It’s that time of year again – the time of year when it seems like every women’s magazine is screaming at us to GET YOUR BEST BIKINI BODY EVER in bright 48-point fonts. The implicit promise is that if we follow their diet and exercise tips, we’ll drop ten pounds in a month and then suddenly people will no longer be shielding their eyes from the ghastly horror of our stomachs whenever we venture out into public and instead life will become like one long, shiny music video where we all dance by the poolside while spraying each other down with bottles of Cristal that magically appear out of nowhere.
It’s bad enough that we have to do our swimsuit shopping in dressing rooms that are illuminated with the kind of fluorescent lights that have been scientifically engineered to make even Gisele Bundchen look like a bubonic plague victim, and that we have to do so while wearing underwear beneath the bottoms so we get that extra-lumpy appearance, and really, that’s if we are lucky enough to be able to fit into the range of swimsuits available, which a lot of us aren’t. But because the conjoined twins of doom known as the diet and fashion industries are never content to let an opportunity to capitalize on female anxiety slip by, we have to deal with this while listening to all of the braying about BIKINI SEASON!!!!!1 at the same time.
Is it any wonder that many women get depressed and anxious just thinking about trying on swimsuits?
What makes the swimsuit anxiety extra-sad to me is that it’s focused on an item of clothing that is supposed to represent fun and relaxation. Maybe it’s just because I’m a total Florida girl, but I love to hang out at the beach and by the pool. For six months out of the year, my hair is encrusted with chlorine and salt, while sand is permanently stuck between my toes. (And yes, I am religious about wearing SPF 50, and I re-apply too.) The water is a very healing, calming place to be, and I always look forward to spending a few hours immersed in it. You have to really hand it to our twisted, messed-up culture for being able to take something as enjoyable as hanging out in the water and turning it into yet another source of anxiety and stress for the ladies.
But my feeling is that those promises of a “better bikini body” in four weeks or less are about as substantial as a politician’s promises during an election year. I have multiple issues with this way of thinking, so let me break them out in a nifty bullet-point list:
- It frames “fitness” as an end goal, not a process. The editors frame the workouts and diet tips as important, not because they will help you feel healthy and strong, but so you can look good in an item of clothing. The implication of that is that once you no longer need to wear that item of clothing, you can go back to your old habits, thus setting the stage for next year’s bikini season and positioning you to buy even more magazines. So tricky how that happens!
- It promotes crash dieting and other unhealthy habits. I am super skeptical of any weight loss plan that promises to help you lose more than a pound a week. Anything more than that usually involves some kind of serious deprivation and the embrace of habits that could very well be triggering, especially for a woman with a history of eating disorders.
- The end goal is purely cosmetic. There are sooooo many reasons to make healthier choices in your eating and to be more active. It’s good for your heart, your mind, your soul. Too often, people will take up healthier living with the idea that it will make them lose weight, and yet when that doesn’t happen, they give up and thus forfeit all of the really amazing benefits that are almost instantaneously attained.
- It tells you that you have a “crappy bikini body” that needs to be fixed. Gee, thanks. I never tire of hearing how my body is all wrong.
- It turns a few square inches of fabric into the be-all end-all of body confidence. I feel like this is said repeatedly but it’s one of those things that doesn’t really hit home until you experience it for yourself, but there are so many ways of expressing body confidence, and a huge number of them do not involve buying things like magazines, diet aids, clothing, etc.
- Your body is not wrong; the clothing is. As Tori at Anytime Yoga regularly points out, please remember that if an item of clothing doesn’t fit you well, it’s not a problem with your body – it’s a problem with the clothes. (And by the way, the whole post at that link is great for pointing out the problematic nature of swimsuits in general.)
I could easily go on and on and on with this, like the fact that a lot of the “toning” (UGH THAT WORD*) exercises involve tiny dumbbells or that it yet again reduces our bodies to objects meant to look pretty, but I’ll stop here. I would just encourage us to think about these things whenever we try on swimsuits or whenever we see those garish headlines while waiting in line to buy groceries. Remember that our lives are way too short to spend them stressing over whether or not our thighs are perfectly smooth and our stomach is flat enough to wear a bikini, and for reals, if you really feel that anxious about it, just buy a cute one-piece already. Don’t let body anxiety – much of which is artificially generated to sell us shit – keep you from enjoying your life.
*’Toning’ is a concept that would not cause me to weep if it were to die a swift and painful death by fire. Toning is fueled by the belief that the only good female body is a teensy tiny one, and the pursuit of it leads women to spend way too much time doing things like triceps kickbacks with two-pound weights. If you want to be stronger and healthier, you’ve got to brave the heavy shit. Tiny weights won’t do a thing but waste your time (unless you are training like a boxer, in which case rock on with your bad self).