Ah, June. The sun is out, the birds are singing, and female self-loathing is descending on every pool deck and beachside from sea to shining sea.
Iterations of the term “beach body” are spanked on the cover of every women’s magazine and paired with a catch-all weight-loss plan. Girls, in turn, compare thigh gaps with Instagram models and wonder if their hips spill too far over their string bikini, whether their bust is too small, their butt — just a little — too big. There’s no doubt that the culture surrounding bikini bodies is burdensome, but it’s time to call it out for what it is: an unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous, myth.
In the high-season of girl-hate, it seemed like Cosmopolitan magazine finally got something right, for once. On May 19, Cosmo posted an article titled “6 Swim Looks That Will Make Absolutely Every Woman Look Freaking Hot,” in which they reassured their puzzled readers like an almost-feminist mirage in a depressing desert of juice cleanses and ab pics: “Don’t buy into all that toxic noise about ‘pear-shaped women need to wear this and plus-size women need to wear that’ ... No matter how big, skinny, or fit you are, all of these are guaranteed to make you look like a hot piece on the beach this summer.”
The listicle is illustrated with thin and full-figured women alike, and, unlike the slew of most publications, doesn’t suggest women with curvy hips should wear waterproof pantsuits to the beach. According to Cosmo, all women can rock high-waisted swim bottoms or string bikinis if they want to — who knew?
But the choir of rejoicing body-positive angels comes to a screeching halt when you visit the website’s Health section. The third header from the top? “Cosmo Bikini Diet.” After clicking on the link to the diet, you’re greeted by a bikini model plastered with an obnoxious “LOSE 15 POUNDS (or more)” in hot-pink lettering and a marketing ploy for their new weight-loss book.
The trend of superficial, feminist-sounding rhetoric in mainstream media, employed by the “6 Swim Looks” article, at least provided some glimpse of a hopeful message for women. This is sadly undermined by the weight-loss content, through which the magazine succumbs to its classic ways of policing female bodies into a narrow frame of acceptability. Not only is this disappointing, but it reveals a darker issue in the commercialization of women’s self-image.
The concept of a “beach body” being something that’s achieved through strict diet and exercise regimens creates the idea that only a certain type of body — fit, thin and toned — is acceptable to be seen in a bathing suit. The beach body is an unattainable ideal; no matter how fit a girl may seem, she’s more than likely to be feeling some sense of body shame. Women of all sizes are conditioned to believe that they are constantly in a journey of self-improvement — capitalism’s marriage with the male gaze is one hell of a drug. Really, what’s thought of to be an achievable standard of beauty is really just creating a poisonous, hamster-wheel culture of body hate.
So, screw the Cosmo Bikini Diet. The only “real” bikini body is, after all, just your already amazing body with a bathing suit on it. Eat whatever and work out (or don’t) to whatever extent makes you feel like a healthy and happy misogyny-crushing mermaid queen — not Cosmo.
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