Lessons from trying to attain a summer beach body…and failing miserably

Summer is almost officially here. Got that toned and tan body you were hoping to kick off the season with?

Don’t worry; I don’t either.

It seems physical fitness, especially for women, revolves around the summer season. We’ve all seen the internet ads and magazine cover lines:

Work off that winter weight and get ready for summer!

Your best body—get sexier by summer

The Ultimate Beach Body Workout

How exactly did getting in shape become so concentrated on a timespan of three months?

I get it: we want to feel beautiful and confident in our own skin. We want to be able to exchange our winter sweaters for tank tops and shorts without feeling uncomfortable exposing more of our bodies. But why does the changing of seasons have to become another competition, another fight to attain a nearly impossible standard?

As a female, it is so easy to get lured into wanting to look the way culture says we should—no matter how many times I tell myself I am happy with my body. But recently I stopped to ask myself: What’s this all for anyway? Why am I worried about looking a certain way for the summer? And how often will I actually be at a beach or a pool?

Last weekend, I spent an afternoon on a beach along Lake Michigan with some friends. We enjoyed lunch together on our beach towels, lounged around in the sun having life chats, and dared each other to submerge ourselves in the freezing cold lake water. As I soaked in this time with friends at the beach, I took in the wide array of people also spending their Saturday lakeside. Kids. Couples. Friends playing volleyball. Sunbathers. Parents playing in the sand with their kids.

Naturally, I noticed the varied physiques of these individuals I saw as well. But not once did I consciously care about whether these people had “summer beach bodies.” All I really noticed was that, like me, they seemed to be having a good time. And truthfully, I doubt any of the hundreds of people on the beach that day cared to think about whether or not I had a ready-for-summer body either.

It’s funny because a few months ago I firmly decided I was not going to let my exercise routine become about looking good in a bathing suit for the summer. I will not get sucked into obsessing about achieving a certain body type for the summer, I resolved proudly. Take that, society. You’re not making me captive to your standards this time.

Flash forward to this past weekend when I sat on my beach towel applying sunscreen to my arms and chest. You know, I would look so much better if I had more color, I thought to myself. I looked down at my thighs, pasty white from lack of sun exposure. I determined then that I was going to get gorgeously tan that afternoon at the beach, and I snapped the sunscreen bottle shut. My alternative, spur-of-the-moment plan to attain a stunning beach body seemed brilliant.

It seemed brilliant, that is, until a few hours later when one of my friends said, “Sara, your skin is looking really red.” I brushed off her comment. “It’s fine!” I said. I was going to leave that beach looking sun-kissed and beautiful. A little extra sun never hurt anyone.

Haha. Let me tell you what does hurt—when your legs get so sunburned that it hurts to sit in the car on the drive home from the beach, and your swimsuit outline is burned blazing bright red onto the flesh of your back for all the world to see.

I thought I had laughed in the face of culture’s beauty standards by realizing their pettiness. I thought I had stood up defiantly to their lies. Until I still somehow ended up falling into their trap—and in great need of some aloe vera gel.

At the end of the day, ladies (and gentlemen), there really is no one to impress. We want to feel good about ourselves, and so we’ll latch onto anything we think might feed the part of our hearts that crave affirmation. We grow up thinking that if we perform well enough and prove ourselves enough, we’ll be loved and worthy of love. But worthiness is not something we earn; it’s something we are.

What achieving a summer beach body is about is achieving the unyielding knowledge that we are beautiful, lovely, and worthy. But there is nothing society can tell us to do that will finally make us realize our value. Because isn’t that what this is all about—discovering our identities and knowing who we are?

Fellow human beings longing to know we are okay, are we worthy, lovely, and beautiful?

The answer is a resounding yes.

It will take an entire lifetime of repeating that to myself for it to finally sink in, but I will keep repeating it for as long as is necessary. Because it’s about so much more than achieving a beautiful body. It’s about knowing who I am. And who I am is settled. I am worthy; I am enough.

Now…sunscreen, anyone? 🙂

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