For many people, the change in seasons warrants a trip to the shops for new clothes, or rediscovering last year’s seasonal pieces. This change in fashion can lead to people experiencing further challenges with maintaining a positive body image.
For some, winter fashion can be a reprieve from the pressures of societal beauty standards magnified by summer fashion.
Google trends show that since January, one of the hottest months of the year, searches related to weight loss have been steadily declining with the change of season. However, during summer, weight loss searches were at a high, which might indicate that the pressures people feel to lose weight may be the highest in the summer months.
Summer fashion typically exposes more of the body, to combat the heat. Individuals may feel greater pressure at this time to conform to unrealistic societal beauty standards. Many may turn to the internet to search for weight loss tips in an attempt to feel accepted in society.
A negative body image can result in dieting, over-exercising, and in some cases, can lead to people forming eating disorders and mental health issues. This is stated in pages exploring issues around body image and diet on the Government health site, Better Health Channel Victoria.
The site has found, through a national survey, that 46 per cent of adults between the ages of 18-64 have consciously attempted to lose weight in the last year. The site says comparing your body with the societal standards of body shape and size can result in negative body image.
The Body Positive Expo, an event hosted in Melbourne this year has a range of workshops and performances aimed at appreciating body diversity in society.
Elysia Thomas, speaker from The Body Positive Expo says that “many people struggle in between seasons to establish what they enjoy and feel comfortable wearing.”
Elysia says the new season can highlight changes in our bodies that we hadn’t previously noticed. As we try to fit into last year’s winter wardrobe, we might find that our bodies aren’t the same size as they were last year.
Elysia says the change in weather can prompt a shopping trip for new clothes, which can hinder body positivity when met with a limited sizing range. Elysia says difficult experiences in the changing rooms can bring about negative feelings about one’s body. Sometimes stores don’t carry many items in larger sizes. This can make shopping for new clothes a challenging experience, which can harm someone’s ability to maintain a positive body image.
Lacey-Jade Christie, a body positive digital creator, says that in December and January gym memberships and weight loss searches can peak due to the “new year, new me” mentality.
She says in summer people are a little bit more self-conscious as they are likely wearing bathers and smaller items of clothing in the heat. She says rather than healing and unlearning, many have been taught that weight loss is the way to feel better.
Sexologist and Counsellor, Tegan McGie, sheds some light on the reasoning behind why people’s body image can change with the season. It’s not just because of the temperature, but for many different reasons. The reasons may span from the marketing messages we receive, to socially constructed ideas of “summer ready bodies” she says.
Ms Christie says some people experience anxiety linked to the change in season. She says this can happen particularly in the lead up to summer because some people don’t want to show the parts of their bodies that summer fashion requires.
“The idea of summer coming makes people anxious,” she says.
She adds that many find the sweat and chafing that the Australian summer brings “quite uncomfortable.” Mrs Christie says many people prefer winter fashion and embrace the layers that come with it.
“A lot of people aren’t comfortable getting their body out.”
The change in seasons can absolutely influence body image, says Ms Christie.
Ms McGie says people’s body image may be worse in summer when the weather calls for people to wear less and have more skin exposed.
“We weren’t born feeling self-conscious about our exposed arms, our ‘bikini ready’ bodies and how they will be perceived,” she says.
“These are socially constructed ideas that condition us to believe that we have something we must hide.”
Ms McGie says that along with the change in season, everyone is “bombarded with messages” of how to get “ready” for summer through losing weight and diet culture.
“We internalise these messages,” she says.
Ms McGie says these messages influence our behaviour and bolster toxic diet culture. Society has conditioned people to “think that only certain attributes are sexy,” and to be fashionable, “you must look a certain way."
If you are experiencing struggles with your body image at this time, “you are not alone,” she says.
Ms McGie says it is important to reflect and work on our internalised beliefs, values and messages, rather than focusing on our outward appearance.
“Only then, can we reject diet culture and internalised fatphobia."
This article focuses on the influence of seasonal changes on body image. This is not to discredit the complex systematic, cultural, and societal factors that can impact people’s body image and those struggling with self-esteem and eating disorders.
If you are struggling with your body image, the following services may be a good place to start getting help:
The Butterfly Foundation Helpline (1800 33 4673)
Eating Disorders Victoria (1300 550 236)