It’s really your mind you have to prepare, not your body, IMHO.
So, you’ve probably noticed that it’s summer — and not necessarily because of the warmer temps, but because of stuff like this:
Hi, I’m Sally. And I want to share some of the things that get me through this extra-warm, extra body-shaming time of year.
1. First of all, let’s come up with a better name for summer than “bikini season.”
Why? Because it’s a phrase that’s used almost exclusively to tell you how to change your body to get ready for it, with the implication, of course, that the way your body is right now just won’t do. So, since the idea of bikini season has been ruined by thediet industrial complex, how about:
• swimming in the ocean season
• beach volleyball season
• barbeque season
• drinks al fresco season
• gin and tonic season
• twice-a-day shower season
• iced coffee season
2. Remember that you actually don’t have to change your lifestyle to get ready for summer.
There are many animals whose lives really change in the lead-up to a new season. Birds migrate to find warmer weather, fish find warmer water, and earth worms burrow deeper into the earth. In the fall, bears, skunks, and chipmunks eat extra food so they have more body fat to keep them warm in winter.
We are not those animals. Generally speaking, we can survive a change of season without drastically overhauling our lives. Sure, you can make late spring and early summer all about exercising more and eating less if that’s something you want to do. OR you could enjoy the fruits of evolution’s labor and accept that we’re going to make it through summer as we are right now* and we don’t really have to make any changes that don’t make us happy.
*Please do wear sunblock.
3. FYI: What anyone thinks about your body is none of your business.
Sometimes I’m self-conscious about my body because I can’t stop wondering if people in my life — my friends, family, co-workers, therapist, fellow subway riders — are noticing and cataloguing as obsessively as I am the ways in which my body is just not getting the job done, aesthetically speaking. But if they are thinking about my body this much, maybe that’s just their business — not mine.
Hear me out.
People go around thinking all kinds of things I can’t condone — about how much they love mayo,* or that the fourth Harry Potter book was the best** — without any of it ruining my day or influencing the decisions I make about my body. Those opinions are all wrong, but they’re also none of my damn business. If these wrong people want to debate any of those things with me, they become my business, but until then, I am not going to let them influence what I do with my life.
*Mayo is gross.
**Half-Blood Prince 4ever. Don’t @ me.
4. And the people who do spend a lot of time thinking about and judging your body? We call those toxic people.
A few truly poisonous a-holes are probably inevitable. If you have frenemies whose thing is to tell you it looks like you’ve put on weight (as if weight is inherently bad or shameful), or that something doesn’t flatter you, or that you’d look prettier “if,” then consider putting distance (psychological and, if possible, geographical) between you and them. Feel free to extend this to people who “compliment” you when they notice you’ve lost weight or comment on anything you eat, ever.
5. While we’re on the subject of picking apart appearances, let’s go ahead and ban that activity in your own head, too.
Unfortunately, judging ourselves super harshly is a habit of self-punishment that is tough to break. Sometimes I’m like, “If I am not meditating on how subpar my body is, what will I even think about?” And that’s why I try to stay away from telling people to just love themselves already, as if it’s a directive that’s easy to follow.
But the habit that is (for my money) equally self-punishing but a bit easier to break: judging other people’s bodies; whether you’re judging how bangin’ they look or how not-up-to-society’s-standards they are.
If you’re looking at other people to find things to covet, you’re reducing that whole person to their component parts, while also making yourself feel bad for not already having those covetous qualities. If you’re judging them for what doesn’t look “good,” then you’re doing that toxic thinking we just talked about. Regardless, you’re just steeping yourself in the thoughts and attitudes of “not good enough.” So, stop it.
6. Give yourself permission to be body positive and to have insecurities at the same time.
I’m totally inspired by people who experience deep and abiding self-acceptance and self-love. But I can’t help but feel that no matter how much I aspire to increase the positive and generous thoughts I have about myself and decrease the harsh ones, I don’t always get the balance right. So, instead of flogging myself for not reaching body-posi heaven, I just let myself have some moments — OK, some days — when I feel insecure and self-conscious, which for me means covering as much of my body as possible and hiding my collarbone (don’t ask) at all costs.
