Though many of us have barely recovered from our snow-filled winter nightmare, we are now facing the nightmare that summer weather brings.
I'm not talking about the heat. I'm talking about the pressure to get bathing suit ready.
If you do a google search for "Bikini Body," you will come across more than 12 million hits. As the New York Times recently noted, the term has officially taken on a life of its own, becoming a sort of shorthand to describe someone's level of fitness.
Instead of saying a celebrity has recently hired a trainer and nutritionist to become healthier, a headline will scream "Check out her new BIKINI BODY!" As if that should be the real goal we all aspire to. Not to be healthier for the sake of avoiding diabetes or heart disease, but to get bikini ready -- you know for those two to five days of the year that those of us who are not Sports Illustrated swimsuit models may find ourselves near a body of water that's not in our bathtubs.
Now I know this may sound like a frivolous issue to some, but it's really not. Just as putting unhealthy looking models on the cover of magazines sends the message that only dangerously thin is beautiful, the growing obsession with so-called "bikini bodies" sends the message that it's not just enough to have a healthy body, but we must have bodies that look perfect all the time, at all costs.
Experts blame the rise of paparazzi, the internet and social media for the bikini-body boom. Thanks to facebook and twitter there are more photos of all of us floating out there in the world than there used to be, able to be viewed and judged by more and more people. And for celebrities the scrutiny is worse. You can be an Academy Award winner in your 60's like Dame Helen Mirren and still garner more attention for how you look while attempting to stroll in private in your bathing suit than for your latest film.
Disney princess Demi Lovato, who once struggled with an eating disorder, recently referenced these pressures when she tweeted a photo of herself in a bikini and said, "I've been working so hard to get healthy and fit... I can't believe I'm about to do this but I'm so excited... Here's my bikini time body...I never thought I'd ever feel confident enough to ever to that. I'm excited how far I've come since being completely ashamed of my body...I want any girl/guy out there who struggles with body image or confidence to know that it IS possible to find peace with yourself."
Possible, but tough in a bikini-body obsessed world. Despite being much smaller than the average American, Lovato, who's a teenager, found her photo and figure the subject of intense criticism in cyberspace, as did actress Jennifer Love Hewitt who was forced to defend herself against tabloids that accused her of being fat and possessing a distinctly non-bikini-body for allegedly displaying a touch of cellulite on her bikini clad, size 2 frame. That's right -- size 2.
With that in mind, I decided to conduct a very unscientific survey of some of my male friends to find out if they know or care what cellulite is. Some did not, but even those that did, didn't rank it high on the list of things they care about or even notice, which I guess is good news for me, and my fellow sisters in cellulite. (Click here to see a list of "The Five Things Men Are Actually Thinking When You Are Worried They Are Worried About Your Cellulite.")
But the responses from my guy friends, reinforced the most frustrating part about all of this. Much like the fashion magazines that fill their pages with models several sizes smaller than the average woman, the tabloid magazines that fuel this bikini-body obsession are also largely staffed by women. That means women, not men, are increasingly responsible for making women feel bad about themselves, and for perpetuating ideals that may be physically and mentally unhealthy and unrealistic.
The only way this will change is if we stop buying into it. That means not buying magazines that critique whether or not someone who is out enjoying a day at the beach with their kids is too big or too small for a bathing suit. Because frankly, unless your name is Michael Phelps, or Brooklyn Decker, or Jessica White or anyone else who is paid to wear a bathing suit for a living, who cares if you have a bikini body?
This piece originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.
Follow Keli Goff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/keligoff