A woman in a sunhat lays on the ground, her body is covered in advertisements for methods to get a quick "summer body."
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It’s summer here in Michigan, and an extremely hot one at that. Summer weather allows for more outdoor activities and often means less clothing as people get outside. For many, the summer brings excitement and relaxation, but for others, the sunshine is clouded by the anxiety of the dreaded, yet highly coveted, “summer body.”

A “summer body” is one deemed attractive enough to be put on display in a swimsuit during the summer. Each spring, gyms become packed as both men and women face pressure to get into shape for the upcoming summer. Some people even begin their summer-bod journey in the winter, prepping extra hard for the envisioned summer showtime. Fitness influencers like Daisy Keech post workout programs with titles like “10 MINUTE HIIT | BIKINI BOD SHRED,” which promise extreme body transformations from short, simple workouts. Others, like Chloe Ting, claim you can “Get Abs in 2 WEEKS.” These content producers take part in what has become known as “fitspo,” or fitness inspiration, where they post their bodies as physique inspiration for others. With pressure all around to “get into shape” — a very specific shape at that — the summer body has become a common ideal.

The whole concept of summer bodies is riddled with problems and is incredibly harmful. The “perfect” summer body is always changing. Sadly, in pop culture, body types have come in and out of style as if they were fashion trends. Looking at women specifically, in the 1920s small chests and “boyish” figures were the “ideal” body type for girls. Not even 10 years later, the ideal was replaced by a curvy, “hourglass” shape. The supermodel era of the early 2000s idealized women who were tall and skinny, epitomized by the era’s ultra-popular Victoria’s Secret models. This was followed by a drastic reversal of beauty standards as celebrities like Kim Kardashian made curves “in” again, often unrealistically achieved through plastic surgery.

As even a short summary reveals, the “ideal” body type is rapidly changing. This is concerning because body types don’t change. By definition, a body type is a natural, inherent shape. Rapid figure change is almost never healthy or maintainable. Studies have found that our body shape is mainly determined by things out of our control. Factors including genetics and skeletal structure play more of a role in determining what you’ll look like than your summer workout plan will. Furthermore, even if you could dramatically change your natural figure, the current pattern predicts that it’d quickly go out of style anyways. This could be disheartening to hear, or it could be freeing. But the reality is there shouldn’t be pressure to look like someone you’re not or to change yourself in ways that you can’t. It is unattainable and tiresome to constantly be striving to shape your body to fit a trend. Understanding this is the first step towards escaping the terrible loop of bad self-image that this concept creates. 

The most detrimental effect of the idea of “summer bodies” is that it creates people who are unhappy with themselves. A UK study found body confidence issues in children as young as three years old, and another found that “by age 7, one in four children has engaged in some kind of dieting behavior.” Forming a negative body image starts at a young age in our society and follows us as we grow older.

The pervasive idealization of a “summer body” has surely made its way into mainstream culture. Like the flu, it slowly begins to infect us as the weather warms each year. But unlike most diseases, it’s a man-made plague, and one that we submit to voluntarily. It’ll take a shift in perspective to rid ourselves of its effects. We must be gentle with ourselves and remember that our bodies are made to sustain us with life, to be strong, to be supportive and to heal us. They aren’t meant to look a certain way in a swimsuit, and they aren’t meant to change like a fashion trend. Forget a “summer body” because our bodies shouldn’t change with the weather. You’re a human, not a forecast. Don’t let social pressure ruin your summer day.

Amy Edmunds is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at amyedmun@umich.edu.