Can we please ban the term ‘Beach Body’? | The Salvation Army

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Can we please ban the term ‘Beach Body’?

people on a beach
Posted January 20, 2019

If you can get your body to the beach this summer, you have a beach body. 

I don’t need to tell you what a ‘beach body’ looks like, because every single day you’re bombarded with images of the idealised body—from billboards to Barbie dolls to Instagram. It’s a mass obsession. The words you hear every summer—‘beach body’, ‘summer body’, or ‘bikini body’—are based on one of our culture’s biggest lies: that there is only once acceptable body type. 

But, ‘instead of seeing a single body type everywhere we turn as inaccurate, misleading, or manipulative, we see our own bodies as the problem,’ says body positive influencer Megan Crabbe, in her book Body Positive Power. ‘We compare ourselves to those images until we’re left feeling worthless.’

Only an estimated five percent of us have the ‘media friendly’ body type. The other 95 percent are almost invisible—hidden underneath joggers and layering. So, as a culture, summer triggers mass hysteria about exposing our bodies. 

Cue the gym instructors yelling at us, ‘You want to get a beach body don’t you? Work off those Christmas calories!’ … while we burpee ourselves into oblivion. Cue all diet advertising promising a ‘new year, new you’. 

The mass beauty, media, fitness and diet industries have literally billions of dollars invested in keeping us believing the lie. The global beauty industry alone is estimated to be worth a staggering $393 billion (NZ). If we suddenly all decided to accept our bodies in all their glorious diversity, the global economy could collapse. Everyone from Weight Watchers to ‘fitspo’ insta-celebs are making millions from our self-loathing. 

Mega muscles

But there are a few brave insiders who have begun to speak out and reveal the true face of the industry. Actor Justin Baldoni has made a career out of playing hunks. But he has spoken out about his struggle with body dysmorphia—a body image disorder. Justin says it began as a teenager when he was ‘really skinny’ and thought if he had muscles he would feel like a ‘real man’.

‘I was wrong. Muscles don't give you anything except insecurity … Why do we sacrifice eating the foods we want to eat, while spending hours working on parts of our bodies that most people will never see. Pushing ourselves, sweating, buying billions of dollars in products … following influencers who spend their entire day in the gym posting about it and making money off our secret jealousy. What does that say about how we feel about ourselves? Does it really inspire us or does it set an unrealistic expectation for ourselves and our partners?’ said Justin in an honest Instagram post.

He has gone so far as to say that most men who spend large amounts of time at the gym probably have body dysmorphia.

 ‘I’ve been pretending to be a man that I’m not my entire life … I pretended I was strong when I felt weak, confident when I felt insecure, and tough when really I was hurting … It is exhausting trying to be “man enough”,’ Justin said in a TED talk.

The ugly truth about beauty

Another celeb using their power for good is Jameela Jamil, who plays Tahani in The Good Place. She has been open about her struggle with anorexia when she was a TV presenter in the UK. When she began to put on weight she was ‘fat-shamed’ in the UK media for being a size 12.

Jameela has called out other celebrities for perpetuating unrealistic body types—like Kim Kardashian, who she criticised for ’gramming herself sucking an appetite suppressant lollipop. She says the Kardashians have built their empires from eating disorders.

In a recent Twitter thread, Jameela asked people to tell the truth about their experiences with diet pills and teas—stories came flooding in of severe anxiety, depression, panic attacks and insomnia. One woman admitted she literally soiled herself in public. It’s gross, but that’s the point. The beauty industry is, actually, very ugly.

Jameela says many of the social media posts constantly sell us a lie: ‘[Young girls who follow “influencers”] don't know that these girls starve themselves, they don't know how much these girls work out to look the way they do—because these girls just post pictures of themselves eating massive slices of pizza and just sort of lounging around hotel balconies,’ says Jameela. ’We have to unfollow people who make us feel bad about ourselves and who promote unrealistic lifestyles and body standards on the internet.’

New year, new you?

Conrad Goodhew is one of those guys in the five percent—he’s the uber-fit nutritionist for the Crusaders rugby team. Yet, he has recently been speaking out about eating disorders in the fitness industry.

The whole ‘summer body’ fitness routine is a lie, he says. ‘Suddenly summer is just around the corner and you’ve got to get this “bikini body”. It’s not going to happen.’

He warns that the New Year ‘quick fixes’ are a rip off. The latest buzzwords like ‘clean eating’, ‘detox’ or ‘strong is the new skinny’, are often just rebranded diets. If we want to take care of our bodies, we should focus on good habits over the long term.

When we get real and admit that we’re not going to suddenly have the ‘perfect’ body, we’ll actually be free to enjoy ourselves—summer should be about ice creams and celebrations.

A great body—the ideal body—is one that does a million miracles everyday to keep you alive. Your body keeps you healthy, it can do a killer bomb into a swimming pool and get lit on the dance floor.

Great bodies do not need to all look alike. Just as the rest of God’s creation is infinitely diverse, so are we. There are a huge range of body sizes and shapes that are still healthy.

If your body can get you to a beach this summer, than you have a beach body. Your body is worthy of care and fun and sun. Your body is worthy of love, just as you are.

How to get a #beachbody

  1. Unfollow every influencer that makes you feel bad about yourself. Instead, follow people who encourage you.
  2. Remember, all the time you spend obsessing about your body could be spent changing the world!
  3. Notice when you are having negative thoughts about your body, and choose to replace it with a positive thoughts. You don’t have to pretend to love your body straight away—start by accepting it without judgement.
  4. Show gratitude for your body—thank God for all it does for you, and thank God for the parts you’ve hated on.
  5. Tell yourself the truth—for example, you don’t have to say, ‘I’m super hot’, but you can say, ‘I’m attractive to some people’.
  6. Learn to eat intuitively—eat when you’re hungry. Exercise enough so it gives you energy, not saps it. Give yourself rest.

By Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 26 January 2019, p12-13. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.