You did it. You survived finals, AP exams if you’re in high school, or maybe end of year classroom behavior if you’re a teacher. The past few months have been a struggle for sure, but you’re pretty proud of yourself. That second semester stress has built up into its climax, but it’s finally gone. Summer is wide open in front of you. You’re ready for sleeping in, picnics, maybe some camping, and definitely some beach… trips…
Shit! With the hours of studying, work, rehearsals, and whatever else you had going on, you’ve completely neglected your physique. You’ve been eating whatever is quick and easy instead of what is healthy. And working out? You don’t even have room in your brain to think up a gym routine, let alone time in your day to actually go through with one. And now summer- the season of shorts and crop tops- is here, and you feel like your current state is anything but your desired beach body.
I used to subscribe to the idea of the “beach body” too. When summer rolled around, I wanted to have nice, smooth legs and the kind of washboard abs that I could display with confidence in a bikini. I don’t really feel this way anymore. The past two years have been a rollercoaster of discovery in the area of self image and body confidence. I learned a lot about myself, and in turn, my attitude toward the summer body ideal has changed drastically.
One thing I realized is that this idea that we need to have our bodies look a certain way just for the beach is kind of weird. I understand bodybuilders who are prepping for a competition or athletes who need to train the functionality of their bodies for a certain event, but why is there so much pressure to look amazing for a few hours of half-assed tanning and sand flying in your face? I understand that yes, we have more skin showing at the beach than we do in most other places, but this is just how we look all the time. I used to be one of the “oh shit, it’s summer and I don’t love my body!” people, but my body exists all year. It exists when I am on the beach and when I am at home wearing sweatpants. It exists in summer, but also spring, autumn, and winter too. The average person spends so little time in a swimsuit. It’s unhealthy to have such a drastic change in self image because it is a certain time of the year.
And yes. I understand. You can make the argument that wanting to look good in a swimsuit is just like any other occasion-based goal, such as wanting to slim down for your wedding. These things can be great motivators for a healthier lifestyle, but over the years the beach body has evolved into something different. Now, it’s not just a healthy goal, but an expectation.
“That woman should not be in a bikini.”
“He needs to put his shirt back on.”
Most of us have heard these types of comments before and I really don’t get them. That woman is in a bikini because she is at the beach and that’s what people wear at the beach. She’s not there to impress strangers and she’s not hurting anybody. The external pressure to look a certain way in a swimsuit has given us as a society deep-seated standards. And where do these standards come from? Why are we so obsessed with the beach body?
My web activity has been SO cluttered with ads for “summer shred”s and “8 week beach body program”s. These ads want you to feel inadequate so you’ll buy someone’s dumb ebook or try some juice cleanse. The worst part? Diets that use this genre of marketing are crash diets. They are designed for you to fail so you’ll keep buying into these products. They are absolute scams and the damage they do to people is disgusting.
Not only does this kind of external pressure target and hurt people with insecurities, but it promotes the idea that there is a single standard for how a body should look. If I could peek into the heads of one hundred different people and see what image comes to mind when I say “perfect beach body”, I can promise you it looks almost the same for everyone. There are so many issues with this. To begin, people’s bodies aren’t even built the same way. We have different proportions of torso and limb length and different weight distribution. It also perpetuates a really exclusive idea of what is attractive.
It’s important to like the way we look and media can make it hard to do that. We also can’t really do a whole lot about the ads. They’re always going to be there. The neat thing I noticed though is that each year, more and more people are giving this standard the middle finger. When I go to the “discover” part of Instagram or WordPress, I am seeing so many body positive posts and it makes me so happy. I see pictures of cellulite and stretch marks and asymmetry and people wearing it proudly. This movement is growing and its message is clear.
Imperfection is in.
Self acceptance is easier said than done. Most people think that they’re better than others who are influenced by the media. Heck, I was one of them. I thought I was free from that influence because I don’t watch the Victoria’s Secret fashion show or aspire to look like a certain celebrity. But I did spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and thinking about changes I could make to fit the conventional idea of what beautiful is. Looking back, I realize now that I was absolutely under the societal spell. Most of us are.
It also took me a really long time to break that. I’m still working on it. When I looked in the mirror at 120lbs and felt just as insecure as I did at 150lbs, I realized that the problem had nothing to do with my body and everything to do with what was in my head. The way I physically see myself is a reflection of how I feel on the inside. I never feel pretty when I’m in a bad mood and I tend to be really confident when in a good mood, but the way I look doesn’t actually change.
So if you find yourself wishing you looked like the guy or the gal in the many seasonal diet advertisements, remember that there’s no such thing as “the beach body”. What exists is “a beach body”, and good news! You have one! No matter what you plan to do with your diet or fitness regimen, remember that the transformation that will really make a difference is the one inside your head. And no one can sell you that- it’s something you need to find on your own.