Sunday, 3 April 2016

Why Bikini Body Diets Need To Die

We all know how this summer thing works. The sun comes out, and with it comes the looming presence of swimwear season. We're swarmed by adverts for juice detoxes, ab workouts and magical lotions and potions guaranteed to transform us into sun swept Goddesses (and all we have to do is give up our money, time and self esteem, seems reasonable...). Before we've even packed away our oversized jumpers the quest has begun, the annual panic to reach that Holy Grail - the Bikini Body.

Now let's be honest for a moment, anybody who's ever bought into the idea of the bikini body (which I'm willing to bet is most of us), has probably experienced the same thing. Hunger, misery, preoccupation with food, missing out on social events, wasted money on products that don't work and inevitably, failure
-  by diet industry standards anyway, the truth is that you're never a failure for giving up a restrictive and punishing routine that you're set up to fail anyway (95% of diets don't work, how else would they get so many repeat customers?). But that doesn't stop us. We still genuinely believe that:

  1. The bikini body of our dreams is attainable, if we just work hard enough for it, and
  2. The bikini body is an uncompromising requirement for enjoying summer

And it's pretty easy to understand why we think that way, between the single body type represented by swimwear companies, those awful Special K adverts targeting women with high doses of summer body anxiety, and last years disgustingly manipulative 'are you beach body ready' posters by Protein World (which badass bopo babes protested against across London, check it out here.) The pressure is everywhere, and the diet industry makes billions from it - estimated yearly profits of weight loss companies in the US ALONE often rank at about 60 billion dollars. That's a whole lot of people desperately giving everything they can for the promise of happiness at the end of the diet brick road.

For a lot of years I bought into it too. I starved myself. I tortured myself. I spent sunny days locked away inside doing workout DVDs until I could barely stand. I missed out on countless memories and made hundreds of excuses because I truly believed that I didn't deserve summer, not in the body I had. Not until I was lean and toned and a perfect size 10, THEN I would let myself enjoy it. THEN I could be seen in a bikini. THEN I could make those memories. But summer didn't wait for my body to shrink. The diets that I stuck to only gave me the results I wanted by the time the sun was going down and the days at the beach were ending. And the weight came back thicker and faster every time. The diets I didn't stick to only made me more ashamed, more guilt ridden, more convinced of what a hideous failure I was, all the more incentive to stay indoors.

It took me a long time to realise that my body is just not supposed to be a size 10. My stomach is just not supposed to be washboard flat. My actual 'ideal' looks a hell of a lot different from the cultural 'ideal' we're all being sold. Think about your ideal body for a moment... Now think about what it would really take for you to embody it. Crash diets? Detoxes? Overexercising? Diet pills? Surgery? Disordered eating? Pressure? Guilt? Misery? CONSTANT UNRELENTING HUNGER? If all those things are a part of your dream body, how the hell could anybody call it 'ideal'? The only people it's really ideal for are the diet industry moguls going home with millions made from the tears we shed standing over our bathroom scales.

Screw them. We are not all supposed to look the same. We CANNOT all look the same, no matter how much we torment ourselves. After every diet of my adult life my body has always come back to the same point, my soft, strong, and safe size 12/14. We all have that 'set point' weight, the one we settle at when we're just living life, not actively dieting, not obsessing about food, nothing disordered or forced, just being. It's the weight our bodies are happiest at, despite our (socially influenced) minds screaming that it's not good enough. We should be able to embrace whatever that body is without sacrificing our mental health chasing something we're not designed to be. (p.s. 'set points' are a real thing, with tonnes of clinical studies backing them up and explaining why we always 'fail' at diets, check out Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon to end your diet guilt for good).

Last summer was the first of me embracing my body as it is. I didn't look how the model looked wearing my brand new bikini. I didn't fake laugh in the sun wearing a red dress and holding onto a tiny bowel of dinner cereal pretending I was satisfied (seriously, Special K, two meals a day of cereal isn't nourishment, it's starvation, and it tastes like cardboard). And I wasn't beach body ready, according to Protein World. But I had the best summer since my carefree childhood years. The kind that disproved every lie I'd ever believed about bikini bodies and 'deserving' summer. The kind with tan lines and icecream and double chin inducing laughter (the best kind).

We all deserve summer, regardless of the body we experience it in. We all deserve to wear what we want, eat what we want, go where we want and make those hazy, sea salt tinged memories. So take a stand and stop buying into the toxic culture that tells us otherwise. You don't need a summer body diet, the body that's carried you through all the other seasons is already good enough. The only thing you'll gain this year from yet another bikini detox is unhappiness, guilt, hunger, and in the end, all the weight back anyway. Just live. Just trust your body, prioritise your mental health, and take. Summer. Back.

And whatever you do, never buy anything from Protein World.