Is your body beach ready?
Did you get the memo? It’s time to get your body beach-ready. Social media feeds are full of recommendations, scare tactics, and images letting you know exactly what your body needs to look like in order to be “beach-ready” this summer. There are diets, fasts, cleanses, workouts, and procedures all guaranteed to make sure your body is ready for June. There are even handy countdown calendars to remind you just how many days you have to get that body ready. No pressure.
It’s April. The weather is warming, we are trading Uggs for flip flops and shedding our cozy cardigans for (gasp) short-sleeves. Before you know it, we’ll be fretting in our closets while trying on swimsuits and lamenting we weren’t born in the 20s when all suits were knee-length and one-size-fits-all.
Every Spring as predictable as the blossoms, come the steady stream of television show segments, magazine articles, and social media posts about shaping up our bodies in time for summer. Women start to panic, believe they are worthless if they don’t do something now(!), and start dreading summer before it even arrives.
It makes me crazy for so many reasons. Let me enumerate just a few.
First, this mindset encourages women to live their lives perpetually on hold. We are living in anticipation of that elusive point in time where we will have a beach-ready body, where we will fit in the jeans we wore 10 years ago, where we will be perfectly satisfied with ourselves—which of course means perfectly satisfied with our bodies.
But living in anticipation of some expected or hoped for outcome drains the present moment of its joy. Instead of basking in the beautiful smells of Spring, we are obsessing about what we are eating. Instead of enjoying the warm sun on our arms, we are worried whether our arms are flabby. It’s such a hard way to live. We aren’t present. We aren’t free. We aren’t connected to others because we’re stuck in our obsessions.
Plus, if you are hinging your happiness on being perfectly satisfied with your body, what makes you think you will ever reach a point where you can be satisfied? There is always someone thinner, taller, more beautiful. There just is. If you tie your happiness to the images you see in magazines, on television, or in news feeds, you will NEVER be satisfied because the act of tying happiness to external factors undermines the possibility of happiness and satisfaction with self. The two cannot coexist.
Second gripe. The message to get your body beach-ready denotes an unhealthy approach to self-care, nutrition, and exercise. We as a culture are already schizophrenic in our approach to health. We binge eat over the holidays and then begin restrictive diets and new exercise regimens the first week of January. We engage in this cycle repeatedly throughout the year as we prepare for the Super Bowl, give up desserts during Lent, indulge in Easter feasts, get our bodies ready for the beach, enjoy huge BBQs over the 4th of July, and on and on and on.
Here’s a novel concept. What if we learned to take care of our bodies consistently
throughout the year rather than taking an extreme all-or-nothing approach? Avoid fad diets, but eat reasonably on a daily basis. Exercise consistently and moderately and in keeping with our needs. Enjoy parties and treats and also ensure we are getting a good variety of fruits and veggies. Maybe if we approached our health with some sanity we wouldn’t be so vulnerable to insane calls to “change your body now!”
Third, framing the summer in terms of whether you have the perfect body for a bikini shifts focus away from values and towards obsession. This is a recipe for misery. Instead of looking forward to building the world’s greatest sand castle with your kiddos, you’re worried about whether eating breakfast will cause a pooch. (It will. When we eat our stomachs expand to process the food. It’s a super cool function of these remarkable bodies we live in). Rather than kicking butt at beach volleyball, you’re careful not to move too fast so as not to jiggle. Beach volleyball is all about the jiggling. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the rules.
Fourth, we are living our lives with the chatter of the inner critic constantly in our ears. We might want to go to the beach, we may even want to play beach volleyball, but what often stops us is that diabolical question: What are others thinking? When we are self-conscious about ourselves (and our bodies) we are constantly preparing for judgment. We assume others are judging us and so live in response to the assumed judgments. “You’re wearing that?” “You’re eating that?” The appraising looks, the scorn. You’ve all been there, and if you haven’t, consider yourself fortunate.
Whether real or imagined, judgment carries a high cost. Instead of being free in our bodies and making choices based on values, desires, and needs, we make choices to avoid judgmental wrath. But, those intent on judging (whether others or our inner critic) will never be satisfied. There is no way to please the critic and trying only makes us miserable.
Life is not a spectator sport
The bottom line is that too many of us spend too much time living life on the sidelines because we’re not satisfied with our bodies. This approach drains us of spontaneity, joy, and connection. It’s also completely pointless. Life is not a spectator sport. Happiness comes through actively living without obsessing.
Maybe this year try something different. Get your mind ready for the beach. Focus on your values. Imagine what it would be like to be on the beach without caring what others think. Consider how fun it could be to splash in the surf without hesitation, without self-consciousness, without guilt.
I love people watching, and the beach is a people-watching feast. This summer while I’m at the beach I am hoping to see confident women unapologetic about their bodies. I am looking forward to hearing moms laughing with their kiddos while they build a truly impressive sand castle. I am looking forward to the smell of hamburgers on hibachi grills and eating a big juicy burger while I stand around in my swimsuit without a second thought.
I hope you’re one of the confident women I see at the beach this summer.