This is a topic I’ve been wanting to touch on for a while, and now that it’s officially summer, it’s become more of a priority.
The Perfect Summer Body is an ubiquitous schema in today’s society. Each year, we are bombarded with advertisements for one particular body. Magazines may call it a “bikini body.” You may see ads online asking, “Are you beach-body ready?” There is even a full workout franchise called Beach Body- and while I honestly have used and enjoy their workout videos, the name always grates on me. We are told to look one specific way during the summer, when we go out and our bodies are on display.
When you think of this “perfect summer body,” what comes to mind? Maybe words like toned or tanned? Flat stomachs, round bums, sculpted thighs?
Now, how many of those things do you currently possess?
For me, the answer is zero. I am not toned; I am not tan. My stomach is not flat. My butt is not perfectly round. My thighs jiggle and touch sometimes, more so now than when I was younger, and yes, at my young age of 22, I now have cellulite. I am not, in any way, the poster child of a “summer body.”
Even in today’s more body positive social climate, we still have a particular ideal of feminine beauty. Take a good look at most plus-sized models. Yes, they are beautiful, and yes, they do have more fat (and probably muscle mass) than other models. But what do you see? They still have an hourglass figure. Thicker thighs, yes, but still very “feminine.” Wide hips and larger backside, narrow shoulder. Large breasts, flatter stomachs.
Then you have me. My weight and size are smaller than ‘plus size,’ but I’m still not represented. My stomach is larger than my thighs. My shoulders are wider than my hips. On all counts, I don’t have a traditionally feminine body shape. Very rarely do I see a woman, of any size, that looks “top heavy” in media. It’s not considered beautiful in our culture, so even if this body size is not outwardly shunned, it is ommitted. We are taught to hate ourselves or punish ourselves until we look one way, even if that is not attainable for us. We learn to hide anything about us that is not considered “beautiful,” down to “tummy controlling” swimsuits.
I’ve struggled with my body shape for as long as I became aware of it. I’ve been teased since I was a young child, harassed during puberty, and shunned in my high school life. I’ve gone to extreme lengths thinking that if my stomach was just a little bit smaller, I’d be happier. My confidence depended upon my ability to mask my “negative traits,” which unfortunately felt impossible in the summer.
I’m not the only woman who looks like me. I’m not the only one who feels isolated by their shape- by genetic components they cannot change, no matter what. I’m not the only person to suffer. Some people harm their skin with tanning. Some people go through plastic surgery. Some people become so interested in having this “perfect summer body” that they stop enjoying life to diet- all for what reason? To look a specific way?
Each year, the media perpetuates beauty ideals, and each year, I think I need to uproot my life to conform to them. I don’t. Nobody does. We are only happier and more confident looking a certain way because we believe it already. It is a standard placebo effect. We think something will make us happy, so only when we obtain it do we allow ourselves happiness and confidence. The truth is, our happiness, confidence, and self-love is available at any moment should we just open ourselves to it.
This summer, I want to learn to love my body exactly as it is and find my own confidence. My body deserves love at all moments. It is not shameful. I do not need to hide.