As mid-July brings oppressive heat and humidity, locals and tourists alike don their favorite bathing attire and flock to beaches everywhere. Scantily clad bodies dominate the scene, and everyone automatically begins sizing each other up. Cue the beach body talk: obsession with a certain “beach body” type triggers all sorts of body shaming, which does not discriminate by gender or age. Bikini season is an excellent time to discuss body image, as most people do not go to the beach without some level of self-consciousness.
Body shaming is officially defined as “negative statements or attitudes directed toward a person’s weight or size.” This beach season, it’s time to stop the negative body talk and take a look at how we talk about our own and others’ bodies.
The seminal 90s high school movie, Clueless, showcases the clearly unhealthy body talk that is all too common, particularly among young people: “I feel like such a heifer. I had two bowls of Special K, three pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, five peanut butter M&Ms and like three pieces of liquorice.” This kind of “diet” is both a result of and a cause of body negativity. It is a result of body shaming that anyone should feel guilty for eating five M&Ms. Also, the “diet” in question is really just a lot of carbs and some turkey bacon, which is not anywhere near a healthy and balanced diet.
Young people who feel that they need to lose weight often adopt a diet that contains little nutritional value and that does not promote healthy weight change. All this is a result of negative statements or attitudes that create skewed social constructs of “health” and “beauty.” In fact studies have shown that a decrease in positive body image in adolescents and young adults has led to “unhealthy weight loss habits” that actually cause individuals to gain weight over time. The impact of body negativity is as physical as it is emotional.
It’s especially hard to keep a body-positive outlook when friends are around to influence how you talk about your own and others’ physical appearences. Even outside of beach season, there is certainly a level of body negativity on campus. Whether it’s talking incessantly about your Plex habits or judging that girl from your floor who gets mozzarella sticks and onion rings at late night, your words have real power to contribute to an unhealthy societal standard.
Taking a step back from the world of body shaming will teach us that every body is a beach body. The “Beach Body” that causes an uptick in Plex attendance in the late spring is a myth, created to trap us in the iron grip of body negativity. On your next beach trip, try to adopt a more body positive outlook. There is no one who “shouldn’t be wearing a bikini” or who “shouldn’t take his shirt off.” There’s no need to talk about what anyone is eating or about anyone’s gym routine. Your stomach isn’t too doughy and your thighs aren’t too fat. Your body is a beach body and so is everyone else’s.