The world of beauty pageants might look nice on the outside, but it’s not so beautiful below the surface. Kirsten Haglund remembers being body shamed on the internet during her year as Miss America 2008. And today, she says, she continues to be shamed via social media in her work in TV news.
“For me and my colleagues, both in news and former Miss Americas, this is a daily reality,” says Haglund, 29, of Farmington Hills, Michigan. “In some ways, we’ve accepted it as part of the territory while also using our platforms to call it out and stand up against it. It doesn’t bother me anymore, but it did, very much, when it first started when I was 19 years old.”
Haglund’s story is just one of many. And as summer approaches, so does the onslaught of “beach body” rhetoric. Learn how this focus on the “ideal” body can be toxic and how you can be more body positive — for yourself and others.
The social media standard
Because it may be impossible to avoid social media completely, it’s important to be intentional about what we post, how we like, and how we comment, Haglund says.
“One of the best ways is to regulate how much we post and how much time we spend on social media, which is essentially a tool of judgment and evaluation,” says Haglund, who struggled with anorexia for several years as an adolescent. “I wouldn’t be on it at all if I didn’t have to be for my work and didn’t also value the huge reach it gives me to be able to promote issues that I care passionately about.”
Heather Russo, regional assistant vice president at the Renfrew Center, a residential eating disorder facility in Philadelphia, says the annual pre-summer focus on obtaining a “beach body” reaches larger audiences as social media permeates our lives.
“Body shaming impacts men and women alike,” Russo says. “It can be argued there is a wider range of ‘acceptable bodies’ for men. But this is rapidly narrowing with the proliferation of social media. Men and women are struggling to value themselves given the abundance of messages about idealized bodies.”
This body self-degradation contributes to anxiety, depression and eating disorders, Russo says. “An alarming trend for clinicians treating eating disorders is the myth that images of beach bodies represent health,” she says. “We know that despite what these images try to convey, they can actually represent ... poor self-worth.”
Know your worth
Luckily, the body positivity movement is gaining a major following. “It is a welcome backlash to the rigid definition of beauty we have been asked to accept,” Russo says.
Ashley Solomon, executive clinical director at the Eating Recovery Center in Cincinnati, says don’t let a nice vacation and being near water be washed away by not feeling good enough to be there.
“Recognize that having negative or self-critical thoughts about ourselves is completely normal and not necessarily problematic,” Solomon says.
Instead of body shaming, celebrate your own body and differences. And whether you feel too fat or too skinny, by your standards or by others, focus away from the weight. You can also practice mindfulness and self-compassion, Solomon says, and “fake it until you become it.”
“Practicing living as if we possessed body confidence, even when we don’t feel it, can actually get us closer to where we ultimately want to be,” she says. “This can mean wearing the pants we fear are too tight, going to work without makeup, or standing up tall even when we want to shrink away. Imagine someone you know who has the body confidence you admire and consider how they would approach various situations.”