Oh, “bikini season.” Also known as summer, you were once a time of year characterized by sunshine, salt water, and two-months of school-free bliss. But now that I am an adult, it seems like all I hear anyone talk about this time of year is how behind they are on their pre-beach weight loss pursuits.
You see it everywhere. Companies use the concept to market their products, fitness instructors use it as motivation with their clients and classes, and everyone from your dentist to your neighbor’s mom seems to be in a tizzy about reaching the elusive “bikini body.”
Despite its pervasiveness and popularity, the whole concept of the “bikini body” actually does much more harm than good. A bikini body, according to diet culture and the industries that uphold it, is not just a body that’s wearing a two-piece bathing suit. No. In our world, where thinness is king and dieting is a virtue, a “bikini body” has very specific aesthetic. It is thin, muscular, and curvy (in the right places). The thighs don’t tough, the tummy never bloats, there is not a stretch mark, pimple, or spot of cellulite to be seen. And it is supposed to be attainable for all of us, so long as we work hard enough for it. But this aspirational body is NOT attainable for pretty much anyone, and the pursuit of it most often just leads to pain and shame.
Many people would like to argue that “bikini season” motivates people to lead healthier lifestyles. That the drive to change our bodies encourages healthy behaviors like exercising and eating vegetables. But the fixation on the way that our bodies look in bathing suits months actually just causes a yearly surge in body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and exercising behaviors, and a whole lot of extra stress. We put so much work and worry into striving for this body, and for what? Who decided that was a useful way for us to be spending our time? I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have a summer that is, you know, fun and relaxing.
As a personal trainer, many people expect me to have the magic solution for getting the perfectly sculpted and toned summer body. I’ve even been met with confusion when I admit that I have absolutely no interest in creating an “8-Week Bikini Shred Program” (or whatever). But I don’t have the magic solution – because it doesn’t exist. I won’t create a such a program – because, as a professional, I know that they fail most of the people who try them.
What I am doing is working hard to change the way we think about, talk about, and value bodies. To shift the cultural narrative to one that views all bodies as worthy of existing, of being seen, and of enjoying a goddamn day at the beach without ridicule or judgement.
An important step in creating a world like this is for each of us as individuals to look inward and consciously let go of the internalized Diet Culture messages that are making us value certain bodies over others. The less time and energy we put into judging bodies and agonizing over trying to change them, the more time and energy we have for joy, connection, and fun.
To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of 10 Diet Culture lies that are helping none of us this summer, and alternatives you can replace them with so you can make this positive shift within yourself.
Lie: No one wants to see bodies like mine. My body should be hidden.
Truth: I deserve to be seen in my body as it is. Other people’s opinions of my appearance do not change my right to exist and take up space.
Lie: Only people with good bodies can wear that (and I have a bad body, so I can’t).
Truth: I get to wear whatever I want to and feel amazing while I do it, not matter what my body looks like. I can choose to reject cultural beauty standards and express my style freely.
Lie: Once I fix my body I will feel confident in it.
Truth: My body is not broken, so there is nothing to fix. Besides, confidence has to do with how I think and feel about myself, not what I look like. I have the power to gain self-acceptance and confidence regardless of what my appearance. Confidence comes from within.
Lie: I will have so much more fun on my vacation if I lose X lbs before it.
Truth: Fun is about being present enough to experience the joy around me. Even though pop-culture makes it seem like fun is mostly just for people in “perfect” bodies, I know I have a full capacity for fun-having in any body, including the one I am in right now.
Lie: This will finally be the year I get in shape for the beach.
Truth: It won’t. Either because I engage, once again, in disordered behaviors that are statistically doomed to fail me, or because I decide to reject the diet mentality, embrace self-acceptance, and enjoy myself more fully this summer. I choose the latter.