Let's Nip This Bikini Body Thing in the Bud

This post originally appeared on Fat Girl, PhD.

So, January came and went -- and with it, the usual "New Year, New You" tripe that tends to do the rounds in our annual carnival of self-loathing and despair. And I watched, shouting crazed anti-diet one-liners into the abyss.

And after three weeks of my various feeds being littered with "I've done seven exercise classes today and now I'm going to pass out," "PLEASE GOD SOMEONE GIVE ME SOME CHOCOLATE" and so on, eventually, life returned to normal. People tired of unsustainable diets and carried on with the important stuff, like... Well, living.

Although let's be clear: As I pointed out at the time, studies have shown that 35% of dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% develop full-blown eating disorders. So, when I say livin', I'm willing to bet that at least one or two of the people who started out on a "New Year, New You" diet are considerably worse for it four months later.

And if pathological is defined as "behavior that is habitual, maladaptive, and compulsive," the whole January-start-fail-binge-summer-start-fail-binge cycle seems to me like it's built to encourage specifically pathological behavior. It's habitual, it's maladaptive and it's compulsive.

But of course, in our crazy society, spring has well and truly sprung, and summertime's on its way -- which can only mean one thing.

Yes, that's right ladies: You should probably be worried about your bikini body.

Now, I could quite easily end this post a couple of angry words, but I won't. I'm going to go ahead and break it down a little.

Because to me, the issue with the "bikini body" isn't just the unattainable ideal or the practicalities of achieving it -- although it's causing disordered eating and self-esteem issues for women everywhere. The bigger issue with the idea of the bikini body, it seems to me, is what it actually means. This is important on a number of fronts.

Firstly, Google it, and hit "News," and it rapidly becomes painfully obvious that the language you find around it is charged with shaming in all directions. In the mainstream media, it's almost always prefaced with "shows off," "displays" or "flaunts." Even those women who decide to rock a bikini outside of the norm are described using the same words -- they "flaunt" and "show off" their "voluptuous curves" -- but it's not quite the same.

Somehow, despite the disingenuous nods to body positivity, you can almost feel the venom coming through your screen.

Let's read "flaunting" for what it is: to "display (something) ostentatiously, especially in order to provoke envy or admiration or to show defiance."

In other words, "flaunts her bikini body" is not the same as "wears a bikini." It's more political than that.

It's written with this aim: to imply that someone -- specifically, you -- should be comparing yo'self, or judging them in some way, be that with envy or derision. Or, alternatively, you should be judging the person as a sexual object, presumably with a line of logic that makes fairly comfortable bedfellows with the depressingly pervasive notion that it's possible to be "asking for it."

This, right here, is misogynistic and wrong.

And it's also divisive. If you call someone a "skinny b***," because they can wear a bikini without fiery drops of scorn raining from the sky, or you call someone a "fat cow" because they can't, it's shaming, pure and simple. In fact, Perez "Terminally Soulless" Hilton has managed to take it to its logical extreme, by actually running a Bikini Body-Off on his 'FitPerez' page -- a site which, I should add, is one of the worst places to find any sensible fitness advice on the entire Internet.

So don't visit it.


The thing is, the idea that there is such a thing as a "bikini body" -- and the idea that it only comes in one form -- is fundamentally flawed. It's a media construction that exists only because it's easier to make money exploiting insecurities than spreading body confidence (which is why I've got £4 to my name 'til payday.) They're cashing in, and it's at your expense.

Because the question is this: Why do we allow ourselves to get stuck in patterns of pathological dieting, shaming and self-loathing, disordered eating habits, misogyny and social anxieties over what is, essentially, a couple of napkins held together with string? Why can't we just enjoy inhabiting our bodies like we're built to?

We're so used to this idea of one body type, one narrow, failing point of what womanhood actually is, that we've stopped realizing we're actual people living actual lives. We spend three months starving ourselves and gazing longingly at "thinspiration," only to visit the beach and feel ugly and miserable, because that's what real women do -- and anything to the contrary is to "flaunt" and invite scorn, jealousy or shame from society at large.

Tell me that isn't a waste of life, right there. Tell me that isn't a waste of summertime, of holidays, of sand between your toes and fresh sea air. Tell me it's not a crying shame for womanhood and a backwards step for feminism.

And so, I propose to you, right now -- don't do it.

You don't have to diet to have an amazing summer, and you don't have to be thin to wear whatever the hell you like to the beach. You can style out whatever you want and save yourself hours and hours of trauma worrying about the size of your butt -- hours which you could use living instead.

Step back from the idea of the bikini body, and you'll see it's just a distraction, dangled over you by a media that wants you to buy more things you think will make you happy. Step back from shaming, and you'll realize you'll be happier and more comfortable both in your own skin and around other people's. And read the endless articles that'll appear over the next few months in their proper context -- either as tools to shame you, or the people in them -- and call it out.

Because seriously, you can be every bit as god damn gorgeous as the next person, wearing whatever you so desire.

Just love yourself, and own it.