Seasonal Body Image: The Problem With Hot Girl Summer

Winter 2021 was cold, dark and full of coronavirus. And now, much like Moses leading the people out of the desert, Megan Thee Stallion has arrived to lead us into Hot Girl Summer. But Hot Girl Summer isn’t all it cracked up to be, and can actually have some far-reaching consequences for body image.

A History of Hot Girl Summer

Hot Girl Summer is not new. Different variations of HGS have existed for years. Summer shredding. Beach body. Revenge body. No carbs before Marbs. The infamous “Love Handle Island” advertisement ran by Flyefit [see here]. The pressure on us all to attain a body that is worthy of displaying to the general public is at its peak during summer months.

Seasonal Body Image

Seasonal body image” is a term I first happened across in a recent 2021 paper[1]. And the more I read about it, the more it makes sense to me. Seasonal body image refers to the inter-individual variation in body satisfaction across the year. During the summer, body image and satisfaction are lowest. During winter, this pressure to be “ready” does not affect us as much.

How Hot Girl Summer Drives Body Dissatisfaction

Pressure From The Media

During the summer, advertising is directed at getting you “ready” for summer, through cosmetic procedures, cellulite-reducing creams, spray tans, gyms, fat-burners, laser hair removal. The media and advertising have a powerful effect on our body image[2]. In essence, they control your environment. By surrounding your physical and virtual world with reminders that you still have work to do before you even dream of setting foot outside in the summer months, you are more likely to spend, spend, spend! Capitalism does not care for body image.

Pressure from Social Media

During the summer months, social media is filled with people living their best hot girl summers. These activities obviously represent summer-related clothing, activities and environments. All you need to do is open Instagram to see bikini-clad fitspos living their best lives (pandemic be damned). You can actually get banned from Instagram for not posting a photo of you in swimwear during the summer months.

Everyone and their mother is on a summer slimdown, and dieting in preparation for the summer months (myself included!). Exposure to summer shredding/dieting content on Instagram is actually linked with influencing our own decision to die [3]. And it makes perfect sense when you think about it. If you open your phone and see everyone else making an effort to lose weight, you naturally begin to question yourself.

Do I need to lose weight too? Am I missing something here? Am I going to be left behind if I don’t?

Soon, it’s no longer your decision to lose weight, it’s the internet’s.

Summer Activities

This one is slightly less applicable this year, especially if you live in Ireland, but summer tends to revolve around activities involving less clothing. Festivals, beach days, sea swims, outdoor exercise typically require the individual wears less clothing than usual. In particular, the beach can be a particularly concerning environment for those with disordered eating habits[4].

This can exacerbate the pressure to feel “prepared” for events.

Everyone Else’s Hot Girl Summer

Comparing how you look to anyone else is proven time and time again to exacerbate body dissatisfaction and disordered eating habits[5]. You open Instagram, you see various hot girls living their best hot girl summer. Pressure is created internally to live up to everyone else’s highlight reel.

What you fail to consider is the simple fact that you are an individual. You have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s life at all really. You open Instagram and see your friend from school in crop top. You do not see her diet, or the fact she has access to a gym 24/7, and you have a 9-5 to feed your family.

You have your own values and priorities, and that is okay.

Protecting Your Body Image This Hot Girl Summer

I for one, welcome our Hot Girl Summer overlords. Everyone should live their best Hot Girl Summer. It is important we do so, and minimise the damage to our self-esteem.

Be flexible with your body image.

It is highly unrealistic to expect you will love your body all the time. Body image flexibility is defined as the “ability to experience body dissatisfaction and other relevant experiences fully to engage in value-consistent behaviours[6].

Whoah, slow down egghead.

What does that mean? It means accepting that you will experience times where you will be less happy with your body. Your values do not change. You can experience bad body image, and still eat a pizza with your family. Not because you hate yourself and are a useless fat bastard with no willpower, but because you value your social time.

This flexibility is actually linked with better body image[7]!

Focus on yourself.

Commonly said after a break-up, this advice is also proven to reduce social comparison amongst women. Focusing on self-improvement, and your own non-physical qualities, is associated with improved body image[8].

Defining your values.

Be clear on what you value. Do you value your appearance more than going out for a few drinks with friends? Do you value getting the perfect Instagram to make the boy that ghosted you jealous, or do you prefer being present with your family?

There is no right answer here (except f whoever ghosted you, do not chase them).

What do you want? If you want to lose a bit of body fat to feel more comfortable during the summer months, that’s absolutely fine. If you feel you HAVE to lose body fat to have a Hot Girl Summer, you’re in for a bad time.

By being clear on what your values and your priorities are, you can choose the Hot Girl Summer you deserve.

You have a Hot Girl Summer, not by losing weight, having the best abs or the best Instagram captions, but by realising you were a hot girl all along *pause for standing ovation*.

References

  1. Griffiths, S. , Austen, E., Krug, I., Blake, K. (2021) ‘Beach body ready? Shredding for summer? A first look at “seasonal body image””, Body Image, 37, pp. 269-281.
  2. Thompson, J.K., Heinberg, L.J., Altabe, M., Tantleff-Dunn, S. (1999) Exacting beauty: Theory, assessment, and treatment of body image disturbance. United States: American Psychological Association.
  3. Jin, S.V., Ryu, E., Muqaddam, A. (2018) ‘Dieting 2.0: Moderating effects of Instagrammers’ body image and Instafame on other Instagrammers’ dieting intention’, Computers in Human Behavior, 87, pp. 224-237.
  4. Young, L. (2019) Coping with ‘beach body’’ season when you have an eating disorder. Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/5388084/eating-disorders-summer/.
  5. Pinkasavage, E., Arigo, D., Schumacher, L.M. (2015) ‘Social comparison, negative body image and disordered eating behavior: The moderating role of coping style’, Eating Behaviors, 16, pp. 72-77.
  6. Hill, M.L., Masuda, A., Latzman, R.D. (2013) ‘Body image flexibility as a protective factor against disordered eating behavior for women with lower body mass index’, Eating Behaviors, 14(3), pp. 336-341.
  7. Sandoz, E.K., Wilson, K.G., Merwin, R.M., Kellum, K.K. (2013) ‘Assessment of body image flexibility: The Body Image-Acceptance and Action Questionnaire’, Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 2(1-2), pp. 39-48.
  8. Halliwell, E., Dittmar, H. (2005) ‘The role of self-improvement and self-evaluation motives in social comparisons with idealised female bodies in the media’, Body Image, 2(3), pp. 249-261.

Published by Michelle Carroll

I am a qualified personal trainer and radiographer. I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I am hoping that by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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