Have you noticed an increase in weight-loss ads on your social media feeds? Maybe you’ve seen a few more news items about getting back into shape after quarantine, or a reminder that summer’s coming soon and you need to lose the weight you gained during lockdown.
Every year around springtime, we’re reminded that we have to start getting our bodies “ready” for summer. The concept of a standard kind of body that is appropriate for display in a bathing suit can be incredibly damaging - for instance, mental health writer De Elizabeth notes that 7 out of 10 American girls and women have experienced anxiety and a decline in body confidence due to the impossible standards of beauty we see in the media every day.
These images and the words often used alongside them can also be dangerous to the millions of people in America who suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphia. At the very least, they inspire despair and frustration for the average American woman, who wears a size 16 or 18 - sizes that are far from what’s considered appropriate for a“bikini body”.
For several years now, awareness campaigns and the body positivity movement have become nearly as visible as these ads. But the idea of the “beach body” persists. And this year, despite the mental strain that the pandemic and lockdown have put upon us all, it may be worse than ever.
In an opinion piece for the New York Times, author Jennifer Weiner suggests that the onslaught of weight-loss products and diet programs she’s seen on social media lately is in full throttle because many of these companies are trying to rebuild after last year’s economic losses. After all, in 2020 and early 2021, far fewer people took beach vacations or did other activities that are often a target for weight loss marketing campaigns, like having a wedding or attending a high school reunion.
Now, with things reopening and life hopefully getting back to some degree of normal, the weight loss industry is also trying to come back full-force.
And marketers aren’t always doing this in obvious ways. Weiner writes:
You can consume a lot of this marketing without ever hearing the words “weight” or “diet” or “calories.”…Buzzwords like “wellness” and “strength” have replaced “diet” and “calories.” It’s all about being the best you that you can be — a you that is significantly thinner than the you right now.
These more assertive and insidious marketing tactics are certainly understandable; after all, we’re all trying to get back some of what we’ve lost. But it doesn’t make the concept of the “beach body”, with its inherent exclusiveness and pressure, any better - let alone, of course, easier to attain.
Still, the myth of a “summer-ready” body doesn’t seem to be something we can vaccinate ourselves against, so to speak. Fortunately, De Elizabeth suggests some other ways that those who don’t want to adhere to this idea can fight it, including strategies like:
- Picking and choosing who you follow on social media. Curating your feed so that you see a lot of body positive content can provide you with a daily (or maybe even more than daily!) injection of realism and self-love.
- Throwing out the bad stuff. Elizabeth also suggests unfollowing social media accounts that specifically make you feel bad or inadequate.
- Not staying silent. If you see a brand that seems to be pushing a size standard, use the power of social media to ask for more diverse representation. You may end up inciting change, especially body-positive and-inclusive marketing has become a popular trend - in some cases, even a “must” - for many brands.
Elizabeth also reminds parents to remember that their kids are seeing posts and advertisements showing beauty standards as well, so be sure to talk to them about celebrating and accepting their own bodies -- and teach them to question what they’re seeing online, too.
- Finding a physical activity you enjoy. Exercise and staying healthy are truly good things, especially when they’re not associated with losing weight and fitting a mold. Elizabeth encourages readers to find a physical activity and healthy foods they truly love, not a punishing regimen or diet shake being pushed by an influencer.
And if you want a rally cry of body positivity might just shout louder than those ads you’re seeing, never forget this tweet’s message: “THE BEACH GONNA GET WHATEVER BODY I GIVE IT!”
With body acceptance coming in strong from the other side, and strategies like these, maybe someday the “summer-ready body” concept will disappear -- or at least lose its spot in the sun.