The last two weeks of May were the last two weeks of my school year. The weeks should have been full of friends exchanging summer plans, planning get togethers and bonfires. My grade especially, now rising seniors, should have been getting ready to make the most of our last high school summer. But instead, the lunchroom tables and the grassy courtyard in front of the school were filled with groups of people, both male and female, stressing to the max about achieving the perfect summer body. The “bikini body” for women, and, who knows, maybe the “speedo body” for men?
Aiming for healthy bodies and summer self confidence isn’t a bad thing. But the people I observed were sacrificing more than they knew by only talking about their bodies. What they didn’t seem to realize was that none of them were actually talking to one another, they just talked about their own body in the company of others. What was most disturbing was the amount of shame that walked away from those conversations.
Girls who have the most envious bodies, the ones who knew just how hot everyone thinks they are, spend hours around anyone who would listen ranting about all their imperfections. What this spread was a feeling of discontent in other girls who considered their own bodies lesser than the others. If the prettiest girl you know is uncomfortable showing her stomach, how can you ever hope to walk out in a tiny triangle bikini and be confident? It’s the same for guys, when the star athlete talks about all the workouts they need to do, lesser athletes, and the non athletes, are left with feelings of inferiority, if they have any cracks in their self confidence at all.
Of course, what these people say shouldn’t affect your own body image. But it’s unrealistic to tell anyone to disregard what other people say. You can try to remember the truth, that everyone is beautiful in their own way, and all that matters is being healthy, whatever shape that is for you, but sometimes that cliché, true though it may be, is no help. Everyone has bad body image days.
But who is to blame? This may sound cliché too, but it’s the screen. Look around, at ads, TV shows, movies. A commonality these three share is a beautiful woman, a beautiful woman with stick thin legs and arms, and abs like a washboard. Of course health is important for men and women, but a healthy body usually has muscle and toned definition; it’s not the body of a 10 year-old boy before hitting puberty. But it’s with these women in mind that women fantasize about the ideal beach bod. And it’s with the men from those ads, TV shows and movies, the ones who have six packs that look like they’re spray painted on, that men imagine they have to look like in order to get girls.
It’s hard to enjoy summer vacation when you spend the entire time stressing about how you look, scared to ever go out in public in a swimsuit. That fear makes what could have been fun activities, swimming, boating, tanning, tubing, into nightmares where you are constantly aware of every part of your body. And this obsession with the perfect summer body also harms friendships. Instead of focusing on each other, like I noticed at my school, you end up only focused on your self, and the closest you get to caring about your friends is by measuring up how you look compared to them. This is a vicious and damaging cycle, and one that should be avoided at all costs.
But like I said above, it’s almost impossible to just give up on caring about how your body compares to others.
However, there must be some solutions, so what are some techniques that make it easier?
1. Look at some beautiful people who don’t look like sticks. I may not like her personality, or the materialistic views that she stands for, but Kim Kardashian is a great example of a star famous for her looks who actually has curves. And so does supermodel Kate Upton. You can also look up the Dove Real Beauty Campaign: beautiful women, real bodies.
2. Invest in the right swimsuit. Maybe that teeny tiny triangle just doesn’t work for you. Find something better! Maybe a crop swimsuit, which are huge this year, or a tankini or one piece. Trust me, if you look at Victoria’s Secret one pieces and tankinis, you will never say they can’t be as sexy as a bikini ever again. If you have a swimsuit that fits just right, and makes you feel comfortable, it’s amazing the new confidence that comes with that.
3. Invest in conversation. Talk about boys, about music, about celebrities. Talk about war, or peace, or Vladimir Putin. Just leave the body shaming out. You will feel more comfortable, and so will everyone else.
4. Finally, remember all of the amazing things about you. Maybe you are a fashion guru, a computer wizard, a genius with paint, a master with ink. Whatever it is, I promise you those things are what make you amazing, not your weight, or how many bones show when you put on a swimsuit.
So this summer, move past ‘bikini body’ shaming, and embrace fun and friends. You deserve it!