Beach Body

Are you Beach Body ready? (Yes, you are)

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Sara Vlemmings

Feminist, queer, Dutchie. Too optimistic for a pessimist. Red lipstick lover.

It’s that time of the year again. A few heatwaves have come and gone already but now that summer is really here, the age-old discussion flares up again. The beach body, that oh so infamous term, known throughout the whole Western world and probably beyond, is headline news once again. What is it, why does it exist and, perhaps even more importantly, why do we care?

In short, for those who don’t know yet, the term “beach body” refers to the (generally female) perfect body for the beach, the perfect shape to show off while wearing a bikini. And no, it is not an inclusive term. It boils down to being slim enough, fit enough, and toned enough — but not too much — so you look good while wearing something more revealing than your underwear, depending on your underwear and swimwear preference.

This is probably also the reason why, of all the restrictions and expectations put on the female body, the beach body ideal has been around pretty much ever since the bikini was invented way back in 1946. Bikinis aren’t for those that are too thin or too fat. Nor are they for women with a tummy or even short legs. In the sixties, Emily Post, an etiquette writer, wrote that a bikini should only be worn if you have a “perfect body”.

These unwritten and sometimes even written rules for being able to go out to the beach while wearing a bikini are the cause of the beach body craze that starts up when summer is around the corner and continues to go on until September. If you are on the internet regularly or even flip through a magazine, it is impossible to escape the adverts to lose weight to “look good” in a bikini.

Beach Body
One of the many beach body adverts.

So why do we care about these rules? Why do I suck in my stomach when I wear a bikini and wish I could get rid of my lumps and bumps? The answer is actually quite simple, as it is with most body images that are forced upon women and men alike. It’s because we’re told to care. This is a thing for all ages, but in the age of information and social media, the rush of advertisements on practically every website makes it incredibly difficult not to become self-conscious of your body and the ability to show it off at the beach.

Protein World’s adverts that sparked a massive backlash.

In 2015, advertisements were placed in the London metro with the phrase ‘Are you Beach Body ready?’ featuring a model that conforms to the current beach body ideal. The massive posters received a lot of backlash and were subjected to vandalism. People wrote angry messages or messages of support for women who don’t look like the model on the posters. On the internet, people also took to improving the message written on the posters. While there was some commentary on the model herself, who isn’t at fault for conforming to the beach body ideal, most of the anger was directed at advertisers once again forcing women to look at a near impossible beauty standard. Dove even made its own counter-advert by showing women with different body types wearing swimwear with the same tagline.

Thanks to the body positivity movement that has been around since the nineties, but has been catapulted into the mainstream media thanks to the internet and the rise of third wave feminism, the anti-beach body sentiment has grown as well. It isn’t so much a statement against women with bodies that fit the beach body model, but more a way of breaking through this ‘perfect body’ stereotype.

“How to have a beach body. 1. Have a body. 2. Go to the beach.”

And just when you think, okay, yeah sure, this excludes people with a larger size, or of a certain age, who don’t hit the gym quite enough (or ever in my case) to have to conform to this so-called beauty standard, there’s the internet to remind you that even Olympic gymnasts get shamed over showing off their body in a bikini. A little less than a year ago, one of the most impressive Olympians ever, Simone Biles, shared a picture of herself with two of her teammates, Aly Raisman & Madison Kocian, on the beach. Most of the reactions were positive, but some people had to share their opinion of not finding clearly defined muscles on girls attractive. Good thing the internet has a positive side and those few ignorant people were shut down very quickly.

beach body
Simone Biles’ (centre) photo with her teammates Madison Kocian (left) and Aly Raisman (right).

When even Olympians are told their bodies aren’t good enough to be seen in a bikini, the message about the perfect beach body seems pretty clear. There will always be people who won’t approve of any body type in revealing swimwear. With people’s tastes and opinions always differing, the beach body doesn’t exist. It’s like a unicorn, if a unicorn caused millions of women to become insecure about their bodies and not wear their preferred swimwear or even avoid the beach altogether.

Ultimately, I think you should wear whatever the hell you want on the beach. Just wear what makes you feel comfortable and don’t worry about the stretch marks, extra pounds, not enough pounds, too many muscles, being too short or too old.  If you want to wear a bikini, wear a bikini. Wear whatever kind of swimsuit you want, or don’t if you’re one for the nude beaches. As they say, take your body to the beach and, voila, you have a beach body.

Header image: Wear Your Voice’s #DropTheTowel body positivity campaign