You might remember the Protein World ad from a few years ago, it was hard to miss, being bright yellow with a giant scantily clad woman with the words “are you beach body ready?” blazoned across it. It sparked quite a lot of controversy and some frankly hilarious parodies of the ridiculous statement, but here we are. Several years later and still seeing ads with a similar theme splashed across women’s magazines, our Instagram feeds and the tube station.
It’s not exactly a new thing, the media dictating what certain body shapes should and shouldn’t wear, and the idea that not all bodies are ‘beach bodies’ is a tired old record that won’t seem to stop playing. But why are we so obsessed with female bodies and policing the appropriateness of them? Why do we care so much?
As young people, there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Ninety percent of the nation have been watching Love Island and we can guarantee a good portion of their audience are university students (us included) but the reality is that for the next eight weeks we’ll be seeing one body type in a bikini, coupled with the incessant advertising for dieting, gym memberships and getting your summer bod, it isn’t hard to see why so many girls (and men) feel so insecure this time of year.
When summer finally decides to show up in the UK (and boy has it!) trying to find outfits that don’t result in uncomfortable chaffing or show off the tummy you’ve acquired after one too many dominos is damn difficult. The idea that if you aren’t ‘beach body ready’ you need to metaphorically stay off the beach is prevalent and can make anyone feel inadequate. In response to the backlash against that Protein World advert, the company claimed that the ad invited the audience to question whether they were in the shape they wanted to be in (Mark Sweeney, 2015) but did not imply any kind of body shaming. But the 378 complaints the Advertising Standards Authority and the 70,000 signatures on a change.org petition tell a very different tale.
So how do we overcome the opinion that you have to be slim for summer?
Calling out the sexist campaigns like the Protein World one is a good start, if the media are shouting about only certain bodys being appropriate for summer, shout louder. Sign the petitions, send complaints and @ them on Twitter. We all have a platform we can use in whatever small way we are able to add positive voices to the conversation. Constantly question advertisement and critique of women’s bodies, don’t brush it off as ‘just the way it is’. There’s no such thing as a ‘beachbody’ – all bodies are beach bodies, it’s a cliche, but a good reminder when the media would have you believing something else.
The reality is the media is always trying to sell you something. Protein World was selling their ‘Weight Loss’ protein powder, Victoria Secret are selling you a fantasy and half of Instagram really wants you to buy flat tummy tea. Debunking the myth of the ‘beach body’ starts with being critical of the media you consume. If you blindly swallow the diet pill once the weather starts getting warmer and your holiday is only a month away, you’re buying into the lie that your body isn’t good enough. Question why people like Kim Kardashian are advertising appetite suppressants, is it because they want you to be fit and healthy? Or are they just trying to make money to pay for their organic food shop and personal trainer? Be smart, do your research and lose weight and be healthy only if you’re doing it for you and you’re doing it safely.
And when the holiday deadline is looming and you’re still not sure how to boost your confidence for the beach, it can be as simple as finding clothes that work for you. Don’t feel pressured to wear a bikini just because all your friends are, if you feel more confident in a one piece there are loads of great ones on the market. If you want to wear shorts beneath a skirt of a dress, go for it. Don’t like your arms? Get a cute cover up. Whatever works for you, the key to confidence isn’t trying to squeeze yourself into Urban Outfitters latest extra small festival fashion. Everyone you meet has their own insecurities and there will be days where you don’t love your body as much as you should, so having clothes that fit and you think are fashionable is a great step towards self love (and big middle finger to the media).
Finally, don’t forget to check yourself. We all do it, we all judge one another for our style or our weight. But when you find yourself comparing your body to someone elses on the beach take a second to think about why you’re doing that and what you’re really getting out of it. Why not just pay that person a compliment instead? They’re probably feeling just as insecure as you anyway.
Build each other up, accept different body shapes and don’t let media representations of what a beach body should look like, get you down.
Text by Holly Butteriss
Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image from awesome-girls.info/.
References: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jul/01/protein-world-beach-body-ready-ads-asa – source for mentioned article, Mark Sweeney, 2015.