"Bikini Body": the modern Iron Maiden
Today while browsing my favourite websites I came across this article on the "Bikini Body". I found the article quite interesting, and wound up reading the linked articles as well from Jezebel and The New York Times. For those of you too lazy to read the articles, they all discuss the Bikini Body craze, and the anxiety which bathing suit season now induces in women. As is so often the case, this anxiety conveniently leads to huge (and I do mean huge) amounts of spending on corrective procedures, boot camps, cellulite creams, you name it.
What struck me was how right the articles were. When I think about it, I realize I can hardly make it through the grocery check-out these days without being faced down by at least five different magazines with some starlet on the cover in an itty-bitty bathing suit promising to tell me how she lost <insert unbelievable number here> pounds. Each magazine will inevitably have their "Best and Worst" bodies issue(s), where celebrity after celebrity (the majority of whom are women) will have their physiques dissected in obsessive detail. In these magazines there is no concept of a spectrum of beauty, only one very specific and impossibly unattainable beauty. Women are either too fat, too thin, not toned enough, too pale, too orange, too flat-chested, too saggy - take your pick. As if it weren't hard enough reaching our own personal bests, thanks to those magazines we can now see all the ways in which millions of dollars and the best trainers/dieticians/cosmetic surgeons still won't be able to make us - according to the magazines - good enough to sport a swim suit with a little dignity.
While none of us have paparazzi chasing us down at the beach each summer I know we all still feel this pressure to measure up on the sandbar, so to speak. As a young woman of average height and who fits well within the Body Mass Index, there really is nothing I should be ashamed of. And yet, each and every spring, right around February or March, that same vague anxiety settles in: time to get ready for bathing suit season. Much like the articles from Jezebel and NYT describe, I feel a pressure to lose "winter weight" and get toned and svelt. I'll set goals, make plans, and proceed to drag myself through hot coals whenever I fall short. I'll confess it, in early spring I avoided hot-tub parties like the plague for shame of paleness and some extra padding I gained during my senior year. Even now, I prefer sunbathing at home in my backyard because there is so much less stress surrounding judgement. I would love to know if men experience anything similar to this bathing suit season anxiety.
But really, who is judging all this? Ourselves, obviously, who are also most likely our worst critics. But I'm also curious to know how much of our perceived judgement is actual judgement. The last few times I saw my friends in bikinis I was impressed at what great shape they're all in - granted, a fair few of my friends are internationally ranked athletes, and most of the rest are work-out junkies. But still, I have a nagging feeling that we're so wrapped up in our own feelings of inadequacy that all we see when we look at others are what they have that we envy. Am I wrong?
I've been trying to imagine a world where no one was afraid to go to the beach because they didn't look like Megan Fox. Where everyone was relaxed and happy and loved themselves for their perfections as well as their "imperfections". If we weren't all feeling so damn inadequate then we wouldn't feel the need to criticize the physiques of others to make ourselves feel better, and so judgement and inadequacy on the beach would be a thing of the past. Too bad it's so profitable to corporations for us to feel like shit about ourselves.
Rather than wish I had huge amounts of disposable income to spend on personal trainers and dieticians, I think I'd rather wish for greater self-love: it's a lot more permanent than a crash-diet, and I suspect more satisfying as well.
Note: The above photo is of the divine Crystal Renn, an increasingly famous and sought-after "plus-size" model. Also, if you are only familiar with "Iron Maiden" as a music group, then allow me to enlighten you. The Iron Maiden was a method of torture. It was thought to be used in Medieval times but more recently it has come to light that it was not used until significantly later. It was a human-sized standing box lined with barbs. Unless you stood perfectly still, these barbs would puncture the skin, and those placed within Iron Maidens were generally left there for long periods of time.