When I was younger, I looked forward to spring: it meant that school was almost over, that softball season had begun, and it was time to trek to the ocean to splash in the waves.
Yet somewhere along the way spring became the season to dread, as it meant that suddenly the body I had happily carried around under layers of warm sweaters and thick socks all winter was no longer fit for public viewing. The onset of warmer weather no longer represented softball games, beach trips, and freedom from school responsibilities: it meant stressing over my lack of a tan, my need for a pedicure, and, according to every magazine on every stand ever, my apparent need to lose 8-10 pounds in order to buy and wear a bathing suit.
The onset of spring, sadly, has come to represent one of the worst times of year in terms of the way the media attacks body image issues: as with the post-New Year's diet resolution rush, women's magazines hop aboard the insecurity train and drive it into a ditch, reminding all of us that if we dare show any skin this season, it better be toned and tanned, or else.
I like to think I have a pretty good bullshit meter for these kinds of things, and over the years I've learned to accept my body and treat it with respect, but there are certain instances where I feel pulled into this trap, feeling as if my body would look a little better with x amount of pounds missing, or better arm muscles, or a fourth coat of polish on my nails, or instant tanning lotion. The beauty-industrial complex feeds on these insecurities and promotes the idea that unless you look perfect, you should probably just stay off the beach and in your home, reading Loser Monthly, eating bon-bons, and perfecting your best "ACK!"
So how can you avoid being a Cathy this bathing suit season? It begins with a dose of reality and acceptance. If you're trying on bathing suits, remember that the only person who is going to see the size on the tag is you, and that in reality, sizes are meaningless: if you feel confident in the suit, wear it. Don't buy a suit 3 sizes too small in order to "motivate" yourself to fit into it: this is a setup designed to make you feel bad about yourself. A bathing suit is not a means to measure your self-worth or beauty: it's simply a costume designed for swimming and sunning, and one should never feel isolated from these things based on the bullshit standards of others. Sorry, Cosmo, but my summer goal is to have fun, not to "look sexy in a bikini."
In short, the onset of spring should be a time of celebration, not of dread: there is no such thing as the "perfect" body, and happy memories and good times in the sun do not belong solely to those who look amazing in a bathing suit or have the perfect arms. Let Cathy stress out about bathing suit season and vow to diet her way to perfection (recognize that this plan fails EVERY YEAR)— for the rest of us, spring can be a time of appreciating the bodies we have, using our "imperfect" arms to power through the ocean, feeling the sun on our "out of season" skin, and feeling the sand between our toes—chipped polish and all.