Off The Cuff: Body Image Issues & Skimpy Summer Clothes

Dear Winona,

Summer is my least favorite time of year. I’m embarrassed to admit why, but here goes: I don’t like my body. All the skimpy clothes that come along with this time of year give me anxiety. I wish I could wear tank tops and shorts and light dresses, but I feel so insecure in clothes like that. How can I make peace with this season of showing skin when I don’t like the skin I’m in?

-That Girl Wearing A Cardigan In July

Dear TGWACIJ,

I used to hate summer too, for this exact reason. I’ve spent so many sweltering summer days swaddled in a sweat-drenched cardigan claiming (lying) that my arms get cold easily and I was quite comfortable. I’ve turned down invites to countless pool parties because like hell was I going to don a bathing suit in front of a large group of people. I’ve passed up hundreds of gorgeous summer dresses because they didn’t have sleeves to cover my upper arms.

And as much as I would like to say to you: “Own it, girl! You’re beautiful! Love your body! Show it off! Wear tank tops and shorts with confidence and fuck the haters!” and have that be enough to magically cure your ambivalence about summer clothing, I know it’s not that simple. Body image issues are complicated and personal and, as we’ve covered in this column before, sometimes the pressure to love your body and show it off no matter what can be, well, not super helpful.

You don’t need to rush out and buy a string bikini. You don’t need to force yourself to wear a skimpy sundress if you don’t want to. But you do need to remember this: people aren’t paying attention to your body. Like, at all. When you’re so focused on your body and channeling so much negative energy toward it, it’s easy to think that everyone else is, too. After all, if the extra flesh on your upper arms is consuming your thoughts, other people must be fixated on it too, right? Right?

No.

Everyone else is consumed with their own stuff. This is doubly true on super-hot summer days, when everyone is wearing as little clothing as society deems acceptable, and is much more concerned with whether their own butt sweat is showing than assessing the details of your body.  

Make this your mantra: “Everybody is focused on their own butt sweat. No one cares about the cellulite on my thighs.” Or if that’s a bit too wordy, try this: “No one cares.” It sounds harsh, but it’s actually an empowering reminder that no one else is as focused on your body as you are.

If you’re having a hard time accepting this truth, start paying attention to how you react to other women who are showing some summer skin. Do you react with negativity or jealousy when you see someone else rocking a crop top and short shorts? Do you find yourself thinking, “she shouldn’t be wearing that” when you see a not-super-thin woman in a spaghetti strap dress? Our reaction to other women’s bodies both reflects and affects our reaction to our own. If you’re having a hard time believing that other people aren’t judging your body, it might be a red flag that you have fallen into a pattern of judgment yourself. I had to work really hard to stop judging other women’s bodies in order to learn how to stop judging my own. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. Start replacing negative thoughts with something simple and empowering, like, “You do you, girl,” and eventually, you’ll learn to extend the same casual empowerment to your own body and wardrobe choices.

Now that we’ve covered inner monologues and mantras, let’s get practical about this summer clothing dilemma. Since summer is your least favorite season, I’m guessing you don’t have a summer wardrobe you love, if you even have a summer wardrobe at all. I totally get this: who wants to spend time and money shopping for insecurity-sparking clothes when you’re just counting the days ‘til fall?

But trust me on this: your summer will be so much better if you find a few pieces of summer clothing you truly love. I’m talking pieces you can’t wait to take out of your under-the-bed storage box at the first sign of warm weather in April or May. Pieces you can’t wait to wear. Pieces that make you look and feel amazing.

For example, I still don’t love showing my arms. Wearing a sleeveless, sack-shaped dress I bought just because it was on clearance at TJ Maxx during a heat wave isn’t going to make me feel confident and fabulous. Wearing a sleeveless dress that is my favorite color (cobalt blue, thank you very much!), fits me perfectly, is comfortable, and shows off my favorite feature (I love my legs) is going to be a totally different scenario. If you’re hesitant about one feature of a garment (say, that it is sleeveless or short), balance that out with 10 other features you love. This will take a little more time and energy than you usually spend shopping for summer clothes, but it will be so worth it.

If you’re truly not comfortable showing skin, there are alternatives that don’t involve sweat-drenched cardigans. If you’d prefer to keep your legs covered, maxi dresses in light fabrics like jersey or rayon can be just as cool and breezy as short dresses. Want to keep your arms under wraps? Long-sleeve blouses in breezy, breathable cotton, linen, or silk are great options. Sheer kimono jackets are huge this season and provide coverage while keeping your overall look youthful and trendy -- look for bright prints that are unapologetically summery. Pair with ridiculously oversized sunglasses. Be like, “Damn, I look amazing!” Because you do.

Listen, there are a few legitimate reasons to hate summer: the mosquitoes, the school kids running wild, and the inevitable Katy Perry songs that get stuck in your head forever, to name a few. Body image issues don’t deserve a place on this list. So treat yourself to a few summer pieces you love, wear them with wild abandon, and let everyone else focus on the things that matter, like butt sweat and what flavor of Popsicle to eat for dinner tonight.

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