The Fallacy of the “Summer Body”

by Caitlin Panarella


With the slow but sure change from cold weather to warm, something ugly and familiar is rearing its head: the onslaught of diet advertisements.

“Get your summer body!”

“New summer, new you!”

“Get rid of those winter pounds!”

Though these advertisements are constant throughout the year, they pick up like clockwork around markers like the start of the new year and the summertime.  These advertisements target us everywhere, from Youtube to magazines to Facebook. Even if we never click on them, they surround us and affect how we think about our bodies.

At a recent feminist discussion, I overheard a woman saying, “I want the cupcake, but I also want a summer body,” as she laughed with her friend.  Many women have the unfortunate habit of commiserating over body-shaming themselves, and the approach of summer exacerbates these tendencies. Even women who are feminists have difficulty seeing through the deception of “perfecting” their bodies for a gaze that is often implicitly male.

Though the diet industry targets all genders, women face a disproportionate pressure to conform to a thin ideal of beauty.  Such pressure affects how a woman perceives her social acceptance, professional success and personal self-worth.

Currently worth upwards of $66 billion according to Marketdata, the total U.S. weight loss market depends on making women insecure about their bodies for its profit.  According to an ABC News 2012 report, approximately 85 percent of customers consuming weight-loss products and services are female.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, national surveys estimate that 20 million women in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, compared with 10 million men.

The weight loss industry’s best kept secret?  Telling us what’s “wrong” with our bodies, and then selling us a solution.  The bottom line of the diet industry-- including detox brands, restrictive meal plans, diet drugs and weight loss surgery- is dependent on our self-objectification and bodily insecurity.  Even if you do not purchase anything from these companies, their media messages are part of your daily consumption and have an extremely harmful impact.

This is not to say wanting to exercise or eat healthy foods means we submit to sexist narratives, but letting a thin body ideal and self-hatred drive those actions is very problematic.  If you want to set goals, make them for you, not for the outside pressure of a society that only celebrates one body type.

The idea that our bodies are there to be criticized and corrected is rooted in keeping women subordinate to men.  Women spend precious mental energy reducing their food intake, over-exercising and going on fad diets in an attempt to be socially acceptable.  Not only does this keep women running in circles as the dominant beauty ideal shifts every twenty years or so, but it also objectifies them. It creates and perpetuates the idea that women are, and should be, inherently insecure and in need of validation.

As author Naomi Wolf said, “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

No matter what size you are, you deserve to love your body.  Health is possible at any size, a fact the diet industry does not want anyone to know.

To counter these ads and the diet talk that seem to be everywhere in the new year, there are several steps you can take.  

If possible, remove yourself from situations and conversations that contribute to the toxic culture.  No one says you have to watch the diet commercial or listen to it on the radio; mute it or change the channel.  Make exercise something enjoyable, rather than a punishment for what you ate over the weekend. Don’t body shame or food shame yourself; celebrate your body for what it lets you do, think and learn.

Resist the narrative that you are too much or not enough.  Instead, remember that you have too much to offer the world to be battling your body, and not enough time to waste on sexist, exploitative narratives.