The Whole Concept Of The "Beach Body" Is Ridiculous And This Is Why

What if all you need to get a beach body is to GO TO THE BEACH?
Publish date:
April 24, 2013
body politics, beach bodies, bikini bodies

HEY GUYS, HAVE YOU HEARD? It’s beach body season. You might have heard. Something. About it. Rihanna’s “flaunting” one in Miami. There are diets and exercise routines especially designed to get you one.

You’ve probably heard.

But just for those few of you who live awesome lives free from media that specifies certain bodies as suitable for certain locations, a “beach body” is a physical form that is ostensibly appropriate to take to a beach, and, like, allow other people to see.

Because at some point we came to a cultural consensus that only certain bodies deserve to be seen, or at least admired, in a beach environment. Or, I suppose, a pool environment, or any environment in which one might be in swimwear.

Because I am a HUGE NERD and I can’t do anything without establishing context, I’m going to tell you a little bit about what I’ve discovered on the origins of the term “beach body” (and its more recent and interchangeable cousin, “bikini body," not to be confused with the WAY AWESOMER "fatkini body").

According to my half-assed Google research, one of the earliest uses of the term seems to have come from a 1997 workout VHS (VHS!) by Diane Youdale, whom the Amazon UK description bewilderingly calls a “popular gladiator.” My first thought was huh, maybe they mean like weird proto-reality fitness (?) series American Gladiators, but this was quickly eliminated as a possibility since Youdale is British.

BUT WAIT. Turns out there was a British version of American Gladiators, just called “Gladiators” and Youdale WAS on that. I’m not going to tell you how long I spent today looking all this up because you will probably cease to respect me.

Youdale’s exercise-program VHS was titled “Summer Circuit: Beach Body” and although I’m not positive that it’s the original instance of “beach body” ever in history, Google would seem to suggest it must be among the first.

The phrase has become damn ubiquitous in the late spring/early summer months over the past few years, and while its origins may be innocuous enough, unsurprisingly I have Problems with how it has proliferated.

Problem #1

The whole “beach body” concept assumes that there is only one body that is beach-worthy -- and it probably doesn’t look like whatever body you’ve already got.

The beach body is a body with strict limits and rules and expectations about thigh gaps, cellulite (none), breast size (just right), upper arm tone, and cankle status. You will need to do a lot of work -- and probably buy a lot of products -- to even approach beach body standing, and you are unlikely to ever fully succeed, because you’re not supposed to. You’re really only supposed to TRY.

Right about now, we’re inundated with the “beach bodies” of celebrities alongside instructions on how to get your own, even without hours to spend every day exercising and a staff of professionals to coach us there. The result is that going to the beach starts to look like an activity that only a rare few are entitled to experience confidently.

Thus some of us wind up with the idea that we can’t wear (or even own) a swimsuit or go to a beach, until we have the correct body for it.

I’m pretty disinclined to refer to people’s personal choices as “sad” because that usually reeks to me of concern-trolling, but it does make me a little sad, the number of women I’ve known who have steadfastly insisted that they refuse to even consider the application of swimwear to their horrifyingly imperfect bodies -- and most of them have been women firmly in the average range so far as weight is concerned.

While I support everyone’s right to feel their feelings, especially about their body, I am so not down with letting external pressures prevent you from doing the fun stuff you’d otherwise like to do -- if only you didn’t have the “wrong” kind of body.

Problem #2

“Beach body” is often phrased as some kind of personal achievement. Which I guess it kind of is?

It’s great to feel proud of your body, but I’d rather we all feel enabled to be proud of our bodies no matter what they look like, instead of said pride only happening at the expense of someone else -- someone who DIDN’T do a bazillion miserable crunches whilst subsisting on juice made from rocks and dirt to reach “beach body” status, and who therefore forfeits their right to go to the beach (or anywhere) without worrying that everyone is going to stare, or throw things, or -- I don’t know. I don’t know what we’re afraid people will do.

What are you afraid people will do?

It also suggests that beach-ready bodies are a temporary and even unnatural shape that you must force your body to fit -- and that you should be actively seeking anyway. But there’s no such thing as a body that isn’t real.

All bodies are real. Even the ones that look really unfamiliar and strange compared to your own. What’s fake is the expectation that every body is capable of looking a certain way if only you work hard enough at it.

Problem #3


I don’t necessarily mean your body is fiiiiiiine. Although it probably is, however difficult it is for you to see it.

What I mean is that your body is OK. Even if you are not happy with it yourself, right now. It’s acceptable. No matter what it looks like. The sight of your body is not going to strike innocent children dead or induce uncontrollable vomiting in anyone who sees you. This just doesn’t happen.

At worst, someone might say something mean on purpose. And frankly, anyone who tries to make you feel like crap about being outside in a swimsuit is a terrible, terrible person and therefore not worth your attention.

I’ll admit that I’m totally biased on this subject, as I love the beach. One of the things I love most about public beaches is the incredible diversity of bodies you can see there, bodies of all shapes and sizes, from elderly folks to stretchmarked moms to skinny and insecure teenage boys to joyfully potbellied toddlers.

I even live on a beach. And I go out on that beach for at least a little bit almost every day from June through August. I go to other beaches as well, whenever I can. I also have a body that is like WAY WAY WAY far away from what a “beach body” is allegedly supposed to look like.

And you know what? NOBODY CARES. Even in South Florida, where plastic surgery is way more common than it is in eastern Massachusetts, nobody cares. Nobody really cares what my body looks like.

And even if they did, it’s none of their business, and I am not about to let the unwelcome opinions of strangers dictate where I can and cannot go and what I am and am not allowed to wear.

A couple years ago I wrote this post for xoJane, in which I offer advice for getting over the “beach body” obsession -- I think it was the second or third thing I ever wrote for this site. I mean, it’s kind of short and not real thinky in retrospect, but I did have the smarts to say, “I have a beach body. It’s this one, the one I take to the beach,” and that much is still true.

Work it out if you want, or feed yourself a certain way because it makes you feel good, but don’t let not doing these things limit your confidence or your ability to go out and buy a damn swimsuit and go to a beach.

Because you already have a beach body. All it needs is the beach.