Recently there was uproar over a controversial “Are you beach body ready?” ad campaign which debuted in London, subsequently hit social media and is now a viral sensation.
Talk about adding fuel to an already volcanic fire of body insecurities. And, coupled with the media’s insistence on portraying a certain physique as ‘bikini ready’ it’s no wonder some women feel like crawling under their duvet and waiting it out until Fall.
But why are we even listening to this noise in the first place? Admittedly it’s hard to avoid. There’s the coveted model-du-jour on the cover of Sports Illustrated, winking seductively as you pay for your groceries and probably raising an eyebrow at the gallon of ice-cream surreptitiously hidden behind the kale. There’s the unlimited billboards hawking diet plans to get you in the best shape of your life. Not to mention the pop-up bikini ads covering your computer screen as you try to read the latest news.
It’s no wonder those two simple words ‘Bikini Season’ can make even the most secure women a little anxious.
Why do we feel like we have to jump through ridiculous hoops set by society just to feel ‘normal’ on the beach? What is ‘normal’ anyway? In a planet filled with seven billion bodies of all colors, shapes and sizes why do we feel the need to conform to one set of standards? If you are X size, you can wear a bikini. If you aren’t, well, good luck finding a cover-up large enough to hide those lady lumps.
These issues all came to a head for me personally after having emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix several years ago. As I awoke from anesthesia to discover that the surgeon had left me with a 10 inch scar, from belly-button to bikini-bottom, my vanity came crashing to the fore. I’m embarrassed to say that one of my initial concerns was whether I would be able wear a bikini again. These concerns magnified as each nurse checked up on me, telling me not to worry, that there are great one-pieces available these days.
Many months later, I ventured out to the beach but didn’t muster up the courage to venture into a bikini. In my mind everyone would immediately clock the heinous scar zig-zagging down my still-swollen stomach and so I stayed in my cover-up that entire summer.
As soon as I was given the green light by my doctor my thoughts turned to exercise. I bought into the subliminal message that I must do something to change the way I look before I dared don a bikini again. This message, which I’m sure most of us have internalized, was that my body somehow had to be the best it could be or else… Or else, what?
Why was I holding myself hostage to this non-attainable goal of perfection? As the nurses routinely told me during my hospital stay, I was lucky to be alive. Another couple of hours and septicemia would have kicked in. Why was I viewing this scar as something that needed to be hidden away behind a billowing cover-up when in reality it was my battle-wound. I had survived and here was proof.
And so, I decided to create my own set of rules for dealing with the perils of the Bikini Season.
1. Self-Acceptance Is Everything.
Self-acceptance is of paramount importance. The societal pressures of looking ‘perfect’ are unattainable. Even if you get within sniffing distance of body perfection, new parameters are set. Several years ago it was all about getting Madonna arms, nowadays we want Kim K’s derriere. How can we keep up? It’s a road to nowhere.
But what if we were to accept ourselves the way we are (including those stretchies and that cellulite)? I’m not advocating sitting on a couch and not giving a crap about looking after yourself. I’m talking about accepting your body shape the way it is, not the way you want it to be. This is also called Confidence and it’s sexy as hell. Spend an afternoon on a beach in Latin America and you will see why. Women of all shape and sizes parade around as if they are Gisele. They love their bodies and it shows. Side note: the men really seemed to love it too.
2. No Amount Of Gym Will Ever Be Enough.
Whilst it’s important to stay healthy by exercising regularly, it’s also delusional to think you can fix yourself on a purely physical level. Sure, a toned butt might elicit some admiring glances but you probably won’t even notice as you are too busy figuring out what else needs to be fixed.
It’s a very slippery slope and taken to extreme levels can lead to body dysmorphia. By all means, work out to your hearts content if that makes you feel good but question your motives first. Why are you really putting in all those hours at the gym?
3. Go Deep.
Spinning might be the workout of choice for your body, but what about your mind and soul? It’s important to dig a little deeper within ourselves to try to figure out the root cause of bikini insecurity. What’s really going on? Are you afraid that if you aren’t perfect you aren’t loveable? What’s with the negative self-talk?
Meditation is a really useful tool for going deep. When you turn down the volume of the brain’s incessant chatter a quiet voice pipes up. That’s your inner voice and it’s the one you should be listening to. It will tell you that being a size 2 has absolutely nothing to do with why you are here, right now, on this planet. Most importantly of all, if you choose to listen, it will tell you that you are worthy and that you are enough. No matter what the hell you look like in a bikini.
Perhaps the immeasurably wise Thich Nhat Hanh says it best. “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”