'Imagination will take you everywhere'
A beach consists of a vast expanse of sand which meets the sea. Normally filled with buckets-and-spades, parasols, naked cherubs running about, picnickers, dog walkers, surfers, swimmers and sun worshippers. A supposedly chilled out space.
But recently the ‘beach’ has been embroiled in a controversial debate – a debate which has been silently brewing for a long time. Every year it begins in the same fashion; come April, magazines, newspapers and websites will be promoting diets and fitness regimes with that all too familiar tag line, ‘How to get a beach body’. All of which urge women to banish that cellulite and tone up those bingo wings ready for the big summer reveal, accompanied with photographs of lithe models in micro bikinis frolicking in the sand, as if to say ‘this could be you’. In reality, for most normal women it’s more like an impossible dream that lasts for a week of dieting. This is just one example of the multitude of body pressures faced by women today. All of which makes the idea of the ‘beach’ a dreaded concept – a sense of doom which hangs in the air every time the word is mentioned.
So when the infamous Protein World advert featuring a slim, toned model posing in a yellow bikini, asked the nation if they were ‘beach body ready?’ Many women replied with outrage, saying it was body shaming and objectifying them. I believe the advert continues the notion that to bare your body on a beach, women have to be of a certain size to be socially accepted. It highlights the pressure faced by women in an age where they are constantly bombarded with this idea of body perfection – that flat stomach, pert bottom, lean legs – all day every day; on the tube, on Twitter, in magazines.
The journalist, Jenny McCartney, recently wrote in the Sunday Times about how these body image pressures are effecting teenage girls and creating a destructive cycle of starvation, fuelled by ‘thinspiration’ blogs. According to McCartney teenage admissions to hospitals because of eating disorders have almost doubled in the last three years. Surely linking to advances in digital media and access to that all-consuming resource that is the internet. One pertinent point that McCartney made was that girls are worried about being remembered as “the fat girl” but she says in an ideal world they will be remembered as “the interesting girl, or the kind girl, or the girl that made her mark like no one else before her”. Judged on her personality and brain, rather than looks. I fear that time is a long way off.
One positive thing came out of the ‘beach body’ advert. Women of all shapes and sizes came together to defend each other. The message was clear; we must not be judged on our bodies. We will not be pressured into looking a certain way. Defacing the advert was a way of giving Protein World the middle finger. The messages speak for themselves. One woman wrote on an advert; “Contrary to popular belief, women’s bodies do not need to be changed, for the beach or anywhere else.” Another wrote; “Stop encouraging women to starve themselves.” One simply declared; “F*** off.” The overwhelming sense of injustice was palpable. Many argued that for a body to be ‘beach ready’ it simply needs to be on a beach – maybe after being slathered in suncream. The hashtag ‘Take Back The Beach’ was started and soon a Twitter backlash was in full swing as well as a protest in Hyde Park. The joys of social media when it’s used for good. Around 43,000 people signed a petition calling for the advert to be banned. And it was. The sisterhood had spoken.
Of course everyone wants to feel good on the beach. But you can feel good without looking like a supermodel. Different body types should be embraced, because how boring would it be if we all looked the same? Funnily enough, Renee Somerfield, the model at the centre of ‘beach-gate’, spoke a lot of sense; “Confidence is beautiful no matter what size you are…. Your reflection doesn’t define your worth.” Wise words which I completely agree with. So as beach season approaches, attitudes need to change.
One woman who is at the forefront of changing attitudes is the voluptuous powerhouse that is Ashley Graham. Plus size model du jour. Except she doesn’t want to be known as ‘plus size’ but as simply a model. As her fabulous TEDxBerkleeValencia talk proves, every shape is beautiful and should be celebrated. The talk is a must watch for inspiring body confidence and embracing imperfections – at the beginning she stands in front of a mirror declaring her love for her cellulite and back fat – a refreshing change in an industry obsessed with perfection. The tide is turning.
Kate Moss once said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. But she obviously has not eaten my mum’s triple chocolate brownies. Therein lies a dilemma; do you put yourself through misery in order to achieve body confidence for a couple of weeks in August, or do you enjoy yourself, eat what you want and simply choose a flattering one-piece for the beach – or even better – embrace your flabby bits? I know which one I will choose. Because brownies taste better than skinny feels.
Originally posted on ALT Magazine.