Now that summer has been officially kicked off, I think it’s an appropriate time for a post about that symbol of the season, the beach. As soon as April rolls around we are slammed with images of women in bathing suits flaunting their perfect bodies. Images of gorgeous, glowing, copper skin, and the accompanying headlines such as “Get Your Best Beach Body” or “Slim Down for Summer” stare out at us from the magazine racks at the grocery store, segments on the news, ads on Facebook, and about everywhere else. The message is that before stepping foot on the sand, you must mold yourself into a beach goddess, you must be worthy of summer. If you choose not to follow the advice being shouted at you, well you just shouldn’t even bother to pull that bathing suit back out of the drawer come Memorial day. Nobody wants to see you, the beach doesn’t want you, and you aren’t allowed to participate in all the summer fun, at least that’s what the media tells us.
I happen to live near the beach and I love it. I am however not tan, or blonde, or comfortable walking around town in a bikini or even in shorts. I spent most of my teen years trying to be thinner, bronzer, blonder (if you have black hair do not use Sun-in, take it from me!) all because I wanted to be allowed into the fantasy. I wanted to feel like I could lay in the sand and be accepted, be one of those girls who is carefree in a bikini, who spends the summer playing in the sun, her skin turning brown, her hair tousled and wavy with sea salt. But, no matter how hard I tried, it could never be me. We’re sold these standards of beauty, and when we don’t meet them, we feel like we don’t deserve the pleasure that comes with those iconic images. There are other examples of this, of course, but the beach beauty seems to be the most prevalent in our culture.
I’ve spent way too many years hiding in t-shirts or men’s board shorts on the beach, but at a certain point I just stopped caring. The thing is that I love the beach, I love the sun, the smell of the ocean, and the waves, so what if my legs are whiter than the sand, or if I look out-of-place with my dimpled legs and un-highlighted hair. When I’m on the beach, it’s about staring at the sky, and listening to the sea and enjoying myself, it’s my time, and why should I let anyone else ruin that for me? The funny thing is that the more I’ve sat on the beach and looked around, I’ve noticed that nobody else really cares either. No one is looking at me, if you’re the jerk who goes to the beach to make-fun of other people’s bodies, well then you’re really missing out on what summer is all about. For the most part, whether you’re a hot girl in a string bikini or a middle-aged man in a Speedo, you’re just doing your thing, loving life and happy to be in a beautiful place, I don’t think anyone should be denied that pleasure, beach body or not.
I still wear shorts to the beach sometimes, but it’s more about not wanting to deal with the stress of worrying than it is about caring what other people think. Usually I end up taking them off, because when I look around, I see every kind of body, and they’re all so beautiful. I’m always saddened to see a teenager on the beach in an over-sized t-shirt, because I know that those headlines have gotten to them, and that a little of the joy of the season has been taken away. I hope that one day, they’ll lose the t-shirt, and look around to see that no one was even watching, and the summer has welcomed them with open arms, no matter what they look like in a bathing suit.