Vacations can be tricky for those of us who struggle with body image.
Sometimes the clothes we think we’ll look hot in suddenly feel wrong. These thoughts can mess with our mood and get in the way of us enjoying time off — which is frustrating, yet hard to beat. The conversations we hear in real life and from the media about “bikini bodies,” as well as systemic fatphobia issues, such as hotels not giving out size-inclusive towels and airplanes making too-small seatbelts, exacerbate this predicament.
While you may not be able to avoid focusing on body concerns entirely, you can pack and prepare in a way that helps foster better body positivity on your trip. A few eating disorder and body image experts shared their best tips.
Start with your packing list
When you’re staring at your closet, trying to decide what to pack, go for comfort first. Think of the temperature at your vacation spot, what materials feel best on your skin, variety and pieces you know you love.
“People should pack whatever clothes they feel most comfortable in and are suitable for the climate of their vacation or types of activities that they’ll be doing,” said Rachel Evans, an eating disorder psychologist. “If you have space in your suitcase, then it’s probably a good idea to pack a range of clothes, some with a looser fit and some with a tighter fit … You can decide in the moment what clothes make you feel more secure about your body.”
Then, consider what feels fit for the occasion. “Look at styling and function,” said Carolina Mountford, an eating disorder expert with personal experience and a mental health advocate. “Do you need smart or casual? Is it an active holiday or relaxing by pools or on beaches? … Once you’ve narrowed it down to comfort and function, pick your favorites.”
And don’t forget about what feels stylish to you as far as colors, prints and styles. “Are you able to dress up in a way that feels less about the body and more about who you see yourself as?” said Kerrie Jones, a psychotherapist and founder of Orri, a specialist day treatment service for eating disorders. “Turn your attention towards the individual items themselves as opposed to how they are making your body look.”
Plan ahead for scenarios that may bring up body image issues
You can also prepare for vacation by brainstorming triggers and how to handle them.
“Whether it’s social media, a certain person or group of people in your friendship circle or an experience — perhaps changing rooms — if you’re aware of situations or activities that trigger negative body image, you can work to process and respond to them in a healthy way,” Jones said.
That may look like deleting your Instagram app while you’re away or changing clothes by yourself. Mentally preparing for the circumstances you know don’t make you feel good can help you navigate them or avoid them.
If negative thoughts pop up on your trip, redirect your attention
While being mindful of the clothes you pack can help with body image, you may still struggle with negative thoughts popping up. No need to feel bad; it happens to many of us.
While positive affirmations can’t solve the larger issue of our society’s fatphobia, they are a more accessible starting point. One example is thinking about what your body does for you.
“My body is supporting me on this holiday,” Evans suggested. Is it digesting yummy new foods? Allowing you to swim in the ocean? Helping you play with your kids in the sand? “Research suggests that when we focus on what our body can do for us, rather than what it looks like, then we develop a better relationship with our body,” Evans said.
Treat yourself like you’d treat someone you love
“Speak as kindly to yourself as you would to a friend. Remind yourself that this is your holiday; you’ve worked hard for it and you deserve to enjoy every moment,” Mountford said. “Remind yourself that outward appearances are a desperately poor measure of contentment. Remind yourself that those around you love you as you are.”
She explained these thoughts can help you reset your focus and re-connect you to the present.
Think of other aspects outside of your body
Jones also recommended reminding yourself that you are so much more than a body ― both on vacation and at home. Think, “What makes me laugh? Who do I love, and who do I know loves me back? What fulfills me? What areas of my life do I want to nurture?” she said.
And when you’re worried other people are judging you, remember feelings aren’t facts. “You’ll likely see that almost everyone is too busy getting on with their vacation to be focusing on what your body looks like,” Evans assured.
Lastly, she shared her favorite quote from Zen Shin for when you catch yourself comparing: “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”