What’s your favourite childhood memory of summer?
There’s a good chance that a beach or lake is part of that memory: Lazy days of swimming, building sandcastles, floating in a tube, or lounging with a good book. In childhood, beach time is typically filled with carefree adventure and happiness.
Fast forward to adulthood. Beach time is complicated. Many women, and ever increasing numbers of men, express dread and shame when faced with wearing a swimsuit in public, which may result in avoiding the beach, sometimes for years. What contributes to this?
Our culture, supported by unrealistic media images, has created an ideal of what bodies, especially “beach bodies,” should look like. Unfortunately, this ideal is not:
- Realistic: It is common that media images are tweaked to make models (who don’t represent average men and women) look taller, slimmer, fitter, whiter ... supposedly more “perfect.” Since these images aren’t real, how can real people ever achieve them? Check out this presentation for more info.
- Representative: Since 67% of women in North America wear a size 14 or larger, media images don’t represent the majority of women. Do you see yourself, your sister, your friend, your mother, your daughter when you view media images? Check out #everybodysready on Twitter for more representative images of beach bodies.
- Healthy: It is commonly believed that thin = healthy, but this is often not true. Health is influenced by behaviours (like competent eating, moving regularly in ways that feel good, appreciating the body you have and what it’s capable of doing, and practicing body kindness) and can’t be assumed based on one’s size.
The gap between “ideal” and real
This gap between the “ideal” and the real leads to bad feelings about our bodies. These feelings make us vulnerable to ads for products and programs that promise a quick fix, but ultimately fail and move us further away from health. This also creates a culture of judgement. It’s within this culture of judging one another’s bodies as “beach worthy” that our dread and shame develop.
For me, it was the summer between grades 6 and 7 that my feelings about my body changed. This was before we understood that it is very normal to gain weight before and during puberty. I was in the middle of these biological changes and was the tallest, most developed girl in my class. A well-meaning older cousin told me I was fat, and that I needed to be careful about what I ate. That was the beginning of my dieting career. I’m fortunate that my education and career path crossed the work of Ellyn Satter, Geneen Roth, Susan Kano, Frances Berg, Evelyn Tribole, Linda Bacon, and Lucy Aphramor. With their support, I have been able to incorporate the principles of eating competence and health at every size into my life. And this has allowed me to regain my positive relationship with food, eating, activity, and my body.
Is it time you consider breaking free from unhealthy beliefs about your body?
After all, the recipe for a beach body is simple:
- Have a body.
- Put on a swimsuit.
- Go to the beach.
Don’t wait to reach that unrealistic beach body; dive in and enjoy life now!