As summer starts to wane, those of us in milder climates are already preparing to put away our swimsuits in favor of more modest attire. No longer will we be lazing around in the sun for hours at a time, basking in the glow of leisure and the distinctive smell of the ocean. For many of us, it's a bit saddening, though surely many, many others are breathing sighs of relief. Summer can be an extremely high-pressure season, especially for women, and even more especially for women with body-image issues (and isn't that all of us, at least sometimes?). Before spring is even in full swing, magazine covers are splattered with all sorts of quick-fix diets to banish jiggly tummies and behinds, exercise regimens to tone the upper arms, swimsuits that flatter and hide one's flaws. "Get That Bikini Body and Feel Great!" the headlines promise, the thin, airbrushed cover model smiling her cheesy smile in reassurance. Yes, these workouts and diets will work, and then you will be happy-- if, of course, happiness is measured by how good you look in a bikini.
photo from byrodesigns
photo from byrodesigns
But seriously, what is this "bikini body" we hear everyone constantly speaking of every spring and summer? To me, it conjures up an image of some sort of Baywatch-worthy woman with large, perky breasts and a perfectly toned stomach. Her thighs and her butt and cellulite free. She runs around a lot and doesn't worry what other people think of her because she is perfect. While many of you might think of something slightly different, I bet the image of a bikini body that you conjure up has something to do with how good you feel in a bikini and if you even wear one. I mean, do you have to be a skinny-minny to wear a bikini in public? It certainly feels like it, but I don't think it's necessarily true.
Anecdote: a week ago, my boyfriend and I went to a heavily populated beach for the day. We spent a few hours in the water and laying out on our towels before packing up to go explore the boardwalk and get some lunch. As we headed toward the car, Luke sighed and said "the beach is always such a disappointment." I asked him why and he explained how everyone always makes the beach out to be some sort of hot-chick shopping market, but there were, in his opinion, simply none to be found.
"What about that girl? Or that one?" I asked, quietly pointing out various slender women baking in lounge chairs or playing games with their friends.
"They're all so skinny. They don't have any butts or boobs or anything. And they don't even look like they're having fun half the time."
I'm always surprised when my boyfriend says these things, because as a woman, I've been conditioned to think that without question, skinnier is better. When I walk the beach in a bikini, I often feel ashamed and judged, but I try not to let it interfere with having fun. Going to the beach can be a miserable experience in that sense. Girls spend so much time sizing up the competition and trying to look hotter than the next girl that they forget to have fun.
But you know what? It's not a contest. Someone out there finds your body-- wiggles and all-- more attractive than the airbrushed ideal. Someone would rather see a carefree plus-size girl in a bikini than a sample-size girl sucking it in.
I think it's terrible that many of us feel shame when we expose our bodies on the beach or around the pool. When I was thinking of writing this post, I Googled "too fat to wear a bikini," and I was so saddened by how many young girls were asking whether their weight is socially acceptable for wearing a bikini. It often makes me wish we would start teaching kids to ignore the popular media in school.
When I see a big girl wearing a bikini, I smile. I think it's confidence that makes a bikini body beautiful, whether you're skinny or fat or somewhere in between. Enjoy your body, because you are someone's ideal, even if you're not yours.