Photo of a woman in a larger body demonstrating summer body confidence by wearing a deep blue one-piece bathing suit, dark pink print sheer cover up and straw hat as she stands smiling by an outdoor pool.

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How much different is your summer wardrobe from your winter wardrobe? Sure, you probably aren’t breaking out the wool sweaters right now, but are you still pretty much covered from neck to wrist to ankle? OK, maybe that’s too extreme…what about from collarbone to elbow to below the knee? I’m guessing that your levels of summer body confidence are low.

When you don’t have fond feelings for your body — or at least its appearance — you might be loath to show more than a few inches of skin, even when the temperature rises. Not only can this leave you uncomfortable for much of the summer, especially if you live someplace where central air conditioning is not the norm in homes (for example, in Seattle), but it can interfere with summer fun.

It’s hard to cool off in a swimming pool, or a lake, or the ocean if you won’t put on a swimming suit. It’s hard to enjoy a hike on a warm day if you won’t wear shorts and a sleeveless short. It’s hard to feel like you don’t stick out like a sore thumb if you’re the only one at the barbecue covered from head to toe (OK, this one might not apply this summer).

A blonde-haired woman in a larger body showing summer body confidence as she poses, smiling, in a purple halter-neck bathing suit under a black sundress in front of an outdoor pool.
Beyond modesty

I want to pause for a moment and address the modesty issue. I fully realize that some people expose minimal skin due to personal or religious modesty. For example, I use to live in a Seattle neighborhood with a large Orthodox Jewish community, and both men and women stayed covered up in the summer. That said, for most people, you can dress to be physically comfortable in the summer without being “immodest” by modern standards.

You can wear a tank top without showing cleavage or side boob. You can wear shorts that don’t flash your butt cheeks. You can wear a bathing suit that you don’t fear falling out of.

You are using modesty as an excuse (not a legitimate reason) if you can answer “yes” to this question: “If I were thinner / more toned / had less cellulite / wasn’t as pale as snow / had firmer skin / didn’t have varicose veins would I show more skin in the summer?”

My story of silliness

I’m not gonna lie. I have a history of body image issues that I’m mostly but not 100% over (recovery is a process). This involves weight (like many women, I also have a history of serial dieting), but even at my lowest weight, I did not want to show my legs. I had cellulite (which is totally normal yet still reviled), I’ve had spider veins since my early 20’s, which was followed up by varicose veins.

Then, in 2006, I spectacularly broke my left ankle. While it functions perfectly, thanks to an assortment of metal plates and screws (really), it is permanently a little bigger than my right ankle, with the added touch of some faded but still clearly visible (and quite large) surgical scars. When I’m on my feet for a long time, or the weather is hot, or I’ve been on a flight of more than a few hours, that ankle swells. We’re talking cankleville, people.

While those ankle visuals don’t thrill me, I’m pretty much over them today. That was NOT the case in 2009, when we spent two weeks in Buenos Aires in February (their autumn). The weather was unusually warm, but what did I wear the ENTIRE time? Jeans. My husband was comfortable in shorts, while I was wearing a denim sauna. I did wear short sleeves and tank tops, thank goodness. And sandals. But heaven forbid I show my ankle!

A blonde woman in a larger body showing summer body confidence as she walks on the beach, wearing green and blue-striped bikini bottoms, a white tank top and an open white long-sleeved shirt.
A few client stories

Having said all that, I’ll let you imagine how thrilled I am when one of my client breaks through the self-consciousness barrier and allows themselves to dress appropriately for the summer weather.

A few years ago, one of my clients was a young mother who was working to embrace her significantly larger body after years of punishing diet and exercise programs, which culminated in her becoming injured. One of her goals was to work up the courage to wear shorts and tank tops. She started by wearing them around the house and in her own backyard. Then when running simple errands, like dropping her son off at camp, or taking him to the neighborhood park. Then she branched out to wearing them whenever the weather called for them.

Then came the bathing suit. She wanted to exercise again, but gently, so as to not injure herself again. She also wanted to try water aerobics…but this meant wearing a bathing suit in public. This was very hard for her, but she admitted that choosing a class where she was the youngest women by decades made it easier. Eventually, the feeling of being in the water won her over, and she was able to wear her bathing suit at an extended family gathering — and didn’t hide when her sister was taking candid photos of everyone.

Another client was taking a summer trip to Italy. It was going to be hot. There would be hiking, and yoga, and swimming. In spite of the body image struggles that piggybacked on the last upward trend in her history of yo-yo dieting and weight cycling (a rollercoaster she had finally decided to step off of), she bought new shorts, sleeveless shirts and swimsuits for her trip. Comfort over needless vanity!

Two men and three women posing fo a selfie on a rooftop patio.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it

If some aspect of your body, whether it be size or cellulite or loose skin, is getting in the way of dressing comfortably in the summer, I (gently) challenge you to put comfort first this summer. I actually think this is an EXCELLENT summer to try this experiment, because you are likely staying closer to home. Here’s your “recipe” for improving your summer body confidence:

  1. Acquire some breezy clothes that fit and don’t make you feel TOO exposed (i.e., you don’t have to go for deep necklines or short-shorts).
  2. Take baby steps, as the first client I mentioned did. Start with your own backyard or balcony, then maybe a park near your home. Then maybe on a day trip when you’re brining your own food so just stopping at parks or rest areas. In other words, minimal social “threat.” As you get more comfortable, and realize the world is still turning on its axis despite the fact you wore shorts in public, branch out.
  3. Whenever you feel the urge to cover up, repeat this mantra: “I deserve to be physically comfortable, and my mental discomfort will decrease as I get used to a new normal.” It’s true.
  4. If anyone ever does say anything rude, pardon me, but f**k them. Like, really. Let them go wallow in their rudeness and false superiority. You are better than that.
  5. Bonus: Go someplace where you will see bodies of all sizes wearing small clothing. I would suggest Waikiki (seriously, all kinds of bodies in all sizes of swimwear and nobody gives a rat’s behind), but I really don’t want you getting on a plane this summer. I will say that I was at a local lake last weekend, and saw all sizes and types of bodies in shorts and tank tops and swimsuits. And nobody gave a rat’s behind. When you rely on media (including advertising, movies and TV shows) to show you who is “allowed” to bare their legs and arms (and maybe waists) it’s easy to feel you don’t measure up.

Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!