After 15 far-too-long weeks, it’s summer. Time to relax, to reconnect and recharge, to start those summer jobs and finally enjoy the sunshine. Summer is supposed to be a relaxing time, filled with lazy days in the sun, hammocks and barbecues — but for many young people, it is a time fraught with anxiety.
As temperatures climb and hangout spots shift from living rooms and bars to beaches and pools, there is intense pressure to wear less clothing and unveil the “beach bodies” we’ve all supposedly been working on since January. And for those of us who have been chained to textbooks and email inboxes all spring, that can be a very scary prospect. But the beach body ideal is ridiculous: Body size and body image should not hold anyone back from enjoying summer activities.
The idea of a beach body is a modern, manufactured one. Swimming and going to the beach became recreational activities in the mid 1800s, coinciding with the beginnings of advertising and mass media. Early swimmers wore full-coverage dresses and suits to the beach, but over the decades, swim wear became less modest for both genders. Bikinis and swim trunks were introduced in the 1950s and were advertised by models, actors and athletes as symbols of an ideal, luxurious lifestyle. As these skin-baring styles became the norm, businesses capitalized on consumers’ insecurities, selling weight loss products, tanning creams and gym memberships to “get ready for summer.”
But the idealization of a specific body type — or the notion that people need to be working toward a certain body type — in order to enjoy summer activities is, quite simply, idiotic. People of all sizes and abilities should be able to embrace their bodies; suggesting that there is a proper body size for the beach or pool is just another example of the biases and stigma that have permeated throughout our culture.
The people who promote the beach body ideal — many of whom are making money from the products supposedly necessary for a bodily transformation — often say that by promoting weight loss, they are advocating for health and telling Americans to use their summer body as a kickstarter toward a balanced lifestyle. But it’s not that simple, and the shame-based tactics these companies use have damaging effects on mental and physical health.
America’s warped body ideals are a topic that never seems to leave the cultural conversation. As sedentary lifestyles and processed food continue to affect millions of people, our society is saturated with images of unobtainable bodies Photoshopped to perfection. These images seem to prevent anyone who doesn’t look like a professional model for Nike or Victoria’s Secret from feeling okay with his or her body shape. According to the Yahoo Health’s 2016 Body-Positivity Survey, about 66 percent of American women and 30 percent of American men had a negative or ambivalent view of their bodies.
There is no denying that our country has some serious health issues — our rising rates of diabetes and heart disease are enough to show that — but by making our idea of an acceptable body difficult to obtain and shaming those who do not have it, we may actually be exacerbating these health issues.
Having a negative or love-hate relationship with one’s body has been proven to discourage healthy behaviors like exercise and healthy eating. For many people, being shamed by peers and the media can often lead to feelings of resignation and unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse and comfort eating, or the alternative route of extreme dieting, which can result in eating disorders and other health issues. Body shaming — whether indirect or direct — has dire consequences, and we need to find a more sustainable solution to help people embrace their body shapes while also encouraging them to practice better habits.
In short, it is not worth it to try to change your body for the summer. Everyone deserves to have fun in whatever body they currently have, and as hard as it is, resisting the ideal of the perfect beach body may be healthier in the long run. Get a swimsuit that fits well and makes you feel good, take care of yourself and go to the pool as much as you like. We’ve worked hard enough this semester, and deserve to enjoy the season without stressing about body size and shape.