It's swimsuit season, that hallowed time of year when magazines start pushing juice cleanses, crash diets and quick-fix boot camp workouts designed to get women into tip-top bikini body shape. This means that it's also the perfect time of year to shout the following PSA from the rooftops:
There is no such thing as a bikini body!
To get a bikini body, you just need to put a bikini on your body. Voilà.
Image Credit: Unknown via Upworthy
There's nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, but the concept of a "bikini body" is infuriating. Who decides which bodies are worthy of being clothed in two pieces of Lycra (which, incidentally, never seem to fit properly, often become see-through when wet and are liable to fall down whenever you jump around in the water)?
You're allowed to wear a bikini whether or not you lost those last five pounds, just had a baby, are naturally skinny, skipped your morning workout or had cake for breakfast. Rhetoric to the contrary has nothing to do with promoting health, and everything to do with promoting an exceedingly narrow, unattainable standard of beauty. Bikini season is a marketing gimmick like any other, designed to exploit women's insecurities about body parts that regularly receive a disproportionate amount of scrutiny. It's no wonder, then, that one study found that bathing suit shopping makes women feel anxious and depressed (Jezebel's Lindy West aptly notes that the study seems to have been sponsored by "Dr. Sherlock of the No Shit Institute").
It wasn't always this way. The bikini was invented in 1946 by a French lingerie saleswoman, and became popular in the U.S. in the 1960s as a symbol of youthful liberation. Back then, the New York Times points out, "[a] few extra pounds didn't disqualify anyone, considering the fitness revolution was still roughly a decade away." It was only later that this symbol of sexual emancipation and empowerment evolved into what Guardian writer Laurie Penny now deems "just another set of rules for [female] self-control." (Though it's important to note that shaming skinnier women for not attaining a supposedly more voluptuous ideal of yesteryear is also damaging.)
Years of cultural conditioning have left their mark, and actually donning the swimsuit is easier said than done, no matter how many times we repeat "every body is a bikini body" under our breath before stepping into the dressing room. In light of this reality, here are some practical considerations to keep in mind if you ever feel ashamed for not looking like Kate Upton in your two-piece:
At least 90% of women have cellulite, a number so high that some doctors just think of it as a secondary sex characteristic. The majority of women (and many men) have stretch marks. Human beings, as a species, have body hair. And every body is going to look different, no matter how many squats you do or miles you run. (And there's a beauty in that, no?)
Most importantly, your ability to take advantage of summer and all its joys has nothing to do with your choice in swimwear. It's entirely possible to build a sand castle while wearing board shorts. You can jump into a pool in a one-piece. In fact, literally none of these classic summer activities require a bikini: barbequeing, eating popsicles, soaking in sunshine (with sunscreen, of course), frolicking in the ocean, tubing, sailing, hiking, beachcombing, playing volleyball, road tripping, camping, watching sunsets. And this list goes on.
So what's the main takeaway here? Wear whatever makes you comfortable, beach lovers, and have a happy summer.
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