Let me paint you a picture: it’s a sunny, late March weekend in Portland. Walking through campus, I see students sprawling out on picnic blankets along East Quad (masked and socially distanced of course), soaking in the sunshine after months of snow and rain. Across from campus, students living in the houses around University Park lounge on their decks, stroll around the neighborhood, or play games with housemates on their front lawns. The little extra boost of vitamin D is enjoyed across the town.
As a Portland resident, I grow a little happier each day as the sun slowly stays out a little longer. Summer, it’s starting to seem, is just around the corner. But as I trade my sweats, comfy sweaters, and bulky jackets for crop tops and shorts, I am left feeling more anxious than excited.
April showers bring May flowers, but they also bring a familiar sense of insecurity as more of my body is on display for all to see and judge.
For years now, I have felt pressure to achieve and maintain a perfect beach body — or a body that’s socially acceptable to be seen during warmer months of the year — each year as the seasons begin to change. I remember as a middle schooler, I’d binge-watch YouTube videos preaching their perfect ab routine to look “bikini ready” in no time or scroll through social media, praising influencers with perfectly sculpted bodies who shared diets and exercises to slim down for July beach days.
And I understand that the culture has begun to shift. More people are speaking out against the misogynistic beauty standards society imposes on young girls and the Body Neutrality Movement has gained momentum in popular culture. But even though 2021 seems more body positive than past years, my TikTok feed has been flooded with #summerbody posts. As June draws nearer, health bloggers, diet websites, and fitness companies are sharing tips to get a perfect summer body and emphasizing losing your quarantine weight in preparation for a summer with fewer COVID restrictions. And just last year, Chloe Ting ruled the Internet with her fitness programs and exercise challenges.
Fads like showing full day of eating videos on TikTok or pressuring each other to lose our “pandemic bodies” demonstrate how we as a society are normalizing eating disorder culture and still judging people’s bodies based on how they compare to an almost impossible-to-achieve standard.
If 2021 is supposed to be a better year for accepting bodies of every type, why are we still promoting this culture of judgement and negativity?
The pandemic took a toll on your body, whether you know it or not. We are all coming out of this year of lockdown as different people so it makes perfect sense that our bodies will reflect some sort of change. But this is the body that got you through a global pandemic. Any weight gain, extra grey hairs, lack of muscle definition, or other physical change that may not fall strictly within the realm of “socially pleasing” is proof that you fought through a year of pain and frustration.
Be kind to your body. It carried you through a lot.
It’s okay to enter the warmer months without setting up a daily workout schedule to chisel your abs or dieting until you can squeeze into a bathing suit that’s one size smaller than before. It’s time we ditch diet mentalities and the concept of summer bodies for good. Extend grace to your body this summer. Wear shorts without worrying about a thigh gap or rock a crop top while paying no mind to whether your stomach looks “flat enough.”
So as you are walking around your city this spring and summer or scrolling through Instagram admiring your friend’s vacation pictures, remember that they also struggled through this past year and are equally allowed to live comfortably in their body.
Especially after COVID shifted everyone’s lives, we can never know what someone is going through at a first glance. Don’t comment on someone’s body when you don’t know their full story.
On the topic of minding your own business as the days get warmer and our sleeves get shorter, summer weather can be really anxiety provoking for people with scars or other marks on their body.
The socially ideal body that demands flat stomachs and thigh gaps for female presenting people, and strong arms and chiseled abs for male presenting people also includes soft, unblemished skin. But scarring is more common than pop culture leads people to believe. Around 80% of Americans have stretch marks, about 17% of all people will experience self-harm scars, and roughly 25% of Americans have visible acne scars. The average body won’t have skin that looks baby smooth. And frankly, it’s a little exhausting trying to cover up my scars in case someone might see them and decide it’s their place to make a comment about my body. While there are ways to reduce visibility or heal scars, it’s often time consuming, costly, or just an extra and unnecessary hassle in someone’s life.
Scars can be reminders of trauma, too. They can carry meanings deeper than a person will be able to explain to a stranger walking to the grocery store. Even if you may be genuinely concerned for the safety of that stranger, Target isn’t the best place to rehash one’s personal issues to a random passerby. So think before you comment on someone’s scarring, whether your intentions are good or not.
Though it takes a lot of vulnerability to display your scars, just as physical changes after the pandemic prove that you made it through this rough year, your scars show that you survived a difficult event. It takes a lot of energy trying to cover up these physical imperfections or fretting over how to make it through an awkward conversation about the history behind your body’s markings. It’s equally tiring to go about your day constantly wondering how people might view you or worrying that you’re not meeting the standards for some societal trend, ideal, or norm. What if we all left this pressure to conform to someone else’s standards behind? We can stop judging other people’s bodies and live out Summer 2021 free from unnecessary shame, restrictive diets, or sucking in for Instagram photos.
If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s this: be kind to yourself and to others.
It’s a rather simple statement when written out like that. But maybe it can be as simple as giving yourself a break, understanding that your body is allowed to look different than everyone else’s, and refraining from making judgements about another person’s appearance.
Emma Sells is a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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