Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka.
CW: body image, diet culture
As we move out of the cold, wintry months, summer ostensibly feels like an absolute dream. Exams aside, with the weather being nicer we’re in a better mood, and in Oxford this shift brings along many an afternoon of punting and croquet. Looking beyond the end of term, there are exciting beach holidays to go on, whether that be in the UK or abroad, as well as festivals and other great events that only take place in the warmer parts of the year. Yet, for many people, these joyous opportunities will be overshadowed by the pressure of summer fashion. Or, more specifically, having the “perfect” body for summer fashion.
As clothes for warmer weather are typically more revealing, summer brings about a horrible focus on obtaining the “ultimate summer body”. The push of this narrative in the lead up to and throughout the summer months is unbelievably toxic, for several reasons.
Why This is Toxic
Firstly, as obvious as this may seem, not everybody is the same! What may be healthy for one person may not be for the next, and so a culture that encourages everyone to strive for one body type is shooting for the impossible. Secondly, this sudden push for the “dream body” means that crash diets and weight loss tricks are promoted, and these are often incredibly unhealthy. These are, unfortunately, promoted by trusted sources such as newspapers, meaning that people take them seriously. People are then either disappointed when they don’t work, or left unwell after pushing themselves too hard. For example, the Daily Mail encouraged training “on an empty stomach” and sharing “before and after photos”. These “tips” are behaviours that are often seen in people who struggle with disordered eating, and yet they are brought out and actively encouraged every year. It is clear that this cannot be healthy, thus revealing the toxic attitudes surrounding preparing for the summer.
Moreover, this issue is being massively exacerbated by social media. In anticipation of the summer, I created a Pinterest board filled with all of the outfits and styles I wanted to try out. Whilst not every outfit is the same, the lack of diversity in the people wearing them is shocking. This propagates the idea that there is only one body type that is acceptable for the summer.
This message is now reaching younger audiences through Instagram and Snapchat. Both beauty and fitness influencers show off their (often photoshopped) bodies, and share their advice on how to get the same results. Young people are particularly susceptible to this messaging, and so this toxicity is causing genuine harm. Teenagers feel more and more insecure in their bodies, and thus try dangerous methods to change them. This leaves them feeling let down, as well as placing their physical and mental health in danger.
With both social media and news outlets propelling this narrative of having to achieve the perfect summer look, it can be easy to feel nothing other than hopeless. However, there are ways to push back against this toxic thinking, find a way to feel good in your summer clothes, and get to enjoy your summer doing all the amazing things that you want, rather than hiding away in case you don’t quite look “right”.
How We Can Feel Confident
One way of doing this is using social media in a positive way, rather than getting stuck in an echo chamber of body image toxicity. I find following body positivity influencers really helpful, as you both get to see a range of body types on a regular basis, and have body positive messages constantly reinforced.
Another thing that can be helpful is incorporating something into your outfit that makes you feel confident, so that your focus is on your style rather than your body. This could be anything from jewellery to your hairstyle!
Finally, find a summer style that you feel comfortable in. It can feel like there’s an overwhelming pressure to wear shorts and crop tops. But if you’re not quite there yet, there’s a whole host of summer clothes that look equally as amazing that may not cause you quite so much stress. Of course, you should never feel like you have to cover up. But if a certain style isn’t making you feel confident, then the option to wear something else is always there!
Diversity is a beautiful thing, and we ought to celebrate it, not be made to feel like we have to change to fit the mould of the “ideal” body type. Like snowflakes, each one of us looks different, yet equally beautiful. It may feel impossible to navigate a sea of diet culture and toxic body image, but if we all make a conscious effort, this summer we can make the world a kinder and more empowering place.