Column: Summertime sadness


Photo credit: Azel Al-Kadiri

Poolside, I lie with my legs tanning in the sunshine. As we head into the season of swimsuits and beach attire, I want to remind girls everywhere to resist unrealistic beauty standards, to nourish their bodies and to embrace the beautiful girl in the mirror.

By Azel Al-Kadiri, Columnist

Earlier this week in a bathroom stall, I overheard a conversation between two middle school girls. 

As one of the girls shared how excited she was for summer break, the other quickly responded with, “We have to start working on our summer bodies.”

My stomach dropped. The words haven’t left my mind since. 

At that moment I was transported to a time not so long ago. A time when the number on a scale was my most important personality trait, and the reflection in the mirror was all that could define me. For many of us, it’s a way of thinking that’s obsessive, illogical and all too familiar. 

As the sun begins to shine, the temperatures rise and summer comes into bloom, our stomachs, arms and legs become free from the shackles of our winter layers. 

What should be an exciting transition into warmer weather and more time in the sand is often an extremely stressful and self-conscious period, where women — both young and old — become consumed by the “flatness” of their tummies, roundness of their bottoms and “perfection” of these figures. 

Though women struggle with eating disorders and insecurities throughout all months of the year, there is something about a bathing suit that can be extremely triggering. 

It’s hard to remember a time when this “summertime sadness” wasn’t a reality for me. I can remember being as old as 9 years old, feeling embarrassed by my pale skin, body hair and size of my legs at the beach. I remember my little brother wanted to play frisbee with me in the sand. 

But I, at 9 years old, was worried about my thighs. 

I sit here today at 18, feeling so sad for that little girl who had heard words like “fat” and “big” and began to wear the words like the skin on her body. 

No matter what the little girl looks like, she inherits these words as a language that she will speak for the rest of her life. That is, until she realizes that the words and the ideas of “beauty” and “attractiveness” are nothing more than artificial lies, created to market off of her own self-hatred. 

She grows hair on her body because she is supposed to. She has skin on her stomach because she is supposed to. She has fat under her arms and thighs because she is supposed to.

So, what even is a beach body? 

It’s a woman who has a camera crew in front of her, who have posed her in the perfect position, with hair and makeup people, and an editing team who have removed any excess skin on her body, blurred her “imperfect skin,” and in the process, have made her look “effortless.” 

From the age of adolescence, this woman has haunted many of us. She snickers at us when we buy razors, tanning oil and beach cover-ups. She watches us find the “perfect” position as we suck in our stomach rolls.  

She knows we will never compare as long as we believe she is what we are supposed to look like. 

I say all of this for a reason: when I overhear middle school girls talking about working on their “beach body,” I’m reminded of when those words left my mouth when I was their age. It’s not their fault for thinking any of this. It’s the fault of a society that has worked tirelessly to teach women that they are imperfect, ugly, and wrong for being human. 

The “beach body” isn’t real. The girl in the magazine isn’t real. What is real is your own beautiful self, and the day you accept that, is the day that you can play frisbee in the sand. 

See you at the beach.