Sunglasses and an oversized sun hat? Check! Flip flops on and several books tucked under my arm? Check! Covered from head to toe in factor 50? Check! Somehow I think this isn’t quite what the advert has in mind…
Bombarded by billboards of a bikini-clad woman, staring me down in challenge about whether I have my ‘beach body ready’ – I don’t – doesn’t do much for my morning commute. Nor the evening one, come to think of it.
On the website it is suggested that I could look like that in a bikini if only I drank ‘the finest, non-GMO quality ingredients’. I could also boost my metabolism and be in that yellow bikini in time for July – but it will cost me.
The fact that yellow doesn’t suit my pale English complexion isn’t the only reason this isn’t happening.
Because you know what? I like cake. I enjoy being able to eat a bacon and egg roll for breakfast with a latte, or two. I want to eat a McDonald’s meal with my accountability partner while we chat over our most embarrassing confessions and most heartfelt dilemmas. I also like exercise (mostly) and feeling good about myself, so I try, at least vaguely, to balance these out. But it’s highly unlikely I shall have an advert-worthy ‘beach body’ ready come this summer. Good on the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for introducing a ban on these ‘unhealthy and unrealistic‘ body images.
When I see this advert, my mind begins to whirr – if I don’t look like that on the beach, what will I look like? It’s a dilemma both men and women have battled for many years, although generally speaking, men are less concerned with how they look in bikinis. At the swimming baths or on the beach, my awareness is heightened and I’m critical. I see others around me with bodies that the advert deems not ‘beach ready’. And, in my mind, I’m shouting encouragement. I am inspired by their confidence and in awe of their ability to walk unhindered by media expectations.
I’m envious of them, because I don’t apply any of this to me. I see myself and I wonder which bits other people are critiquing, even though I’m too busy being self-critical to notice others’ imperfections: I’m happy as long as they’re a) wearing some swimwear (European holiday scars…) and b) enjoying themselves.
So often when we look in the mirror, we notice our less beautiful parts. The bags under our eyes; the stretch marks; the hair; the bits that just aren’t quite perfect. We focus on our imperfections.
When I look at my friends, is this what I see? Absolutely not! I see a kind smile and eyes that sparkle when they talk about their passions. I see dimples, I see laughter lines; what a great reason to have lines. While I do occasionally talk to myself in the mirror, I don’t get to see my face light up with joy, as I hope it does on occasion. It’s hard to see how beautiful you really are if you only see yourself a few times a day in the mirror under a neon strip light.
I was at the start of marital separation a few years ago, and during this time I was told I was beautiful many times. It’s not a point of pride; my life was falling to bits with my confidence at an all-time low. These words from friends were a huge boost and the more I heard it, the more I began to believe it, despite my circumstances. It helped me to think that it might be true, and started to give my self-confidence back. Whether or not I think so now – and some days I do and some days I don’t – it was an incredible encouragement.
When I remember how aware I am of my own imperfections, I realise that’s what others see about themselves, too. These are the reasons I’m a big believer in the compliment. Let’s tell people their eyes are an amazing colour; that their smile cheers up our day; that what they’re wearing really suits them. Let’s be people who boost our friends’ and colleagues’ self-esteem, because we all need a little bit of that.
Am I beach body ready? Maybe not as the advert suggests. Actually, there’s no ‘maybe’ about it. But I am going to walk down the beach and get into the pool with confidence, because God says I am beautifully made – even when I don’t feel like it. I’m going to walk with my head high because I have a character in constant refinement to be more beautiful and more like Jesus. I will dare to get into a swimming costume because it’s a stunning combination of purple and turquoise and because I like going for a swim. And then I shall enjoy an ice cream, or two. Alright, three.
This post was originally published on Threads in April 2015.