Dear Summer Body,
I remember the first time I saw you plastered on the cover of a magazine. You looked so natural, happy and free. I looked at the contents of the shopping cart as we paid and pulled out the ice cream and cookies— if I wanted to achieve “perfection,” I needed to start working immediately.
After all, summer was only a few months away and if I didn’t have a flat stomach by then, I might as well not wear a swimsuit at all.
Come May, I still couldn’t seem to meet your standards. I’d committed to working out every day, sworn off some of my favorite foods and monitored my weight regularly. I’d bounced from diet to diet, depriving my body of nutrition between sets of crunches and long runs.
The mirror soon evolved into the greatest judge of my worth because if I didn’t look like I was slimming down, I might as well be nothing at all. I hid embarrassed under large tee shirts and baggy dresses, trying to hide what I thought was a disgrace of a body. All I wanted was a flat stomach so I could have the perfect summer body— on the beach, at the gym, year-round.
Fighting for you was a long, draining battle. I spent that first summer starving myself all day if I knew I’d be wearing a swimsuit and holding breath if my friends wanted a group picture. The number on the scale was dropping, but my body never looked like the magazines, No matter how hard I tried, I was never good enough.
I obsessed over you for many, many years, wrecking my body for your unrealistic expectations. No workout regimen, diet or weight was remotely close enough to get that perfect figure, ever.
Nonetheless, I ignored the aches, pains, and pleas from my body to stop torturing it — if I was so committed to getting that beach, and everyday body, I wasn’t going to let up. I thought I was too far in to turn back. I was a slave to your picture-perfect appearance standards for seven years before I was able to let go. And truly, it took a lot to give you up.
I had no intention of turning back on “Operation Summer Body” until I found myself sitting in an eating disorder treatment center being lectured about the health consequences of torturing myself to look like a model on a magazine cover.
I was never happy when I was turning down sweets or running sprints or doing sit ups until I couldn’t keep track anymore — just convinced myself that achieving my perfect version of you would be the ticket to happiness.
To you, I’d like to say thanks for nothing. I cannot believe I wasted so many precious years trying to achieve your stupid standards when I could be happy with the body I have. When I was trying to look like a retouched swimsuit model, I was never so unhappy or insecure. I took the things a strong, nourished body can do for granted and weakened myself for a look that was never meant for me.
Even if I one day were able to get that flat stomach that I thought was a requisite for wearing a bikini, I wouldn’t be able to healthily keep my body in that shape. As a matter of fact, achieving that “summer body” would likely kill me. If not physically, most definitely metaphorically.
Malnourishment and over-exercise suck the life out of you. Seriously, if you’re starving yourself to maintain your figure, what kind of a life would you even have the energy to live?
So, summer body, this is me saying I’m done with you. I’d rather have curves and the strength to live my life and make memories than sacrifice my well-being for the sake of appearance. That’s not to say that I don’t feel insecure at times, but I’d take occasional insecurity and feeling alive over hating myself as I drive myself to a slow death any day.
I don’t have to be perfect to be happy. Despite the lies the media spread, true happiness has nothing to do with how I look. For me, happiness is watching the summer sun set in the sky, puppy kisses, cheering on my school at a football game and helping others.
None of the things that make me smile a genuine smile have to do with the girl staring back at me in the mirror— they have to do with the girl inside. And no matter what, that girl will never change.
In my years dying to have you, I lost a lot, but I learned things too. Because of you, I’m okay with letting go of something that will not serve me. When I see you on magazine covers, I roll my eyes and continue paying for my groceries.
Sure, I find myself glancing at you in line at the store, but I’m never trying to look like an airbrushed model again. My body is imperfectly perfect and fit for any time of year. I’m so glad I let you go. I like being happy way too much to waste time on superficial things.
Catch You Never,
A Girl Who Is Learning To Love Herself Again
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and while they may manifest in an appearance-focused struggle, are far more complex than a diet gone wrong. These conditions are both mentally and physically dangerous and best diagnosed and managed by trained professionals. If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, please take refer to this brief online screening or visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.