On Summer Bodies & Spanx

This is a guest post written by our pen-pal from Seattle, Anya J. For more personal stories on this topic, check out Episode 7 of Underwire "Summer Bodies".

Holding Two Truths at Once:
On Summer Bodies & Spanx

A few weeks ago I wrote a Facebook post that kind of sums up my feelings on summer bodies or, more specifically, my body in the summer:

Me, every summer: To get the perfect bikini body, put a bikini on your body! All bodies are amazing! Society’s beauty standards are unrealistic! Love yourself!!!

Also me, every summer: Why didn’t I start working out 6 months ago?! My body is soft and amorphous like a trashbag full of spaghetti, which coincidentally is all I’ve been eating since December. OH GOD I’M HIDEOUS, DON’T LOOK AT ME!

A little you should maybe know about me: I am a South Asian American, cis-gendered queer chick. I am short, brown, relatively slim, soft all over, and naturally pretty furry (thanks, Dad!).

For even more context: I am a social worker and spend most of my day talking about gender stereotypes and oppression with teen girls. This makes my feelings on my body even more complicated than it would otherwise be. For every pair of Spanx I stuff myself into or every second spent disappointedly poking my belly in the mirror after a shower, there is an added shame: the guilt and hypocrisy of being physically unable to practice the same compassion with myself that I preach to the girls I work with.

I love girls and women. I love everything about us. That being said, I don’t blindly tell these girls to love themselves. I say, “You can hold two things at once. Being aware of these gender and beauty expectations does not undo 16, 21, 30 years of pressure and influence and damage. You can know there is nothing actually gross or wrong or ugly about having hairy legs and still feel the need to shave your legs. It is okay. You are doing okay.”

They don’t need my permission to be imperfect, but I think they feel relief any way. The truth is, everything about this is exhausting. It is exhausting to constantly receive messages about what we should and shouldn’t do or look like or say or be. It is exhausting to be made aware of these messages. It is exhausting to work against this messaging every single day. And, perhaps most of all, it is exhausting to feel the overwhelming shame that follows the quiet moments when we allow ourselves to be negatively influenced by all of the voices telling us we are not thin, or hairless, or pale, or tan, or pretty enough.

So here I am, for the 100th time telling myself: You can hold two things at once. You can know that your body is healthy and beautiful and amazing and doing exactly what it’s designed to do. And you can still wear Spanx. It is okay. You are doing okay.