While waiting in line at the grocery store this weekend, I was glancing at the magazine rack when I saw a tabloid cover celebrating its annual “Best And Worst Bikini Bodies” list. As I examined the close-up photos of cellulite and fat rolls accompanied by helpful headlines like “Yuck!” and “Guess Whose Stretch Marks!” I felt, to borrow a phrase from my friend’s five-year-old niece, “sad and mad.” I’m sad to know that, by this magazine’s standards, my own body would surely earn a high ranking on the “worst” list. I’m mad that we are still engaging in such hateful, public body-shaming. And I’m fed up with the glorious season of summer being completely taken over by the ridiculous notion that you aren’t allowed to enjoy it unless you look a certain way. I think it’s time we do a little “bikini body” fact-checking, don’t you? Here are six indisputable truths that I hope we can all keep in mind as the weather — and the pressure to look perfect — heats up…
1. The entire concept of a “bikini body” is bullshit. I’m gonna lay down some heavy truth for you right now. Are you ready? Every body is a bikini body. Want to know how to get a “bikini body” in two minutes or less? Put a bikini on! Boom! Bikini body. Yes, it’s really that easy! There is no law that prohibits women who are not Jessica Alba from wearing two-piece swimsuits. You are allowed to wear a bikini this summer even if you haven’t lost any weight to prepare for the (apparently) momentous occasion. You are allowed to wear a bikini this summer even if you’ve gained weight. You are allowed to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident, and any person, magazine, or diet plan that tells you otherwise is dead wrong.
2. The only way to get a certain celebrity’s body is to be that celebrity. Speaking of Jessica Alba, did you know that if you do 20 reps of deep-squat lunges for 2 weeks, your legs will look just like hers? Me neither, because it’s not true. No matter what magazines try to tell you, the only person who will ever have Jessica Alba’s legs is Jessica Alba. The only person who will ever have your legs is you. Exercise is great, and it makes you feel awesome, but there are limits to how much we can change the shape of our bodies. My best friend Katelyn is naturally tall and thin; I’m short and curvy. I guarantee you that even if we ascribed to the exact same diet and exercise plan for a year, our bodies would still look nothing alike. That’s kind of beautiful, I think. There’s power in knowing that.
3. Cellulite and stretch marks are totally normal. If cellulite is a “body flaw,” then so are freckles and fingernails. Stretch marks are also a completely natural occurrence that may result from any of the following very human experiences: gaining weight, losing weight, being pregnant, or teenage growth spurts. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, and fitness levels have stretch marks and cellulite. It’s OK to get annoyed with the purple lines on your thighs or the dimpled skin on your butt, but don’t fall for the ridiculous idea that you must have done something wrong to get them.
4. You can’t “get your body back” because you never lost it. Flip through any tabloid magazine and you’ll see a picture of someone in a bikini titled “How I Got My Body Back.” Seriously, what does that even mean? Was her body stolen and she was forced to go on an “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”-style crusade to recover it? (I wish! An article like that would be much more interesting.) Whether you’ve gained weight, lost weight, had a baby, or been through a serious illness or injury, never disown your body. Whatever it looks and feels like at any given moment, your body is always yours.
5. Thin-shaming is just as toxic as fat-shaming. You know that meme that gets passed around Facebook every few months that has a picture of Kate Moss on one side and a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the other, and it says something like, “Ladies, THIS [Marilyn Monroe] will always be more beautiful than THIS [Kate Moss]?” That picture was probably a product of frustration with the lack of body diversity in the media, and that’s a very valid concern, but demonizing one body type isn’t the way to drum up acceptance for another. Let’s drop the idea that to be a “real woman” you have to pass some arbitrary body shape test, and work on welcoming all shapes and sizes.
6. A swimsuit will not define your summer — unless you let it. If the frantic bikini body countdowns espoused in magazines, ads, and gym membership flyers were to be believed, looking a certain way in a two-piece swimsuit is literally the only thing that matters about summer. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me tell you some other things that matter way, way more: random weekend road trips, backyard BBQs, swimming holes, lemonade, baseball games, huge sunglasses, popsicles that melt faster than you can eat them, tubing, bright pink pedicures, fresh fruit, laying out in the park, sunny bike rides, s’mores, sinking your toes into the sand, long days and endless nights.
You can do these things in a bikini if you want, but you can also do them in a modest one-piece swimsuit or a big baggy t-shirt or cutoffs and a tanktop, and the experience itself will be exactly the same. Because in the mad rush to attain a “bikini body,” many people lose sight of the fact that summer will always be about getting out there and living life to the fullest, and that’s something everyone is entitled to, flat stomach or not.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @winona_rose.
[Photo of woman in bikini via Shutterstock]