Every year, usually around April or May, I will be on a train, idly looking at the billboards displayed along passing stations, when I will come across the first piece of “beach body”-related advertising of the season.
“Get Beach Body Ready!” the ad boasts, displaying a photo of a pretty, young, white, usually female person, with thick, wavy hair, lightly tanned skin, and a flat, exposed stomach. She (or he) is wearing a skimpy swimming costume, and information about the diet pill or shake or programme or whatever is being advertised is jammed into the bottom right corner, perhaps with a picture of some vaguely medicinal-looking packaging.
This advertising is so ubiquitous that I have come to think of it as a yearly indication that summer is on its way, like how the first sign of the holidays approaching is usually the sight of Christmas crackers in the local supermarket.
Whether or not each ad succeeds in its primary mission of getting people to buy the product it is promoting, there is one way in which these ads have proven extremely effective. When most of us hear the term “beach body”, we conjure up the very specific image of the same young, thin, tanned, scantily-clad individuals the ads always feature. While there is nothing wrong with having that sort of body, the use of the term “beach body” to describe it implies that it is the only type of body that is ‘suitable’ or ‘appropriate’ for going to the beach.
This, like all advertising that promotes our society’s appallingly narrow beauty standards, is problematic, and the unrealistic and largely unachievable ideals it showcases can lead to all sorts of crippling body image issues. But even if we leave all of that aside, the suggestion that only perfectly proportioned, bikini-wearing glamazons can go to the beach is blatantly untrue. I am not just saying this as an angry fat activist who believes in the forceful abolition of all standards of beauty, and has aspirations of frog-marching hordes of swimsuit-clad fat people to the beach and ordering them to display themselves everywhere. No. I am saying this as somebody who has been to a beach before.
Because the thing is, when you set foot on an actual beach and observe the other patrons, you will notice that all sorts of bodies are there. Chubby little toddlers with tiny buckets and spades. Gangly teenagers, kicking around old soccer balls. Giant, hairy, middle-aged men, hitching up their too-small swim trunks as they chase after their children. Older people with wrinkles everywhere, basking in the rare British sunshine. And, occasionally, a young woman or man who would not look out of place in the “beach body” ads.
Once you are done noticing a far more diverse range of bodies on the beach than the advertising suggests, you may also notice that absolutely nobody on that beach cares about how far away your body is from the “beach body” ideal. As it turns out, the only people who care about you not having a “beach body” are the diet industry pedallers, and they only care because they stand to make money from you believing that you need to have a body that is different from the one you have. But that belief simply is not true. The truth is that every body is a beach body, and the only two criteria that need to be met for a beach body are 1) that you have a body, and 2) that body is at a beach.
Having said that, I do understand that going to a beach can be daunting, especially when we have bodies that are significantly different in size and shape from those in the adverts. Swimwear is more exposing than any other clothing most of us wear in public, and showing off more of our bodies than we normally would is intimidating for many of us. But concern over how your body looks in swimwear should never stop you from doing something as enjoyable as going to the beach. Here are some tips for overcoming your concerns and rocking your beach body in all its glory.
Wear Swimwear You Love
Gone are the days where you have to go to the beach in the boring, unflattering one-pieces that used to be the only swimwear that came in a good range of sizes. Since Swimsuits for All collaborated with blogger and fatkini-rocking goddess Gabi Gregg to create a line of swimwear in 2012 that sold out in two days, “plus-size” swimwear has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in the fashion industry. The range of swimwear available for “plus-size” people nowadays is staggering, not only because most of it comes in our sizes, but also because it comes in a range of styles, from skimpy triangle bikinis to underwired one-pieces to shortinis with pockets. Don’t be afraid to shop around for swimwear that you genuinely love to wear, regardless of how ‘flattering’ it is or whether or not you ‘should’ be wearing it. A good rule of thumb is this: If you can put it on, you are allowed to wear it.
More Radical Reads: Wear What You Want: The Summer Edition
Take a Look Around
When you get to the beach (or whatever water-based place you find yourself visiting), take a moment to observe the people around you. Notice the variety of bodies there, and how your body, as unique as it may be, is just as unique (and, therefore, completely ordinary) as everybody else’s.
Remember: Nobody Cares
Personally, I take comfort in the fact that very few people (apart from my friends and family) care about me. This is true for anybody who is not very, very famous. While big-name celebrities get their unflattering beach photos slapped across the pages of tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines for the world to scrutinise, the rest of us get to enjoy the freedom that comes from nobody caring about us or what we look like. If you find that hard to believe, consider this: When you are at the beach, do you care about what anybody around you looks like? Exactly.
Focus on Other Things
As simple as it sounds, one great way to overcome any anxiety you might be feeling about how your body looks at the beach is to simply not think about it. Thankfully, this should be an easier thing to do at the beach than at most places. It’s the beach, after all! You are there to relax, to spend time with friends and family, to have fun. You are definitely not there to agonise over how you look. So do yourself a favour, embrace what you have gone to the beach to do, and enjoy yourself.
More Radical Reads: 6 Ways I Navigate the Pressures of Diet Culture
Be Surrounded by Positivity
If you are reading this article because you have found yourself agonising over how un-”beach body”-like your body is, either recently or in the past, you are not alone. Unfortunately, a lot of us have people in our lives who get sucked right into the “beach body” hype, and enjoy telling everybody around them about the dieting, painful exercising, and whatever else they are inflicting upon themselves in order to hopefully attain “beach body” perfection. If they want to treat their bodies that way, that is their prerogative. But if you are trying to become more body positive, hearing others actively engage in body hatred is not helpful, and you do not have to put up with it if you do not want to. Instead, go to the beach with people who are going to lift you up and make you feel like dynamite.
“Beach body” campaigns have come to be among the most ubiquitous in the UK and elsewhere in the lead-up to summer. As much as we might try to avert our eyes, that much advertising is often hard to ignore. We must, therefore, continue being body positive, practicing radical self-love, and not letting the lucrative diet industry’s attempts to make us believe our bodies are inadequate stop us from enjoying what can be one of the most joyful activities of the summertime. Remember: every body is a beach body.
[Featured Image: Three people in swimsuits floating in the middle of a lake. Source: Let Ideas Compete]