Why “Summer Body” Needs to Be Removed from Our Vocabulary
The concept of a pursuing a certain seasonal look is problematic in more ways than one.
“Summer bodies are here!” “Celebrity bikini bodies are back!” “Get a six-pack before Memorial Day!” Every year, the onslaught of “summer body” messaging starts earlier and earlier. Magazines, advertisements and certain social media influencers build workouts and sell supplements as guaranteed ways to get a beach body by June.
That messaging is problematic, though, for a few reasons. For starters, it implies that the way your body looks during the rest of the year is somehow less important. It also suggests that if you don’t look a certain way or fit a certain mold, your body isn’t good enough to be considered worthy of summer.
It’s a perspective that hurts body positivity among both women and men, but breaking free from it can be hard when “summer body” is something you’ve heard about your whole life. Start here, to change the conversation for the better.
The Roots of “Summer Body” Messaging
If you’re wondering where the term even came from, you can thank the invention of the first bikini bathing suit, which debuted in Paris in 1946. Modeled by Micheline Bernardini, an 18-year-old nude dancer, the bikini showed a shocking amount of skin relative to the conservative one-piece suits of the day. With her flat stomach and most of her behind fully on display, Bernardini’s svelte silhouette quickly became the universal standard for how women should look in a bikini.
As the bikini gained popularity, marketing companies cleverly saw a way to use women’s body insecurities to sell more products. A 1961 ad for a chain of weight-loss salons is believed to have coined the phrase “bikini body” with a not-so-subtle description: “Summer’s wonderful fun is for those who look young. High firm bust—hand span waist—trim, firm hips—slender graceful legs—a Bikini body!”
Since then, “summer body” and “bikini body” have been marketing mainstays to describe a flat stomach, perky butt and toned (but definitely not bulky) muscles. If that doesn’t sound like you (which it probably doesn’t, considering the average American woman is a size 16), then you’re automatically excluded from the idealized version of what it means to be attractive during summer.
A Knock on Body Positivity
The singular definition of a summer body is the opposite of everything body inclusivity stands for, says Charlotte Oxnam, founder of plus-size fashion community Cue the Curves. “Body positivity is all about loving who you are as you are,” Oxnam says. “The concept of a summer body implies that only one shape of a body is acceptable for 25 percent of the year. It suggests that to be accepted, you need to change yourself to fit this one singular image, which is exactly the thing body positivity is against.”
The summer body messaging affects all women, says Oxnam. “I think the phrase makes 98 percent of society feel inadequate,” she says. “And for plus-size women, those negative feelings are completely amplified.”
Another challenge of summer body messaging is the potential to encourage harmful crash diets or unsustainable workout plans in order to be “ready” by an arbitrary deadline. “No matter what the diet industry tells you, nothing can magically give you a flat stomach in six weeks,” says Oxnam. “Knowing that women are going to put themselves mentally and physically through hell in an attempt to reach a bullshit, unhealthy goal just breaks my heart.”
A New Perspective
Here’s the truth: The body you had over the winter is the exact same body you’ll have in the spring, summer and fall. And that’s something to be celebrated. Your body has carried you through sickness and health, through stressful times and cherished memories, through outdoor jogs and indoor movie marathons and so much more.
It’s time to show your body gratitude and appreciation, says Oxnam, and that starts with changing the language you use to talk to yourself. “Your words matter,” she says. “If you catch yourself in moments where you are using negative words to describe your body, try to reframe.” The next time you glimpse yourself in the mirror at the gym, compliment, don’t criticize, the way you look in your crop top. And those bright-colored leggings you’re wearing? You’re totally rocking them.
Pay attention to what you’re taking in and putting out on social media, too. “Review your captions and tweets and ask yourself if what you’re saying is at the expense of your body or someone else’s,” Oxnam advises. “By becoming aware of where internalized fat-phobia lies and dismantling it in these small moments, you can reframe your thinking in more neutral or positive terms.”
Speaking of social media, now’s a good time to scrub your feeds of any accounts that make you feel less-than and stop following those that promote diet hacks or magic workout plans. Instead, seek out people who make you feel empowered. @ThePowerofPlus.co, @yrfatfriend and @diets_dont_work_haes all do a fantastic job promoting body inclusivity and self-love, while questioning society’s obsession with the “perfect body.”
Finally, use movement as a way to change the body conversation from skinny to strong. Once you find an activity that you’re totally obsessed with—a cardio dance class, let’s say—you’ll naturally want to incorporate it in your regular routine.
Bottom line: if you wear a bikini, you have a bikini body. And whatever you’re wearing this summer, you deserve to feel amazing in it.