This Summer, Can We Say No to the Body Police?

Martin Varsavsky
Martin Varsavsky

By Jess Frankovich

Where I’m from, it gets cold. And it snows. A lot. So on the first day it gets above the freezing point, the locals naturally get excited. We dust off our shorts and tank tops. We head to the mall and splurge on bikinis. We pack a bag and head to the beach. As it gets warmer, less clothes are worn. Makes sense, right?

But for those of us with body image issues, summer, which should be a time of relaxation, is instead a time of dread. Body parts that could have been covered up by long pants, jackets, or a scarf during the colder seasons are now shoved on display and made vulnerable. Just about everyone knows the feeling of staring at his or her body in a bathing suit, illuminated by unflattering fluorescent fitting-room lighting, awash with disappointment and dissatisfaction.

And even when someone overcomes their insecurities enough to wear something that exposes their body, the trial isn’t over. There are still the self-appointed body police. You know, the people in sunglasses standing at the fringe of the crowd at a concert and making comments about the bodies of everyone enjoying themselves. As the temperature rises, so do they, emerging from their homes to roll their eyes at the chubby men with their shirts off or girls with big thighs in short shorts. They raise their eyebrows at unshaved armpits or legs and frown at a tank top exposing body acne.

“Some girls just shouldn’t wear crop tops,” they say with a resigned shake of the head. Or, my personal favorite, “What is she doing in a bathing suit?” Like there’s something else someone should be wearing on a beach.

What would we do without their constant vigilance and inspiring dedication to the enforcement of societal norms? I applaud these brave souls for standing up to the tragic plight of having to view someone’s body that doesn’t conform to conventional beauty standards. Really. I salute you.

But in all seriousness, why do bodies make us so uncomfortable? Have we become so accustomed to the bodybuilders and Victoria’s Secret models gracing magazine covers that the sight of a “flawed” body provokes such an inconsiderate reaction? I acknowledge, winters can feel like they’ve lasted years by the time June rolls around, but it seems a little excessive to imply that body fat can cause such a disturbance just by existing.

Everyone has the right to determine who they’re attracted to and who they’re not. You may prefer your men with toned arms, or girls with flat stomachs, and that’s your prerogative. However, that preference expires when you start limiting someone else’s right to dress how he or she likes in public spaces.

And so what if someone who you’re not attracted to is showing off his or her body? Do your eyes burn at the sight of cellulite? Does a muffin top offend you? When people are comfortable enough in their bodies to wear something that shows their love handles, or body acne, or scars, or big thighs, who are you to tell them to put it away?

I’m begging these officers of the body police: This summer, make yourself uncomfortable.

Take a good look around you and soak in the cellulite, bacne, arm flab, and whatever else that surrounds you until these imperfections don’t scare you anymore.

If, after that, you still can’t handle the existence of real, imperfect human beings, then feel free to hide in your basement and watch Netflix until cold weather returns. We’ll be out here having fun.

Bikinis, shorts, and tank tops are not limited to the slimmest 5% of us. What does it say about the current state of affairs that unattainable, photo-altered, hypersexualized magazine mega-women are plastered everywhere without objection but seeing a real live body with all its “flaws” makes us uneasy?

Jess Frankovich is a student and blogger from Rochester, New York. In addition to feminism, she is passionate about journalism, government, travel, and Tina Fey movies. You can read more of her writing on GirlsSpeak.org, and follow her on Twitter @GrlsSpeak.