COLUMN: Summer body obsession hurts self esteem


Swimsuits in limited sizes are displayed May 22at Urban Outfitters. The obsession with attaining a "beach body" can hurt women's self esteem. Abby Malala Buy Photos

It’s getting hotter outside, which means articles about how to get a “beach body” are back. While some of these articles contain some genuinely good weight-loss advice, the framing is all wrong.

The pervasive cultural insistence on getting a “bikini body” is not about health; it’s about looks. The implication is that to be ready to have fun at the beach, you should be trim, toned and pudge-free. Such articles are not isolated incidents. They are examples of a wider cultural hatred of fat women.

When you’re fat, everyone suddenly becomes a doctor. They give unsolicited advice about how to become more fit under the guise of being concerned for your health. Often the argument against such advice is that, for some people, fat is healthy. However, that ignores this fun fact: fat women don’t owe you anything.

It’s none of your business if we are unhealthy; that’s between us and our doctor. No one is obligated to lose weight because of your aversion to fat bodies.

Summer is already a hard time for fat people considering the lack of plus-sized clothes in most stores. Facing judgment both at the beach and online adds a layer to the weight on our self-esteem.

One of the worst offenders when it comes to pushing the beach body is Instagram. Instagram influencers advertise unhealthy products such as “appetite-suppressing” lollipops side by side with pictures of their body-standard-following bodies.

The message is clear: Buy my products, and you can be beautiful — read: skinny — too. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a body that adheres to beauty standards. Everybody should have his or her body respected. The issue comes when these people use their privilege to purposefully make others feel inferior.

The “beach body” obsession just makes fat women feel bad about themselves. Trust me, we feel bad enough about our weight without hearing how we aren’t ready for the beach.

The other main offender is swimsuit advertising. When you look at the swimwear pages for popular brands — Victoria’s Secret and Forever 21 for example — all the models are well below the average woman’s dress size. These borderline-unattainable bodies make those who fall outside them feel horrible. How do you shop for swimwear when no one looks like you?

There are some things that can be done immediately about this issue. There are brands that do advertising right — Torrid, TomboyX and Aerie. These brands either pledge to never airbrush their models or they consistently showcase their swimsuits on plus-sized models.

Support body-positive brands even if you meet societal beauty standards. Showing interest in plus-sized models will show other brands there’s a demand for body diversity. Make being fat mainstream and accepted.

A more immediate action is simply to follow body positive influencers. Normalizing seeing bodies that look like yours is a great step on your path to accepting your body. Some examples are @bodyposipanda, @lizzobeeating and @i_weigh.

It’s ridiculous that in this day and age we are still trying to get people to think their bodies aren’t good enough.

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