If you look up “how to get a beach body” on Google, you’ll find countless articles, blogs and videos that offer quick fixes and tips for losing weight in a short period of time. These articles suggest diets, exercise tips and pills to burn fat faster. They’ll tell you that you’ll see results after just a few weeks. All of this is to achieve the “ideal” summer-ready body.
The “ideal” body to have during the summer is known by many names, such as a beach body, summer body or bikini body. Women are expected to shave and look tan, thin, and muscular, but not so muscular they don’t look feminine. Men are expected to look tan, fit, muscular, and have clean-shaven faces.
“A summer/beach body is a subjective way to make people, typically women, however not [exclusive] to women, feel bad about their bodies. The media represents the perfect beach body as skinny, toned, tan, and picture-perfect,” Layla Riley, a junior at Lincoln Southeast High School (LSE) said.
The idea of a summer body is to lose weight, get rid of extra fat and develop muscles a few months before summer to look good in summer attire such as bathing suits and shorts. Websites suggest workout routines, fasted cardio and diets to achieve this overall goal, all while setting unrealistic deadlines. Some sites say that you can see results within six weeks.
The problem with the beach body concept is the idea that you can develop a perfect body after over-exercising and dieting for a few weeks. The truth is, it will take a regular exercise routine and healthy eating habits to see a long-lasting, substantial difference.
LSE sophomore Katarina Ward said that she has tried to get a beach body in the past.
“I’ve done a lot of things to get a summer body, but nothing ever really worked. No amount of dieting or exercising really made a difference for me,” Ward said. “I never reached my goal when I was specifically trying to get the summer body. This kind of took the whole ‘I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough’ mindset to an extreme. I honestly would have done anything to reach my goal at that point in time, because of how much I hated my body.”
The beach body mindset can be incredibly detrimental to one’s mental and physical health. Articles suggesting diets and exercise routines give “shortcuts” to losing weight. In truth, you can’t cut corners to lose weight long-term. Losing weight takes time and healthy habits.
According to Medical Doctor (MD) Marcio Griebeler at Cleveland Clinic, “When you lose weight too quickly, your body slows down its calorie-burning process,” explains Dr. Griebeler. “That is your body’s way of trying to ensure you don’t starve. You might lose a good amount of weight right away, but your metabolism quickly goes into survival mode. The change in your metabolism is a key reason why people regain weight after trying rapid weight loss plans. When you go back to eating a regular diet, your metabolism isn’t used to that many calories — and the pounds come back.”
You may lose some weight after going on a strict weight loss diet for a couple of weeks before summer, but that weight loss will rebound once you start to eat normally again. Many people aren’t able to reach their summer body goal in the timeframe fitness influencers set for them. However, it’s not the people to blame; it’s the unrealistic idea that you can lose weight and body fat and suddenly look “perfect” within six weeks.
The summer body mindset can discourage a person from setting long-term fitness goals because they might feel that they will never be able to lose weight and that they might as well give up. It will make them less likely to try making long-term healthy changes because they might feel like their efforts are futile. But to see a long-term difference, they have to practice healthy habits and set long-lasting goals.
Fitness influencers that promote a beach body often promote losing body fat. Modern-day society views body fat as unhealthy. While having too much body fat can increase your risk of heart diseases and diabetes, the idea of cutting out all possible body fat is not healthy either. Having sufficient body fat keeps you warm, gives you energy, supports reproductive health, and more.
According to an article on WebMD.com, reviewed by Dr. Michael W. Smith, women need at least 10 to 12 percent body fat, and men need at least 2 to 4 percent to sustain normal metabolic and hormonal functions. That is essential fat. However, the percentage of fat needed to be healthy can increase depending on weight and exercise habits.
The beach body standard can push people to extremes in an attempt to look perfect and society doesn’t help. Although it’s unintentional, society can pressure someone to continue strict dieting and over-exercising because they think that the person is making a healthy improvement. In reality, it can be extremely unhealthy and dangerous.
“I know several girls who have/had eating disorders purely because they’re trying to have a summer body,” Ward said. “I’ve seen them refuse to eat for days on end, or force themselves to be sick after eating. Even though these girls clearly were struggling, it seemed like other people were encouraging them because they would say ‘whatever you’re doing is working’. That really made those girls keep doing these bad things because they were so obsessed with having a beach body.”
Alexis Swanson, a sophomore at LSE, is one of many who struggled with trying to obtain the perfect beach body. She said the experience was awful and that she was constantly exhausted from the workouts she did and sick from the constant change in diet.
“There was this program for the summertime to get a fit body. It was called the ‘ten-week challenge’, where you try to see who can lose the most weight in your fitness class. I was just 15, and they had me coming into the gym to work out every single day,” Swanson said. “On top of that, they had me, just a teen, log every single food I ate. I couldn’t go above a certain amount of carbs, sugar, fat, or calories. It was awful. I’d hear from my family members, ‘oh you look so much better’. Let’s just say I quit the program about a month in. I wasn’t feeling like myself and felt constantly sick. Even today, I still feel off.”
Today, more fitness influencers promote healthier habits. However, the influence of social media and societal standards still promote the beach body. Society still values thin, toned physiques.
“I think that the ideal beach body is extremely detrimental to every aspect of someone’s life, and even though some people are trying to fix or change that in some way, it’s always going to happen,” Ward said.
Lily Rippeteau, a senior at LSE who also strived to have the perfect beach body in the past said, “I did not reach my goal, because my goal was unattainable. I wasn’t going to get the smaller upper body that I was looking for, because my shoulders and ribs weren’t going to shrink. I wasn’t going to get the shape of butt I thought I wanted because my genetics don’t carry weight in my legs. Not reaching my goal, however, made me think there was something wrong with my body, and there never was to begin with.”
Just because you can’t obtain the ideal beach body doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your body. The beach body concept supports the idea that you can shape your body and that you should suddenly be curvy or muscular.
Swanson said, “The “beach body” mentality needs to go away. It’s especially harming teens. When someone wants the “perfect body” they may do it in an unhealthy way.”
The beach body mentality is an unhealthy standard that causes people to set unrealistic goals to achieve society’s definition of perfect. At the end of the day, all bodies are different and beautiful in their own way and there is no one set definition of beautiful or perfect.
Rippeteau said, “I see that my body is genuinely beautiful. Not just in a cliche, ‘you’re perfect exactly as you are’ way, but in an actual ‘I like this part and this part, and sometimes I don’t like this part, but that’s normal and it doesn’t mean I need to be different’ way.”