No woman is a stranger to the way media influences our perceptions of ourselves - especially during the summer. Year-round, we are bombarded with messages that tell us we ought to feel guilty and ashamed of our bodies. Too many lives are consumed, and too many girls are swallowed up in that horrible cycle of guilt, shame, and hatred.
Summer kicks this into high gear. Magazines and TV shows start running taglines like “love yourself” and “you’re beautiful at any size” right alongside “how to lose 20 pounds fast” and “picking a bathing suit that minimizes your tummy.” These same outlets make a profit from selling self-hatred to women and girls year-round, but when the weather gets warmer and you’re encouraged to put your body on display, their influence doubles. They dangle false promises in front of you, saying everyone will love your body as long as you do what they tell you.
But not everyone will love your body. Some days, not even you will love your body. And that’s okay. Beauty is not the be-all, end-all.
For me, confidence is built and maintained by getting angry about that, by revolting against it, by saying “Screw you, it doesn’t matter what I look like!" And of course, sometimes it feels like it’s forced, like it’s a lie, because everything around you says that yes, it does matter. But your body is yours. You only get one. If you can’t love it, you’ve got to at least make peace with it and stop judging it by other people’s standards - especially when those standards are unrealistic and unattainable.
It took a long time for me to reach this point, and I can't offer any concrete advice, other than to try to replace any feelings of shame and guilt with righteous anger. If feeling pretty is important to you, then you need to redefine what “pretty” means for yourself. Feeling like a queen is more important to me than looking like one. If all you're worrying about is whether someone else will approve of how your body looks in a bikini, you're focusing on the wrong thing. You need to ask yourself why the opinions of some strangers at the pool is so important to you, because they shouldn't be.
Of course, everyone deserves to feel beautiful, but sometimes I don’t want my body, or other people’s evaluations of it, to figure into how I see myself as a person. For me, cultivating a healthy self image depends largely upon how satisfied I am with the parts of me that are not physical. Taking physical appearance out of the equation completely, and looking at my life from that point of view, has been incredibly helpful to me as I cultivate healthy self esteem.
On the days where I dress up in my favorite sundress and appreciate myself in the mirror before I head out, yeah, I feel pretty. I feel confident, absolutely - but the world is going to judge me no matter how I paint my face or what clothes I wear. This is the realization that got me on track toward loving myself the way I ought to be loved. Nothing can beat the feeling of looking in the mirror while disheveled and bloated in ratty pajamas, and knowing that you are happy with yourself regardless. Even if you're running down the length of a beach looking like a fool in an outfit that doesn't "flatter" you, who cares? You're having fun. Fun makes you happy. And your happiness is the most important thing to consider.