size and have it tailored to fit you comfortably. You deserve to look good and feel good, so don’t allow bad body image thoughts to keep you in the house this summer.” —Charryse Johnson, PhD, LCMHC, therapist, author, and founder of Jade Integrative Counseling in Charlotte, North Carolina

5. Set boundaries with loved ones around body talk.

“Summers are full of weddings, family visits, traveling, and outdoor activities galore. Unfortunately, hurtful and unwelcome comments often accompany these otherwise-fun social gatherings (if you're like me, you may hole up in a rogue bathroom every once in a while to get some space from that hell). Setting boundaries can go a long way toward finding some comfort in those interactions. And it can be helpful to contemplate how you might respond to body comments from others before you’re actually faced with them. Think: If someone comments on my body, what will I do? Does that answer change based on who's speaking? How about what, exactly, they say? Take some time to reflect on these questions beforehand so you can make easier decisions in the moments when your boundaries are tested.” —Serena Nangia

6. If you feel down about having a larger body than your friends, focus on the positive feelings you have when you spend time with them.

“As much as you may love and enjoy your friends, you may also be painfully self-conscious when you exist in a larger body. Before events, poor body image thoughts can center around where you’ll stand in the pictures, for example, fitting in small spaces, or needing a swimsuit. Keep in mind that societal pressures and popular media have directly influenced the narratives that make you feel your body’s shape and size are the most important thing about you.

That’s why I suggest using mindfulness to observe your self-critical thoughts and recognize that they’re just that: thoughts. They’re not the ultimate truth, and they’re only temporary. It can also be helpful to pause, take a few long deep breaths, and tap into how great you feel when hanging out with your friends. Recalling positive past experiences can help you shift your attention from the physical dynamics of social situations to the relationships and connections you have come to know and love. Great friends will focus on your heart rather than what size you wear. Imagine the freedom of having this same focus for yourself.” —Dr. Charryse Johnson

7. Resist the urge to disconnect from others because of how you feel about your body.

“Some people may exist in a smaller body than last summer but now battle sagging or loose skin, say. Others might look back at pictures and be reminded that their body has gotten larger, or realize that last summer's clothes are too tight. First and most importantly, try to resist the urge to isolate and disconnect from others until you believe you look ‘acceptable.’ Say yes to the block party invitation. Get out from behind the camera and mark the moment by allowing yourself to be in the pictures—photos provide a legacy of memories, and your presence is what matters most. The goal is to learn to unapologetically exist and be seen, even while navigating body dissatisfaction. The perfect body is the one you’re in, so show up this summer and live on purpose.” —Dr. Charryse Johnson

8. Don’t feel like you should be working to improve your body image all the time.

“Some approaches to healthy body image emphasize leaning into discomfort by actively challenging negative thoughts and feelings. But there’s already so much discomfort in the world that, often, what I need is more safety. If I’m really frustrated with how I look and it feels really hard to leave the house, I might wear something that covers the part of my body I’m fixated on. If this allows me to get outside, that’s meaningful to me. It may or may not ultimately change how I view that body part, but it will allow me to feel connected to others and have positive experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed home. Not every moment has to be about growing or changing or fixing. It’s also okay to just be.” —Mimi Cole

9. Do what’s best for you in any given moment—whether that’s challenging yourself or making yourself more comfortable.

“When I'm at the pool—even on my hardest body image days—I push myself to walk around in a bikini like I own the place. At the same time, my friend puts on a cover-up and lounges with her head in a book. Most people I know do something in between. The lesson? On a bad body image day, do what’s best for you. Whether you want to challenge yourself, be comfortable, wear a T-shirt in the water, or swap the lycra speedo for denim shorts, it’s up to you! (PS: You can change your mind any time of any day!)” —Serena Nangia