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Recently I wrote a thread on Twitter after hearing a run-of-the-mill advertisement about achieving the perfect summer body. In my first tweet I shared, “All bodies are summer bodies. I beg y’all to criticize these Eurocentric standards of beauty before you criticize your own (already perfect) body.”
According to fitness blogs and advertisements, the “perfect beach body” embodies Eurocentric standards of beauty. Summer bodies belong to people with white (though slightly tanned) skin, thin frames, muscular builds (though not too muscular if you are feminine presenting), blonde hair, and abled bodies. When I was in college (which was not that long ago) the “perfect beach body” also had a so-called thigh gap meaning that there was a pronounced space between one’s thighs. This archetype is ultimately exclusionary to the vast majority of bodies on the planet, yet it is repackaged and sold to all of us as ideal. It’s complete bullshit.
Fortunately, I am not the first person to name and shame the “perfect beach body” industry. In 2016, Taylor Chapman addressed the classist nature of the beach body industry and in 2017 Brittany McNamara wrote for Teen Vogue about Body positive influencer Megan Jayne Crabbe and her campaign to change the way we perceive beach-ready bodies. Gabi Fresh, co-founder of the plus size brand PREMME.us launched a fresh collection with Swimsuits for All which has garnered rave reviews for size inclusivity and chic designs. There is without question a significant movement to banish the scourge that is the “perfect beach body” industry and companies are receiving deserved praise for making meaningful steps to shift beauty standards toward ones of inclusion. However, while these important efforts are challenging these exclusionary definitions of beauty, the fashion and fitness industries are holding onto harmful tropes.
My body became what it was always supposed to be— and that’s okay.
When summer rolls around, I am bombarded with advertisements placing Eurocentric beauty standards on a pedestal. I become deeply frustrated and annoyed. I am relatively thin, I wear a medium in most brands and I do not wear bikinis—I’m much more comfortable in a cropped burkini. One might think this issue wouldn’t be a concern of mine but as someone who struggled with disordered eating as a teen, I cannot stand idly by as companies manufacture insecurity and then prey on it.
My anger toward the “summer body industry” is not just for myself, but for the people of all genders, sizes, races, and abilities who are forced to endure these exclusive campaigns. Growing up in Southern California I felt as though I lived at ground zero of the beach body industry. My obsession with my figure extended beyond the summer, too. I tried not to frown for fear of making wrinkles, I did crunches every evening to achieve a sculpted six-pack, and I promised myself I would raise enough money to get rid of the tummy fat around my belly button. These standards were not being reinforced at home; my parents are quite body positive. But the pressure was coming from television shows, radio ads, online videos, movies, and magazines. I craved a flat stomach, ample chest, and generous yet stretch-mark-free behind.
Instead, my body became what it was always supposed to be — I have the same butt as almost all of my siblings, I have the same size breasts my mother had at my age, and I have the same tummy fat that my mother and cousins have—and that’s okay. I didn’t fully let go of my concerns about body image until I turned 25 and it’s been a journey. About a year after I converted to Islam in 2016 I began dressing modestly, not because I was ashamed of my body but because I was no longer concerned with feeling that it needed to be on display. Artist Billie Eilish recently expressed similar reasons for her manner of dress. I took to dressing modestly as a way of opting out of the beauty standards I didn’t fit into but for me, it was not a holistic solution.
When I would undress at home I would still lament at my “imperfect” figure. I had to change the mindset that the media had indoctrinated me with. That didn’t happen until I met Bethany Meyers, a nonbinary body-neutrality activist and fitness trainer. Bethany taught me that I didn’t have to be body-positive, I could be body-neutral or respectful of my body with the knowledge that my outward shell did not comprise my entire being. I no longer went to the gym to “fix” myself but because I wanted to be healthier. I started doing crunches to improve my core strength, not because I crave a six-pack. My reasons for tending to my body and eating healthy changed. I no longer exercise to change my body but because I deserve to be healthy.
Now, whenever I see an advertisement marketing a summer body or a tabloid that shames a celebrity for not conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards, I recite the following mantra:
My perfect beach body will not come from a new diet, a certain weight, or series of exercises. My body becomes the perfect beach body the very instant that I set foot on the beach.
MY BODY IS ALREADY PERFECT.
I invite you to do the same. And remember to wear sunscreen.