This summer, Life&Style editor Tara Kergon encourages body positivity and a celebration of diversity instead of attempts to fit ideals of perfection
Summer is in the air, and along with the tempting wafts of sunshine-laden breeze disturbing my attempts at staying focussed, a perennial anxiety is disturbing my joyous anticipation of dusting off the bikini and denim cut-offs: is my body summer ready? For as long as I can remember being aware of having a body the impending arrival of summer has brought with it a slew of get-fit beach-body fixes, on-trend diets and ways to tone up before daring to step out in a swimsuit.
And it’s not just the pressure to diet which makes summer somewhat stressful; anyone who has what could be considered “flaws” – from scars to stretch marks to skin conditions – inevitably finds it easier to hide away in winter layers and dreads shedding them. Surrounded by photo-shopped images of ‘perfection’ in magazines, highly edited and staged Instagram posts, and some strange societal belief that there is a certain way to look before we may feel confident, it’s easy to get suckered in to the in vogue diets, becoming a gym bunny to tone up, or simply hiding away the less socially acceptable parts.
But maybe 2018 is the year to try and challenge some of that old anxiety without altering our bodies. I’m certainly not recommending the best way to get in shape, or how to conceal and reveal only the parts of our bodies which fit the ideals of conventional beauty. And perhaps I’m not the only one who thinks it’s time to start celebrating the wide variety of human bodies as all equally beautiful, flaws and all, with imperfections becoming our own individual perfections. Clothing brand Missguided’s latest campaign is entitled ‘#makeyourmark’, and not only features models who don’t conform to what the world perceives as perfection, but pledges not to use retouching software on them – in the campaign’s own words: “f*ck perfection, it doesn’t exist” (missguided.co.uk/campaign/make-your-mark).
This campaign, part of their continued #keeponbeingyou movement, features women of colour, women who would otherwise be labelled ‘plus-size’, and celebrates them, along with perceived imperfections such as cellulite and stretch marks. They have also collaborated with artist @sarashakeel to create ‘glittermark’ images where glitter is edited into stretch marks to prove that they do not remove a woman’s beauty. If there is one bone I have to pick with the campaign however, it is the labelling of divergent body types as flawed, implying still that there is something incorrect about them. Don’t get me wrong, celebrating the diverse beauty of women (and humans in general) is still so important, but I feel they’ve missed a trick or two.
Whilst stretch marks and cellulite were shown, the recent passing of mental health awareness week opened my eyes to the fact that even in campaigns celebrating all kinds of “flaws” there is rarely any representation of people with self-harm scars – despite the fact that it is an issue affecting around 13% of young people (selfharm.org.uk). While this of course crosses into breaking the mental health stigma as well as celebrating diversity in the human body, extending the kind of positive representation which Missguided are presenting could make so much difference. And it could be even more valuable to extend the campaign from proving that so-called flaws are beautiful (through glittermarks, representation, or celebration) to asking why exactly we must be beautiful in the first place. Not everything has to translate to being pretty in order to be valid.
In short, as this summer approaches and we all start showing off a little more skin I believe it’s time to set aside the idea that it is necessary to get ‘in shape’ – the body comes in myriad forms and all of them are beautiful. To get a beach body there are really only two steps: one, have a body; two, step onto the sand and have some fun! And, however hard it may be, individually we will do ourselves much more good if we accept our bodies for what they are, instead of criticising them for what they are not. They carry us around each day, allow us to meet friends, fall in love, or simply eat an entire domino’s pizza without exploding. Finally, if anyone else decides to comment on your size, your shape, your scars, or anything else, remember that you weren’t put here to please other people, and the kind who make those comments aren’t worth the time of day. Because the truth is that there really is no wrong way to have a body – in winter, summer, or any other day of the year.