In my doctoral study, 49% of 659 adult women, including 202 mothers and/or pregnant women had not felt satisfied about their beach body during the summer season, 41% said they had avoided the beach at least sometimes because of the way they had felt about their body, and almost every second woman indicated she had felt more negatively about her body during summer as compared to the rest of the year. So what is so tricky about the weather getting warmer?
We seem to have this idea of the “ideal” beach body, a young, thin, toned, tanned and otherwise flawless appearance in swimwear that has been set as an aspirational appearance norm for all women, regardless of age, ethnicity or life stage, since the introduction of the first modern swimsuit in the early 1900s. Given that images of these sorts of bodies tend to dominate the mass media prior to and during summer, we start to think that only bodies that adhere to this standard appear to be valued, healthy, normal and worthy of being displayed at the beach or pool.
Bikini-ready celebrity mothers are appraised for bouncing back in no time, whereas those who dared to expose their flawed postpartum bodies in bathers often experience negative judgment and shame.
When we compare ourselves to these idealised images, and realise that our own beach body doesn’t look like this ideal, it can make us feel guilty and ashamed (“Perhaps I should have tried harder/ worked out more/ eaten less”). However, the ideal beach body is no more than a one-sided, highly idealised idea of how a woman in swimwear should look. It has been constructed by marketing and social norms, and the majority of us are biologically unable to look like this – no matter how hard we tried. Just because we see the same images everywhere doesn’t mean that these bodies are ‘normal‘ and achievable for everyone. We all have different genetics that affects our body size and shape. Even if you can change your body to look this way, body transformation is no guarantee for sustainable happiness, health and life satisfaction, or even a guarantee of enjoying our time by the beach or pool.
We know we need to be good role models for our kids, and this goes for our time in warmer weather as well. We want to show our kids that our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide, cover or conceal because of the way they look – they are for us to enjoy. So how do we role model this confidence when we might not automatically feel this in our swimwear?
You can start by concentrating on the benefits of going to the beach.
1. Oh the calm
Researchers in the realm of “blue mind research” observe that we experience a meditation-like state of mind when nearby or within the water (if you are interested to learn more about it, I recommend the following TED talk by marine biologist Dr Wallace J. Nichols). Several studies suggest that spending time in environments nearby the water makes us feel happier, more relaxed, vital, and more satisfied with our life.The beach is an excellent place to escape and find balance from the noise and stress of everyday life.
2. Beach benefits
Just like getting over a fear of spiders by looking at pictures of spiders, my doctoral research found that beach visits in summer were linked to reduced appearance concerns in women. That’s right- actually going to the beach actually helped women feel more confident about their bodies- and this finding was particularly strong amongst those who had not felt satisfied with their beach body before their feet hit the sand. This implies that those who worry most about their beach bodies may benefit the most from getting in their swimmers, and getting to the beach.
There are several explanations for this and they might be as complex as our human psychology. However, in line with blue mind research, a particularly strong link revealed between more positive body image and women’s ability to feel good and relaxed at the beach. Resultantly, if you enjoy feeling sand below your feet, listening to waves and seagulls, watching the deep blue water meet the shores and inhaling the smell of salty air, then there is no plausible reason why you should not go to the beach, because it will be good for your soul and that is reason enough.
3. Be a real role model
Getting into your swimming costume might even help others! Other people may feel just as anxious about their beach bodies as you. So why not set an example of accepting your body- and not letting your thoughts about your body hold you back from doing things you love- and inspire others to do the same.
Even more importantly, your kids will watch you. They will not remember the cellulite on your thighs, but that Mummy took them to the beach or for a swim to have some fun times. They will learn that bodies are here to be enjoyed- not admired.
The take home message for you is: you deserve to enjoy your life to the fullest. You deserve to relax and feel good and re-charge your batteries. You deserve to escape everyday life and move your body, swim, and lie in the sun because it feels good to do these things. You deserve to be YOU. It is time to show to the world that we are so much more than what we look like- and yes, we do already have a beach body.