IS THE 'BEACH BODY' THE BASTARD CHILD OF ADVERTISING OR SOCIAL MEDIA?
A quick search shows that the “beach body” or more accurately the term “bikini body” first appeared in an ad campaign for weight loss salons in 1961. Nothing of interest there. Yes, to the surprise of exactly no one, another shaming and need-inspiring concept was created by the advertising industry. But while in the ’60s and ’70s there was absolutely no ambiguity as to who was feeding the idea of how you need to renounce the habit of feeding yourself or quickly get into the habit of making up for it after you do – I mean really, when would you even find the time to eat, let alone cook, when you are supposed to pick out the perfect bathing suit for that perfect body which you also need to shape and then maintain perfectly, as hair and marks of any sort do not seem to belong on the beach – today things are not quite so clear.
If anything, quite a few brands and thus their marketing campaigns have swung to the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Each body is beautiful, each body deserves love and care. So, you know, make sure you treat yours to all our lovely products which are for everyone. Sure, target audiences are a thing but don’t let anybody fool you, there is nothing any business likes more than being for everyone. (Being “generic” is the ultimate failure, the plague of image-building, but you tell your clients how a number of the unique and very specific properties of their product pertain to different groups who shockingly manage to include anyone on the 8 to 80 spectrum – hell, throw some toddlers in there, if you can, and they will snog you in the conference room.) Of course, advertising is still not abandoning its favourite hobby of making anyone and everyone feel inadequate – there’s always something more we can be doing, something more we can have, something more we can be – but at least it is no longer pretending that women who don’t possess the desired beach body are to be found only in the shadows of their own homes, working on that dream bod.
So who have the ads passed the torch to? Because we all sure as hell know exactly what we’re talking about when someone uses that summer-bound collocation. (Spoiler alert: it’s never too flat or too curvy or anything but perfectly smooth.)
A few answers come to the forefront just off the top of my head – social media, professional influencers, our willingness to perpetuate harmful concepts long as they can help us feel superior to others. I do think it’s mostly that last one, filtered and channeled through those first two.
At this point, I doubt there is anyone who is unaware that we’re all living our best life on social media. We’re all eating healthy and hitting the gym most days of the week, we’re basically living on the beach or in front of landmarks that need no hashtag, all our bedrooms are colour-coordinated, our suitcases are #travelgoals, our friends are #cliquegoals and, of course, our bodies are #beachbodygoals. (The beach body hashtag on Instagram has over 9 million results. A surprising amount of those are pictures of muesli. Muesli apparently is really living its best life and is constantly in beach body shape.)
If you are judging by what everybody is saying, you’d think the beaches are a catwalk every summer. It’s abs, abs, abs for everyone. My hair still has sea salt in it and there must be some sand somewhere on me (the fact that I’m not even sure where but am confident it’s there is probably the most worrisome part) and let me tell you, the beach is no catwalk. It’s so much more fun than that. More than a third of the people (including myself) are not wearing matching bikini tops and bottoms, the people who are wearing one-pieces are few and I sincerely doubt most of them are doing it to hide their non-beach bodies. The beach is a gallery of uncoordinated colours and various marks – stretch marks, wrinkles, scars, pen marks from the crossword on chubby fingers, drying sugar blobs from the ice cream on slim thighs. There are just as many beer bellies as there are abs, if not more. The most fascinating thing – everybody has a body and everybody is on the beach. So… they all… have… beach bodies? Turns out those are not nearly as unified and boring as social media has made me believe.
I do not mean to dissuade anyone with the “perfect beach body” from abusing their camera roll and then their friends and followers’ feeds. I’m sure I couldn’t even if I wanted to. It’s what summer is for, what social media is for, and mostly what having a phone with a good camera is for. It’s just that at this point in history – where a lot of the media’s influence is shifting into the cumulative grasp of a large enough group of individuals, we are the ones conditioning ourselves and keeping each other in line, we’re the ones raising the expectations too high and demanding “more and better” all the time. And, frankly, none of us are muesli. We can’t always be living our best life. Sometimes we have to go for just living life and then see how well it turns out. In my experience, with an adequate mindset and expectations, it usually ends up being pretty damn good, even if not always THE BEST™.
Billboards and TV ads don’t really need to tell us what the beach body for this summer is anymore because we’ve picked up the slack and are running this operation through our own personal accounts better than they ever did. At least “professional influencers” get paid for it. The rest of us suckers? Well, there’s the ten-minute-long satisfaction of appearing somewhere near the top of the #beachbody tag. Or there could also be the ultimate satisfaction of turning the “beach body” – the bastard child of advertising, into the adopted kid of social media and making it just likes its new parent – colourful, diverse, largely flawed but, at the end of the day, including everyone.
Written by Lubi Atanasova