I think it’s OK that self-confidence ebbs and flows. I think you can have the intention to be expansive and generous with yourself, and believe that body positivity is the mindset that’s healthiest for you and also the one that’s fair and just and right, and also sometimes just not be able to grab it or hold onto it or live in it. Being mad at yourself for not being perfect in your practice of self-love is another kind of punishment, if you ask me.
7. Believe that you are attractive, and see yourself that way.
In our culture it’s totally acceptable to disagree with a norm, like “I actually don’t think brides need to wear white” or “I actually think it’s fine if the woman picks up the check instead of the dude” or “I know it’s a law but I think it’s discriminatory and I’d like to see it changed.”
But when it comes to what our culture says is the norm for attractiveness, women are expected to jump right to “Oh yeah definitely yeah no let me see how I can change and adapt myself to fit it.” We aren’t expected to stop to think about whether it’s OK to tell people what’s beautiful, or whether we agree that a particular thing is beautiful to us, or that what’s attractive changes over time and differs between cultures.
We all get to think of ourselves as beautiful and believe it, because we get to decide what is beautiful and also because it’s a fact that we are.
8. Wear whatever you want.
I’ve never met a bathing suit I wanted to wear. Truly. (If you find a great selection of swimwear for masculine-of-center women, please LMK.) But whether you want to cover yourself up or show skin, whether you want to wear a two-piece or a one-piece, or a sports bra and swimming trunks, just put your own clothes on your own body and be done with it.*
*easier said than done, I know.
9. Remember that one huge benefit of having a body is sensory experience. (And that’s kind of summer’s whole thing.)
Something I tend to forget amidst all that ruminating over how our bodies look during the summer is that this season allows for a lot of sensory experiences that aren’t really possible at other times of the year. Whether it’s the sun on your skin or the smell of salty air or the feeling of cool water of a pool or a lake (if you’re daring enough to get in one of those things — so slimy, omg) or whooshing down a water slide, or drinking a summery cocktail, or licking a melty ice cream cone, or lying on the sand or sitting in the grass, feeling a warm breeze…you get it.
Instead of thinking of summer as the time of year that’s all about how my legs look in shorts, or how my arms look in tank tops, or how my body looks in the bathing suit I ordered online so I wouldn’t have to deal with shopping for it in person, I keep trying to choose to think of summer as a time of year that’s an actual gift to my body because of all the things my body will feel, taste, smell, do.
10. Your value (on earth, to other people) doesn’t have anything to do with this sack of meat and bones called your body.
On this the eve of my 38th summer, I really think the most helpful way to prepare for a drinks-al-fresco season is to remember that if someone were to tabulate my value on this, our earth, they’d have a checklist of stuff like:
– tries to be generous
– practices compassion
– apologizes when she cuts people off in traffic
– always kept her eyes on her own work
– stuck up for kids who were getting bullied
– respects people’s time and is really punctual
– let someone go ahead of her in line at Whole Foods, once
– isn’t the best at not holding grudges but also isn’t the worst
Nowhere on that list would you see anything about my body. (Though if entry to heaven is controlled by someone super image-conscious and hypercritical, joke’s on me.)
I guess what I am saying — and bear with me, I know it’s cliche — is that we’re all so much more than this dumb earthly vessel. After all, it’s just the container for all the things about me that really matter: my thoughts and feelings, killer one-liners, unpopular opinions, memories of childhood, photographic recall of Buffy the Vampire Slayer dialogue, preference for salty vs. sweet, my loyalty to friends, my distinct penmanship, etc., etc.
These qualities and idiosyncrasies are everything because they’re what make me me and not you or some other rando. They’re what other people value about me, and if I’m being honest they’re also what I value about me. So then why am I spending all this time and energy stressing about my body during bike-rides-to-Coney-Island season?
Honestly, I don’t know. But I’m trying to stop.