April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine
There are so many things to love about summer, but if you'd rather have a bikini wax than actually shop for a bikini, you're not alone. According to a new study, bathing suit shopping makes women -- wait for it -- anxious and depressed. No kidding, right?!
"I am not surprised by this study at all," Jennifer Baumgartner, aka "Dr. B," Psy.D., fashion psychologist and the author of You Are What You Wear, tells HealthySELF. "We are our own worst critic, often focusing on insignificant flaws or finding ones that do not even exist to an outside observer."
To conduct the study, published in the journal Sex Roles, researchers used four different imaginary scenarios to test the impact of clothing on women's self-objectification. (Self-objectification, explains Dr. B, is tying the measure of your worth to your body.) One scenario involved wearing a bathing suit at the beach, another trying one on in a store. The other two scenarios had the same settings, but involved jeans instead of swimwear.
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Researchers read the scenarios to 102 college female undergrads and then had them fill out a questionnaire built to measure mood, feelings about the body and self-objectification. They found that thinking about wearing a swimsuit made their subjects feel worse about their bodies than wearing jeans and -- fascinatingly -- that imagining being in a dressing room in a bathing suit was even more anxiety-provoking than imagining walking down a beach in one.
"When you are on a beach, you have distractions," explains Dr. B. "This may include swimming, laughing with friends, even seeing another woman who is totally comfortable with her body regardless of how she looks. When you enter a dressing room, the purpose is to self-evaluate. Your task in this mirrored chamber of horrors is to determine if this item looks good on you, which prompts you to look for the flaws."
Mirrored chamber of horrors, indeed! Is there any way to make this process less horrible? Could it possibly even be ... fun? Yes! First of all, make sure you know what kind of suit would be most flattering on you. Check out SELF's slideshow of the best bathing suits for every body type here (it includes the cute yellow one above!). Then, read Dr. B's top tips for turning bathing suit shopping into a positive process -- one that ends up with you in a suit you love!
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1. Work on your mindset in advance. "This can be a therapeutic exercise." says Dr. B. "Trying on a suit can be an opportunity to challenge yourself to take the torture out of the task. Make it your primary goal to fight against the negative part of the self -- getting a fabulous bathing suit is secondary!"
2. Prepare some positive "self talk" for those moments of doubt in the dressing room. "Every time you criticize your body, look for an alternative," advices Dr. B. "Instead of 'my body is too big for this suit and I need to lose weight,' say, 'this bathing suit isn't cut properly.' Rather than 'I look horrible,' say, 'Just because I think I look bad doesn't mean it is true. Maybe someone else thinks I look good, and they are right!'"
3. Limit the time you spend in front of the mirror when trying on a suit. "Set a timer on your cellphone for 2-5 minutes and be done with it," says Dr. B.
4. Look critically at the suit -- not at yourself. "When assessing the bathing suit, examine the function of it -- will it do its job, which is to support and work well on the beach and in the water?" says Dr. B. "Look at the overall picture, not the details, when deciding if the suit looks good on you."
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5. Choose your battleground. Some people might do better with online shopping, so they can try on suits in the privacy of their own home, but, Dr. B points out, "you also have more time to stare at and criticize your reflection." You know what would work better for you, so pick the option that will make you feel the best.
6. Buddy up! In general, Dr. B says, it's good to find a friend who is comfortable with her body. "Hanging out with women who constantly self-criticize, count calories or obsessively exercise is not healthy for you until you heal yourself!" she says. To that end, find a positive, supportive friend to come suit-shopping with you. "If this buddy can knock the needle off your inner record player that is stuck repeating negative self-statements, bring her along! Let her be your informational coach, cheerleader and objective eye."
7. Get beautiful before you head to the mall. "If you consider trying on a bathing suit as a necessary evil, soften the experience," says Dr. B, by doing your hair, makeup and personal grooming the way it makes you feel best. "Walk in that room with the advantage!"
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6 Secrets to Firing Up Your Metabolism
April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine