The most bittersweet time of the year is upon us. Our mental health is grateful for the bright sunshine, and our summer getaways are planned. But for many of us, just the thought of taking our clothes off at the beach or pool makes us cringe in a way we dare not admit.

After all, what many call the “summer body” can be a host of intrusive thoughts. We scrutinize in the mirror down to the smallest detail, from the arms to those marks that came out of nowhere on our thighs.

The pressure is so great that specialists have called this “summer body anxiety.”

That’s why we talked to Heiddi Zalamar, an Afro-Latina specialist with more than 15 years of experience, about how to deal with our own judgments in the mirror. Read on to find out what she recommends before flogging our bodies in the mirror now that the warm days are here.

Understand that the concept of the ‘summer body’ is wrong

In her practice, Heiddi Zalamar has brought her Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian ancestry to the forefront when it comes to dismantling cultural constructs. Zalamar questions old norms of our Latino culture, such as “rest is laziness” or “therapy is for crazy people.” She also does so with our relationship to our own bodies.

“It has allowed me to focus more on the beautiful parts of people that have less to do with what others think of us and more to do with what we think of ourselves,” Zalamar told FIERCE. “I teach clients to make space for their feelings in a compassionate way that bolsters their self-esteem.”

“In my experience, people tend to equate looking good with having great value,” she explains. “Especially because the notion of beauty is white, European-centric, with small, thin bodies.”

“I encourage people to look at women in their own culture and family. I look like my mother, a curvy woman I considered beautiful,” she says. Zalamar also encourages people to look at old photos of Renaissance-era women from different backgrounds who were painted as curvy and beautiful. “[To watch] movies and shows that prioritize curvy women can also serve to reframe our thinking, like Michelle Buteau.”

Image used with permission from Heiddi Zalamar.

Learn to value the person that you are

Regarding practical steps or exercises, Zalamar recommends listing what we love about ourselves, inside and out. For example, “I love my compassionate heart.” “I am a good friend who cares about others.” “I am hilarious and kind.”

“You can also do a deep breathing exercise such as box breathing (inhale, pause, exhale, pause) on the count of four,” she adds. “Slowing ourselves down can also slow down our negative thoughts.”

Another helpful tip from Zalamar is to learn to feel comfortable in our own skin. “If you don’t like wearing shorts or bikinis, don’t! Don’t force yourself to dress like everyone else,” she explains. “Focus on what makes you feel beautiful. Feeling self-conscious and feeling judged are two different things. Self-consciousness has to do with your feelings about yourself.”

“If you have been judged by other people in the past, learn to set some boundaries with those people (‘don’t talk about my body’) and spend less time with them. Prioritize time with people who love and appreciate you. What matters most is how you celebrate yourself.”

Learning to deal with summer body anxiety is also learning to be grateful

Like many other Latinas, Heiddi Zalamar has learned to love herself and embrace her identity through years of experience. She began therapy more than 20 years ago when she was pregnant with her oldest son. Zalamar learned to be kind to herself, to pursue her goals, and to be happy with who she was at the time, imperfect as she was.

Now, she wants to teach us to do it too.

“One way to appreciate yourself is to thank your body for carrying you around every day,” she explains. “I thanked my body for holding my two babies. I remind myself that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do now without my body. Practice gratitude for being who you are in your own unique way.”

Similarly, Zalamar made a commitment to herself over 14 years ago to stop mistreating herself with negative, judgmental thoughts like “You’re stupid,” “You’re ugly,” etc.

“This made a HUGE difference because I realized how often I was being mean to myself with my thoughts. Now I take it as a sign to dedicate myself to self-care by journaling, napping, taking a walk, or dancing to my favorite songs.”

In the end, the most important thing to understand is that what you see on social media is not a standard for you and that all bodies are summer bodies. All you need to do is put on the clothes that make you feel comfortable and enjoy the sun and those moments of relaxation you so deserve.