Bathing suit season: are we fighting a losing battle?

Scene 1: I’m in a tiny, locked room. There are mirrors on all four walls, forcing me to examine myself from all angles. The overhead lighting is making my winter white skin glow and, oh yeah, I’m naked. No, this isn’t a torture scene from a horror movie, and I’m not a prisoner of war – I’m bathing suit shopping (arguably more terrifying than both).

Scene 2: I’m in the checkout line at the grocery store, but I’m not alone. To my right is Jessica Simpson, tanned and toned in a bikini on the cover of magazine a). To my left is a supermodel whose name I’m not familiar with, but whose bared abs I’ve imagined on myself in dreams. She’s calling out to me from the cover of magazine b), telling me to try out her “Top 10 Butt Blasters”. These two ladies in line with me are indicating one glaring truth; bathing suit season is coming.

If there is a woman out there who is unfamiliar with either of these scenes, I’d like to meet her, because I sincerely think she would be fictional. Women of all shapes and sizes are currently sweating it out on the elliptical machine, throwing out their cookie boxes and buying tanning packages in anticipation of having to try on a piece (or two) of polyester-blend fabric.

Photo Courtesy of Glamour Magazine

In society today, women are convinced to believe that they need to lose weight in order to be beautiful. Artfully concealed, the idea often takes the form of magazine articles talking about healthy living, where calorie monitoring and fitness goals are the message. Print and TV advertisements feature thin models with tanned skin and women across Canada take these images to be the ideal.

This month’s edition of Glamour magazine features an article called “Bikini Blast: Four Weeks to Flatter Abs”. The first sentence reads, “Lose weight and tone your tummy, just in time for swimsuit season … you’ll be 100 percent ready to take on the beach—looking and feeling your sexiest.” But wait. What if “feeling my sexiest” doesn’t involve eighteen different kinds of sit-ups? Articles like this, in one of North America’s most popular women’s magazine, lead us to believe that we’re not good enough as we are, but that the key to feeling good is losing weight, and sculpting those abs.

To make matters worse, we are led to believe that the articles in magazines like In Style, Cosmopolitan and Glamour want you to feel comfortable, “dress for your shape” they say. But what does that really mean? If you’re bigger, dress to conceal it. If you have a small chest, push it up. If you’re pear-shaped, read up on what will make you look like a carrot. We are encouraged to make your body look differently than it does naturally, not to encourage our beautiful shapes.

The truth that no one wants to accept is that mourning the loss of your favourite dessert or doing abdominal crunches until you pass out will get you nowhere. You’ll only be cranky and craving sugar once you hit the beach, no happier with yourself than you were before the whole ordeal.

So I say, forget it. Wear what you want to wear, and don’t stress out if you’ve picked up a couple of extra pounds of the winter months. Enjoy the weather, take a walk, have a cookie (or three) if you want to. It’s time for women to decide what we want to look like, not have someone else tell us.

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