Summer is finally here, hauling body image issues in its wake. As the warmer weather slowly begins to seep its way across North America, posts and blogs about “how to get your best beach body” are trending like wildfire, causing women and men of all ages to panic, stress and frantically research quick ways to shed pounds. Today, I’m here to tell you that all that beach body nonsense is bullshit.
The trouble with the health “trend”
I grew up in a “fitness oriented” environment. By the age of six I was frolicking on the treadmill in our home gym while my four-year-old brother stood by eating tuna straight from the can. My parents owned their own protein powder business, so I have many fond memories of building forts out of protein containers and eating Mom’s famous cottage-cheese-protein-pancakes. I’m no stranger to running drills (for fun) at the crack of dawn and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled to get out of bed the morning following leg day. I used to live and breathe this stuff and I’ll admit, I don’t hate those endorphins.
So I get it. I get that health is a long-lasting trend that’s here to stay and, in moderation, I fully support it. But here’s the thing, fitness gurus… as a group, we tend to be a tad obsessive. We’re addicts, and even when we’re in recovery we always run the risk of falling off the wagon. And sure, there are worse things to be addicted to. We could be binge eating peanut butter cups or snorting cocaine. But anything in excess is harmful. Even running stairs. Why? Because it conjures an internal need for intention. If you’re spending nine hours a week at the gym, you need to be able to explain that behaviour. And usually that explanation looks something like this: “I’m doing it to look better”.
I was an avid runner in university. Day, night, rain or shine – I was running. And I was also obsessed with how I looked. I ran to clear my head, but I also ran to get rid of my belly chub. And I can say with certainty that 99% of you reading this understand where I’m coming from. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had negative thoughts about your body. Keep it raised if you’ve ever used working out as a way to remedy that. How many of you still have your hand raised?
97 percent of women practice “self-hate” daily
Let’s look at a statistic. A survey conducted by Glamour found that 97 percent of women admitted to having at least one “I hate my body” moment each day. “Our research found that, on average, women have 13 negative body thoughts daily—nearly one for every waking hour,” writes Glamour. “And a disturbing number of women confess to having 35, 50 or even 100 hateful thoughts about their own shapes each day.” The survey, which included 300 women of different body types, encouraged participants to write down every negative thought they had. After seeing them on paper, many of the women reported being surprised about how cruel their thoughts really were.
Results from this survey were posted in February. While I have no actual evidence of this, I have an inkling that if they’d done this same survey in May, the results would have been unanimous. As beach season approaches, women everywhere flock to their floor-length mirrors to “assess the damage”. Rather than searching for beauty, they search for flaws… and they don’t stop until they find some. Survey or no survey, 100% of women are familiar with this practice.
Fad diets are not a thing of the past
Indeed, beach body season is a dangerous time. It’s a four-month stretch of body shaming and low self-esteem and millions of women looking for new and improved ways to change who they are. And what do they do? They hit the gym. They starve themselves. They look into plastic surgeons. They diet.
I keep reading that “fad diets” are a thing of the past. The headline “Healthy is the new skinny” is scrawled all over the internet, and I can’t help but wonder whose reality this is? Certainly, there’s been a huge increase in the “whole foods” trend, which is fantastic. People are slowly beginning to accept healthy carbs and fats as an important part of their daily intake, and organic produce has taken the world by storm. But skinny is NOT old news. It’s still very much the final and primary goal.
“I’m doing a juice cleanse.” Another claim I hear on a regular basis. At first glance, that’s great! Juice cleanses have so many health benefits, if done correctly, and they’re a wonderful addition to your health routine (again, in moderation). But I’m willing to bet that most people aren’t embracing the juice cleanse trend to detoxify their livers, restore imbalanced gut flora or flood their bodies with important phytonutrients that they’re lacking. No. I’m willing to bet that most people who do juice cleanses are doing it, at least in part, to reduce their appetite. To curb cravings. To trim their thighs.
Fine, fine, fine. Maintaining a healthy weight is a wonderful endeavour. Obesity is always on the rise, and anything we can do to lower that climbing statistic is a worthwhile effort. But it’s not okay that it’s always the end goal. It’s not okay that women are less concerned about achieving an overall healthy balance and more concerned about finally sculpting a sexy six-pack. It’s devastating that young girls are flipping through magazines and scrolling through Facebook finding an overload of information on losing weight and so very little on the importance of antioxidants, the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, and the benefits of meditation. And that’s just naming a few!
Change your mind
Just like there’s no “quick fix” for losing twenty pounds, there’s no “quick fix” for rewiring your brain to love your body. For most of us, the default setting is to search for imperfections, blemishes and defects – and where there aren’t any to be found, we fabricate them. That’s a lot of influence to fight against and, let me tell you… it takes time.
But it can be done. We’ve made it this far, ladies – surely if we can overcome female oppression we can learn to love ourselves! While there’s no “step-by-step” solution on how to overcome self-hate this beach season, there are a few simple tips I can recommend.
First of all, stop trying to make yourself smaller. Exercise in moderation. Eat whole foods. Be healthy. Just stop worrying about belly fat and thigh gaps and double chins. When has not having a perfectly flat stomach ever hindered your real life goals? NEVER.
Secondly, stop hating on other women. If you can’t walk down the street without judging complete strangers, how are you EVER going to stop judging yourself? Try to find beauty in your fellow-females. Don’t like someone’s hair? Fine. Compliment her eyes. It shouldn’t be uncomfortable for us to say nice things about one another. It should be a given.
Thirdly and finally (for today), fuck the beach body bullshit. Cliché aside, the old adage “it’s what’s inside that counts” is so raw and so true. Start working on yourself from the inside out. Transform your soul, transform your mind, transform your beliefs about what’s beautiful. And the next time you go to the beach? Bask in the sun shame-free, my friends. Because you have a body. And you’re at the beach. Ergo, you have a beach body. AND IT’S GORGEOUS.
Emily Watson is a freelance writer and certified yoga and medical Qi Gong instructor. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature and has been writing – creatively and otherwise – for ten years. Off the mat and away from the keyboard, Emily can be found hiking, camping and traveling with her wife and fur babies. She currently lives and works for a publishing company in Peterborough, Ontario.