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Opinion – Why it’s time we ditched the phrase ‘summer body’

Perpetuating the toxic narrative that we need to alter our physical form for a season is having a serious toll on our mental health. Here’s why we should put the notion behind us once and for all.

Trigger Warning: this article contains mention of eating disorders.

Every year, as the warmer months roll in, an all-too-familiar phrase begins to permeate our conversations, our social media feeds, our television screens.

Like clockwork, we’re bombarded with an onslaught of calorie-deficit meal plans and workout routines from influencers, fitness companies, or even sometimes our own loved ones.

Why? Because when summer is on the horizon, so too is our apparent requirement to ensure we are ‘beach body ready.’

You’ve heard it before. If we’re planning to show any additional skin when the weather improves, we’re encouraged to get into shape well in advance.

From the moment winter ends, gone are the days when comfort eating and cosying up indoors is considered acceptable. In their place, a widespread panic ensues that sees us returning in hordes to our nearest gyms and swapping an ‘overindulgent’ diet with one that doesn’t keep us awake at night, terrified of what we might look like in a bikini.

This mental preoccupation that’s bizarrely induced by the mere implication of a trip to the seaside is part of a narrative that has, in my opinion, existed far too long. A narrative that suggests our enjoyment of the season depends entirely on whether or not we meet an outdated set of beauty standards.

It’s especially problematic in the current climate of scrutiny towards lockdown weight-gain following a pandemic that somehow brought with it yet another new kind of fat-shaming.

Protein World's Beach Body Ready ad 'not offensive': Watchdog

Regardless of how far we’ve come in our societal understanding of body positivity and acceptance, this deep-rooted notion carries damaging connotations.

Putting pressure on us to reach an often-unattainable ideal within a few weeks doesn’t promote real health, rather it drives us to resort to dangerous nutrition and exercise habits to get there.

Given that profiting off our insecurities is frequently used by brands and the $70bn wellness industry as a marketing ploy, the endorsement of these unhealthy practices has become inescapable, opening the door to potential eating disorder patterns – or worse – going forward.

‘Pushing this summer body ideal – flat stomach, curves in the “right” places, toned legs, flawless skin – essentially says that anyone who doesn’t fit that aforementioned mould isn’t worthy of being seen once the temperatures start rising, so we need to alter ourselves to live up to this narrow standard,’ explains The Power of Plus’s cofounder, Shammara Lawrence.

‘I think it’s incredibly harmful to tell people year after year that they need to lose weight for the summer in order to have fun and get attention and praise from people for the way you look.’

Lawrence is right. The archaic phrase (while it represents just one facet of weight stigma) is wrongly advising us that we must earn the right to exist in our bodies as they are, that we have to meet a certain criteria in order to be seen publicly when the sun’s out.

This perpetuates a false narrative that our value resides in our physical form alone and consequently brings to the surface feelings of inadequacy and undesirability. Not to mention an increase in anxiety, depression, and negative self-talk.

Yes. We are beach body ready': New advert pokes fun at World Protein poster | Metro News

‘Children are developing these hang-ups earlier and earlier,’ warns psychotherapist, Holli Rubin. ‘It is impacting mental health hugely; the amount of this imagery, and the pace with which we are consuming it.’

‘Even if we know that so much of what we see is fabricated and photoshopped, it still seeps in and it still can make people feel so uncomfortable with how they look.’

The bottom line here is that suddenly treating functional bodies with derision as soon as summer rears its head is undeniably toxic.

Personally, if it’s summer and you have a body, you have a summer body.

No, it’s not the same formulaic figure you’ve seen time and time again in that controversial, and now banned, Beach Body Ready ad for a Protein World product.

It’s not a goal to be starved, bronzed, or altered, but a hard-won act of defiance against a culture that denies us the right to feel good in our own skin.

On this note, it’s essential we remember in our seemingly never-ending quest for perfection that the ideal ‘summer body’ simply doesn’t exist. Please, once and for all, let’s stop pretending that it does.

 

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