The 18-year-old Billie Eilish recently spoke quite frankly with GQ about something I know a lot of women can really identify with: the impact her body image has on her fashion choices.
Regrettably, my body image affected my own choices and happiness for many years of my life. I have a collection of should-have-been fond memories from my teenage years that are tainted by feelings of guilt and self-hatred. I was so uncomfortable with my body that I was never fully present. I was caught up in how I looked, how I felt and whether I was eating too much. For some time, these thoughts occupied my brain year-round but, before it got to that point, and for the years after I began to heal that relationship with myself, these thoughts were ruled by the seasons.
I don’t remember when I became aware of my body; how it looked, how it moved, how it changed depending on what I ate. Equally, I don’t know when these thoughts started dictating my life – not just what I wore and what I ate, but also what I did, where I went, and whether I enjoyed it or not. One thing I do remember is the cycle in which these thoughts presented themselves to me.
Every year, as the weather gets hotter, and the ‘six weeks bikini body blasts’ resurface on the front page of every tabloid, that awareness of my body cuts right in line to the forefront of my mind. And it’s no surprise: summer is the time for shorts, bikinis, beach holidays and festivals. It’s for jetting off to countries so hot that wearing jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt wouldn’t be too dissimilar to setting off on a planned excursion to hell. It’s the only time of year where you can’t hide your body, you can't hide from yourself.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with summer. On one hand, it’s undeniably the best time of year – when the sun is out and a wave of happiness somehow unites the nation. It’s easy to see summer as the most care-free season. But, I’ve been fighting with the pressure to conform to the norm of getting ‘summer-ready’ for years. Even now, when I pride myself on having a decent relationship with my body, food and exercise, the summer months never fail to reopen the box inside my head filled with recycled ‘fitspiration’ quotes and pictures of Instagram models with bikini sponsorship deals.
This year has been different, though. Among the chaos that has been the UK’s response to COVID-19 and a lockdown originally predicted to last until October, the need for a summer body was taken away, along with any plans for a Mediterranean getaway or mass, public sunbathing. Without that entirely manufactured need for a summer body, those negative thoughts about how my legs look in shorts began to dissolve. With them, the idea that my body wasn’t worthy of shorts, whether I’d been dieting or not, slowly melted away.
The idea that your body isn't right for summer unless it's smaller and fitter has wormed its way into our general psyche, especially for women, even if you haven't given a second thought - let alone a negative one – to how your body looked from September to April. I have found freedom from this though by realising it was rooted in the need to impress – or, in fact, to not offend – the people who see us. This concept is entrenched in systemic fatphobia and works only to oppress and stigmatise bodies that don’t fit society’s standard of attraction. It’s a manufactured tool to preoccupy our brains and sell weight loss products like exercise regimes and meal-replacement shakes.
This idea has ruled many of my summers, where I’ve either conformed and spent energy on losing weight and slimming down only to feel no different, or I’ve tainted countless memories of trips to the beach and adventures in new places by only thinking about how I looked, wearing uncomfortable clothes to hide my body and even turning down plans. But not this year.
It’s time to drop the summer body narrative and look after ourselves year-round.
Written by Ella Glover
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