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Summer is now well and truly upon us and with socialising once again on the cards, many people are starting to feel pressured to achieve a so-called ‘summer body’.
The terms ‘summer body’ and ‘bikini body’ are ones that are often thrown around at this time of year, as if any body type that isn’t toned and tanned simply ceases to exist through the months of June to September.
The notion that there is a body type better suited with going out in summer or wearing a swimsuit is completely ridiculous, but while it’s often easy to accept this on a rational level, it can be a different story when our social media feeds are filled with images of the well-sculpted bodies often associated with the terms.
With this in mind, it’s little surprise that 78% of Gen Z admit feeling pressured to get ‘summer body ready’, while 41% of Brits overall feel the same way.
A survey of 2000 UK adults conducted by OnePoll also found that it is popular culture’s portrayal of bodies that makes 28% of us feel self-conscious, with 32% of Gen Z feeling unrepresented in the media, while 26% of the same generation are made to feel anxious about the way their bodies ‘should’ look.
Meg Garrod, a 22-year-old Self-Love Illustrator from Lincolnshire, was just nine or 10 years old when she first became aware of the perceived ‘ideal body’ in the media, where she noted ‘massive pressure to be thin from the television, magazines, even just society in general’, telling UNILAD: ‘there was a clearly engrained fat bias.’
Meg was bullied in primary school for her weight, and as a result, began to believe she ‘would be treated better and have more friends’ if she was smaller.
At just 12 years old she started to feel like she should be restricting her food, and the negative thoughts she had towards her body continued throughout her teenage years.
Meg told UNILAD:
Growing up I faced a lot of body shaming, both online and in person. I was bullied throughout my school life, not just from my peers at school but I even came to find out that even the parents of those children were body shaming me at 10 years old.
Once I moved on to secondary school a lot of the bullying moved online to where I would receive anonymous comments telling me to lose weight, that I would never be beautiful or loved and it even went as far as being told to take my own life because I was fat.
Although conversations surrounding body positivity and inclusivity in the media have become more common in recent years, internet users still appear to be going out of their way to find better influences online, with Pinterest data showing searches for ‘healthy mindset’ quotes have multiplied by 13 between May 2020 and May 2021.
Meanwhile, searches for ‘stop body-shaming quotes’ have multiplied by five, ‘body acceptance quotes’ have increased by seven times, and searches for the term ‘body neutrality’ have increased by five times.
Body neutrality is the philosophy that you should focus on what your body can do for you rather than what it looks like, and the increase in searches suggests that rather than content which celebrates a certain type of body, users are more interested in celebrating bodies in general.
Surrounding herself with more positive influences online helped Meg learn to love her body; a process she began in college when she came across the concept of body positivity on social media.
The 22-year-old recalled creating an art project which celebrated all bodies, and was both surprised and inspired to find all the bodies being represented on Pinterest when she searched for ‘self love art’.
Meg began following people on social media with bodies like her own and surrounded herself with friends who encouraged her to love herself the way she was.
Loving my body has definitely been a journey, it’s taken years and there are still ups and downs but I think the main thing that helped me was surrounding myself with people who accepted me and taking toxic influences out of my life.
It was a real turning point for me as I began to realise that my body is the LEAST interesting thing about me!!
Now, when it comes to the term ‘summer body’, Meg acknowledges it’s a ‘toxic idea that insinuates you have to look a certain way to enjoy summer.’
She commented: ‘Especially after such a hard year, where a lot of our bodies have changed; I think it’s more important than ever to love ourselves how we are and go out and enjoy summer no matter your size and shape. Wear that swimwear and go have some fun!!’
Taking into account search data and the influence of social media on mental health, Pinterest has announced an updated weight loss ad policy which prohibits ads including weight loss language and imagery, testimonials regarding weight loss or weight loss products, and content referencing Body Mass Index (BMI) or similar indexes.
The new policy also prohibits any language or imagery which idealises or denigrates certain body types, as well as any products that claim weight loss through something worn or applied to the skin.
The move will no doubt go a long way towards helping users avoid content that could prove damaging towards self-perception, though Meg has noted that ‘you can’t expect to feel confident in yourself everyday’.
She stressed that self-love is ‘definitely a journey’, and the key is to ‘make sure you’re being kind to yourself’ by talking to yourself in a positive or uplifting way like you would with a friend, as well as working on removing negative thoughts about yourself.
Meg praised Pinterest for helping people with their body image, noting that although mainstream media often presents an ‘overwhelming amount of toxic beauty standards and body shaming’, there are many body-positive internet users who ‘post real photos of their bodies and themselves living unapologetically’; something Meg herself found inspiring as she was growing up.
Where viewing content that is ‘promoting toxic beauty standards, weight loss or dieting’ can put Meg in a ‘really negative headspace’, following accounts that promote self-love has given her the confidence to post about her own journey with body positivity and even share photos of her own body.
She explained: ‘I show my stretch marks, cellulite, scars and body hair on social media as a way to encourage others to celebrate how amazing, unique and powerful our bodies are.’
Meg acknowledged that despite there being ‘so many amazing people talking about body positivity’, pressures surrounding body image still remain within mainstream media in TV, magazines and adverts which promote ‘unrealistic beauty standards and only represent a certain body type.’
The 22-year-old expressed her belief that there needs to be a complete overhaul that sees ‘all types of bodies represented in a positive way’ and therefore help combat society’s ‘ingrained fatphobia’.
As the world opens up and we continue to enjoy warm weather, being surrounded by body-positive influences will be key in helping to eliminate pressure to live up to perceived ideals and often unrealistic standards presented across pop culture.
The large amount of people still feeling the need to achieve a ‘summer body’ indicates there is a long way to go in changing perceptions about body image, but as Meg points out, it is key to remember you do not need a certain type of body in order to enjoy the summer months.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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