Is it possible to take a stand against something you don’t even believe in?
Beach bodies. The pressure to get one. I do not understand it. I am unable even to muster up the will to feel coerced by the concept in the first place.
The announcement of the clock ticking on your attempts to get beach ready is a common harbinger of summer by now. Summer no longer just happens. It requires preparation. We must whittle, exfoliate, shave, and pluck. Needless to say, we should be watching what we are eating. All this, in order to get ourselves into some sort of beach-acceptable shape. God forbid that anyone would dare to just (imagine it) buy a bikini and get on the beach. We are not beach appropriate, goes the thinking, until we have harangued ourselves into some manner of physical perfection.
What utter nonsense.
I holiday in the sun every year. In Marbella, as it happens, a location you might imagine is a virtual paean to the body-beautiful aesthetic.
In fact, I view my few weeks here every summer as the lowest point in my self-maintenance routine, such as that is.
For me, the idea of holidays as the time in which to accelerate grooming, to intensify the pressure to achieve a physical condition other than that in which we find ourselves right now, is totally counter-intuitive. A holiday is a break. A reprieve from the load of real life.
This year I have been slightly led astray by my four year old’s love of getting dressed up, but typically, I bring two strapless sun dresses purchased years ago in Penneys, cut off denim shorts, an XL men’s Oxford shirt, flip flops, and swim suits. The kind of clothes I won’t mind getting covered in sun cream. Occasionally upon packing, I will eye something fancier, but then put it aside. Even the enjoyment of dressing up benefits from a break every now and again. None of this is letting myself go, it is simply just a form of letting go; of routine, of stress, of worry. Surely the point of holidays?
The idea that we would expect ourselves to be at the height of our physical condition during a holiday seems ludicrous. Holidays are for eating ice cream and pasta, for sitting on beaches, sweaty and covered in sand.
Similarly, the notion of actually upping whatever your beauty regime is on your break is baffling. I barely bother bringing make-up on holiday, preferring a light tan a few days in. In the heat, what is the point? So much nicer to give this side of life a rest, only to come back to it with gusto post-holiday. I’m currently away, we’ve been here a week and I’ve shampooed my hair once. I’m swimming every day, its fiiiiiiine.
None of this is to suggest a life lived above the fray of physical policing and self-regulation of oneself. I can clearly remember the first time I felt unhappy with my body. I managed to get to eighteen. It was post leaving cert, after a year spent sitting at a desk, studying, eating endless rounds of toast. I was sitting in the car with my mum, and I could feel my stomach rolling out above the waist of my jeans. I don’t remember being particularly bothered by it.
Perfectionism certainly never came into it.
Then in the run up to getting married, for several months I trained three times a week and committed to a pretty strict diet. It was the first time I had really monitored myself in this way, watched my food input, and noticed the physical changes that resulted. For me, this was only ever a finite way of living, not maintainable on a long-term basis. I don’t see how such stringency is ever anything but something that comes with a sell-by-date. But it did leave me with a once-achieved standard against which I still, to my chagrin, measure myself.
The problem is that once you have set yourself that standard, experienced your peak physical self, so to speak, it can be hard to feel that anything else is good enough. I have seen it time and time again with models I have worked with, who engaged in some manner of extreme clean eating regime. When, inevitably, they return to a more measured approach to food, they are left with an unease in themselves. Most likely still young twenty-something-year-olds, they now feel as if their natural, happy medium physical self, is in fact overweight.
Beaches for everybody
In talking about her attitude to food, writer Dolly Alderton once told the Irish Times “once you get into a habit of unhealthy eating to feel a sense of control, and you see your body changing, if you do that for more than a couple of weeks, you’re in a prison for life. It will always be there.”
All of this is to say that striving for perfection in a physical sense is merely setting oneself up for a lifetime of struggle. At the least, our holidays should be free of such worries.
Our apartment, as it happens, is right beside Nicky Beach Club, a high alter, if ever there was one, to physical perfection. Or so you would think. But no.
In Spain, beaches are for everybody. Every. Body. On our stretch of beach there are big bodies, tiny bodies. Pendulous bodies. Bodies that sag, perky bodies, tight ones, taught ones. Lean, hard bodies, soft, dimpled bodies. Huge grandfathers with tree trunk legs and rolls of flesh play with tiny, juicy toddlers. Perfectly pert teenage lovers stroll the beach entwined. Postpartum mothers with broad, barrelled stomachs hoist children onto their hips. Maybe it’s the climate. So used to the beach (every weekend it fills with three-generation family groups) they clearly wouldn’t dream of putting pressure on themselves to attain some sort of peak physical condition before getting on the beach. They just do it.
Maybe our current heat wave might encourage us to something similar? Perfectionism has no place in a bikini.