body image · fitness

Funny, not funny—turning around those “beach body” blues

Cate’s beautiful and resonant Sunday post “Making Peace with Our Changing Bodies” got a lot of traction. It was a smart post that outlined the complicated feelings many of us experience when our bodies start to change. One of the things I admired most about Cate’s post is that she was honest that she’s found herself engaging in body-shaming against herself. And in becoming aware of that, she determined to do something about it. In Cate’s world, as for many of us, the feelings don’t always align with what we know to be true. What we know to be true is “There is no “back to normal” — there is only forward, aging, changing bodies, and the challenge of loving ourselves as we are, finding our fierce warrior selves.”

Cate moved forward by realizing that ill-fitting clothing was a trigger for feeling poorly about herself. And so she ventured out to buy clothes that she liked and that fit her. Because she can do that. And it made her feel a bit better about the changes. Yay Cate (I love Cate so much).

I’ve been having my own issues. Six years ago I blogged about this in “Making Peace with My Body.” There I talked about how it’s been a lifelong road for me. And that despite some good advice, and knowing full well that I am not my body, that there is nothing wrong with a changing body or weight gain or a redistribution of fat to new places where it never used to settle, that I am perfectly fine at whatever size I am, that body shaming (which was hardly even a concept I had a grasp of six years ago though I felt it) messages are no way to talk about myself or about others…Despite all of this I recognized I couldn’t simply “call a truce.”

Here’s what I said then: “It is the body image, not the body, that needs to change. And slowly, slowly, things are shifting. But to suggest that I can call a truce and then be done with it?For me, it’s been a bit longer of a road than that, requiring several rounds of peace talks over many, many years.”

And I have been consistently engaged in those peace talks over these many years. Yet every spring we are confronted by messages that encourage us to work on our “beach body” or our “summer body.” This post, for example, was prompted by the lament presented here, on a tombstone:

Image description: A tombstone that says “In loving memory of ANY POSSIBILITY OF A SUMMER BODY SO SUDDENLY TAKEN FROM US BY CARBS, WINE, CHOCOLATE, NAPS, NETFLIX, & PIZZA” from the website

Yes, I recognize that this is meant as humour. But it is so filled with wrong-headed assumptions that it just makes me shake my head and fills me with despair (yes, despair. I am not exaggerating). First of all it assumes that we are seeking “a summer body.” We all know what that means. Second, it calls it: TOO LATE! Third, it lays the blame: our own poor choices.

No, no, no. No wonder so many of us struggle against ourselves in the face of such messaging. I know there are people who will read this and say they just ignore these sorts of messages because they are ridiculous messages. If you’re able to ignore the cultural messaging without any consistent effort to undo the damage of a lifetime of normative pressure, I applaud you. For many it is not as easy.

When Sam circulated this tombstone, Christine said her favourite beach body counter-message is this:

Image description: A toddler girl in a cute one-piece swimsuit with a little ruffle around the top. She is sipping happily on a juice box. Heading says: BEACH IS GONNA GET WHATEVER BODY I GIVE IT.

She it doesn’t care. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what it means to be myself. This kid epitomizes what it means. She’s happy. She doesn’t yet “realize” that there are cultural pressures to look a certain way and that those actually determine how you get treated, what opportunities may be open to you, how people will judge you. She doesn’t yet know the little compromises some of us make in order to “be acceptable” to the people around us. She doesn’t yet know how it feels to internalize those expectations so that we don’t even need others to shame us. She doesn’t yet know how hard it is to fly in the face of what’s expected and be who you are.

And that’s what makes her seem so badass.

Then there is this oldie but goodie, that we’ve blogged about before:

Image description: words on a dark background that say, “how to have a beach body: 1. have a body 2. go to the beach.”

Awhile back in the London tube, commuters waged a campaign against an ad that pictured a slender women in a bikini and said “Are you beach body ready?” I blogged about this at the time (because it actually turned into a slightly complicated issue of free speech in London). The ads were eventually taken down, but not before lots of body positive messages were scrawled over them. But by far my favourite graffiti response was the one that simply added “fuck off” right under the “are you beach body ready?” question.

These days, when I read this stuff about summer and beach bodies, that’s pretty much how I feel. Just leave us alone already. There are lots of people working against the normative messaging, and that generates a ton of backlash every single time. I loved hearing about the initiative of former London Ontario resident, Kayla Logan, to promote body positivity. You can hear her talk about it on CBC Radio, “Curvy and worthy: why this former Londoner is convincing others to bare it all.” But the comments on the CBC facebook post were disheartening and showed that fat shaming and body policing is still alive and well.

Meanwhile, I’ve bought myself a bunch of new swimsuits for this summer, a range of tops (both bikini and tankini styles in a range of patterns and colours) and bottoms (boy shorts, which are my current favourite) and I’m looking forward to taking this body of mine to the beach.

If you have a body positive beach meme or message to share, please link to it or quote it in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Funny, not funny—turning around those “beach body” blues

  1. It’s not that I’m simply able to ignore the messaging. Rather, it’s that mostly it’s never felt like it was directed at me. I’ve felt enough like an outsider as a fat/larger person that “beach body” in the sense that advertising/normative femininity means it wasn’t accessible as an ideal. The smallest I’ve ever been is still “overweight.” On the positive side I’ve had lots of access to queer communities where my body is loved as it is. So it’s not sheer force of will that keeps me from internalizing these norms. Rather it’s social exclusion, on the negative side, and alternative communities and norms, on the other. It’s (mostly) not my world.

  2. Wow, this post really resonates with me. Just yesterday I was getting ready for a very casual dinner with my boyfriend’s aunt/uncle and found myself comparing what I wanted to wear with what I expected his aunt to wear. She is the nicest gal, but sometimes I feel like her expectations (which she does not force on anyway, I will say) get to me! I had a little break down and my boyfriend said that I should get rid of the clothes that I don’t like. Because why have clothes that I won’t wear? Lastly, I love the line that Tracy points out about the little girl: “She doesn’t yet know how hard it is to fly in the face of what’s expected and be who you are.” Thanks again for such positive and reaffirming self-reflection. – Love, from someone learning to love her changing body as well.

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