I have always adored the beach, but only recently have I been able to fully embrace it as a space of self-acceptance and self-love.
Picture this: you are 16 years old, it is the perfect summer day, and you are prepping for a day at the beach with your besties. Your beach bag is packed and your toenails are freshly painted. You stand in front of the mirror and give yourself a once over.
At that moment, your eyes travel to your belly, your hips, your thighs. You lower your gaze and grab an oversized t-shirt out of your dresser, pulling it over your bathing suit. That afternoon at the beach while your friends frolic in the ocean, you struggle through the water, the soaked shirt holding you back.
How many of us have had days like that? At what age did we learn to forgo having fun in favour of covering our bodies in shame? I can remember many of my own beach days with friends, my bathing suit hid beneath long shorts and a shirt to hide. I have always adored the beach, but only recently have I been able to fully embrace it as a space of self-acceptance and self-love.
Each year, just as we are recovering from the overwhelming number of January “New Year, New Me!” weight loss ads, we are slammed with the next seasonal campaign beast: Get your body “summer ready.” While the “ideal bikini body” is an unattainable myth, many people from all walks of life diet and restrict themselves, painfully attempting to shrink themselves into that ideal. Here is the harsh truth that we all need to learn: if you’ve got a body and a bikini, you already have a bikini body!
According to an article in the LA Times, society has been faced with diet ads as early as 1825, when lawyer Jean Brillat-Savarin first suggested a low-carb diet for weight loss. Nearly 200 years later and we are still being bombarded with the same nonsense. On billboards, magazine covers, bus ads, and of course, our social media apps, every single day we are subconsciously receiving message after message that we are not good enough because of the body we live in.
Young girls who used to look to the summer with excitement and anticipation, now find themselves riddled with food guilt and anxiety over what their bodies will look like in their summer clothes. Women hide behind long sleeves and pants, no matter the temperature, blaming and punishing themselves for “failing” their summer diet. Cancelling plans and missing adventures because you don’t want anyone to see your body.
To be honest, writing these words brought up a lot of emotions for me. I was that young girl who spent summers hiding out at home because I was ashamed of my larger body. I was that woman – sometimes I still am – who wore jeans at the height of summer to hide my legs. I can hardly remember the days when summer was beach days, bonfires, and soaking up the warm sun. At some point, summer became the quest of the bikini body. An impossible quest that ends in failure and self-loathing.
In an article for The Cut, Alice Robb wrote about a chain of weight loss salons, Slenderella International, that first popularized the term bikini body in 1961. Slenderella ads promised women they could achieve a “high firm bust – hand span waist – trim, firm hips – slender graceful legs – a Bikini body!” A formula designed to shame the woman whose body did not fit into that specific mould.
Fast forward to 1963, and another salon, Suddenly Slenda, advertised that women could attain their “bikini body for summer” using the salon’s wrapping method. Yet another weight loss salon, Pretty Body, promised their clients a “firmer, slimmer sexy…bikini body” through the use of “flesh firming machines” in their 1970 ad campaign.
Essentially, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women have been successfully manipulated into unrealistic expectations of their own bodies for decades, myself included. Today, young girls and grown women alike have proof of their unworthiness right at their fingertips. Scroll social media on any given day and you will likely come across at least one diet ad boasting an atrocious “1200 calorie meal plan to get in shape for summer.” Just last week, I was standing in line at the grocery store and more than half of the magazines on the rack were either promising to help me lose weight in four weeks, or commenting on how some celebrity was flaunting her cellulite at the beach.
There is hope! With the body positive, self-love, and anti-diet culture movements making waves on social media, there is more proof than ever before that all bodies are different and uniquely beautiful. In a post on their website in 2021, Pinterest announced they were “updating [their] ad policies to prohibit all ads with weight loss language and imagery.” This is a huge step for a major social media platform to take.
This year, Google announced that they were expanding their sensitive ad categories to include weight loss ads, among others. This means that you as a viewer can choose not to be shown dieting ads on YouTube. Definitely a step in the right direction.
Additionally, many clothing brands have put efforts into becoming more size-inclusive in recent years. No longer are plus-size women being shunted to the back corner of the store, with just two or three racks of unflattering clothes to choose from. There are now countless options for defining your style and picking out summer clothes and bathing suits that fit your body and make you feel confident.
The term bikini body was invented by companies who profit off of making us hate our bodies. You do not need to lose a single pound to enjoy all that summer has to offer. As the great Lizzo would say, “it’s about damn time” we take back our summers and our bodies! You deserve to have the most amazing summer, without feeling like you have to earn it with diets and restrictions first.
This summer, let’s just all take a stand and wear whatever we want. I am going into this summer with the confidence of a toddler strutting down the beach in a neon bathing suit, mismatched hat and sunglasses, with ice cream melting down her chin. Who’s with me?!
If you enjoyed reading this, check out 5 Steps to body acceptance.