It happens every June; the signs start to pop up around every corner on my daily commute. Written in pink all-caps, adorned with flowers and exclamation marks, the ads for gyms, wax bars and cosmetic surgery clinics scream at me: “SUMMER IS HERE! GET YOUR BEACH BODY READY!” Ugh.
The misogynistic, old-fashioned, closed-minded idea that we need to lose weight according to the season is bullshit. It makes me so angry that it actually takes everything in me not to grab a Sharpie and “edit” these signs every time I pass one. “You are enough,” I want to write. “You do not need to lose weight, tone up, slim down or starve yourself to step onto the sand in a fierce bikini.”
I was around 12 when I wore a two-piece for the first time on a family vacation to California. It was lime-green and had a textured square pattern with a halter-style top and boy shorts. I loved how it looked on the hanger, but my sweet, naïve preteen self was so self-conscious when I stepped onto Laguna Beach that I can still feel the nerves come rushing back when I think about it.
When I was 22, I wore a bikini for the first time as an adult and the world didn’t end; it was a huge step in coming to accept my body. Then two summers ago, I ventured to a nude beach and had a much more freeing experience than I expected. I’ll never forget the feeling of noshing on watermelon while my two friends and I lounged, our boobs and bellies exposed to the sunlight. It’s one of my favourite beach memories ever.
I wanted to recreate that feeling for this column, which led to the idea of a “beach body” photo shoot with some of my colleagues. I never thought I’d find myself on the second floor of my office building rocking a bikini on set with four other fabulous people—FLARE managing editor Stacy Lee Kong, Hello! Canada digital editor Meaghan Wray and interns Diana Sanchez Moreno and Shantia Cross—and it ended up being a true career highlight.
Everyone (including me) was nervous going into it. “Like, really nervous,” says Stacy. But we all had a goal that pushed us to step out of our comfort zones. For Meaghan, doing a body-positive photo shoot like this was a 2018 resolution. Stacy was inspired by women during Carnival in Trinidad, where she’s from. Shantia had insecurities about her stretch marks and her hips that she wanted to overcome. Diana was nervous, too, but was so excited to be a part of a shoot that featured everybody (“and by everybody, I mean every BODY!” she says)—her energy was contagious.
Strutting and dancing to the ““Confidence” playlist I’d made, we started to loosen up. “About five minutes into our posing, I was having a really good time,” says Stacy. Looking at the shots after, it was easy to see how much closer we became (physically and emotionally) as time went on. “Being surrounded by all different body types and feeling one and the same, beautiful in our differences, was so rewarding and emotional,” says Meaghan.
“I felt beautiful and I really couldn’t believe that it was me,” says Shantia.
I’m really proud to share this image, and I hope every woman who sees them sees a bit of herself and her own beauty in it. We need more messages like this to counter the shitty ads that tell us we need to change ourselves. New campaigns like this one featuring Ashley Graham and the “Beach Body. Not Sorry” one from Swimsuits for All (my go-to swimwear brand) give me hope that next generation won’t feel anxious about going to the beach.
Denise Bidot, who appears in the new boundary-breaking body image documentary Straight/Curve and is known as the first plus-size model to walk multiple runways during New York Fashion Week, starred in the latter campaign and says she was thrilled to see the discussion it inspired. “Those moments, where we force people to question why a campaign like this hasn’t been seen before, are essential,” she says. “For the girls that see it, it means the world to them. We need to continue to show all bodies, all shapes, all ages, all ethnicities.”
Bidot’s hope is that with consistent representation in the fashion industry and in the media, the conversation will shift. “It’s not about what size your swimwear is or how much your thighs may jiggle. It’s about going out in the sun and having a great time.”
When my colleagues and I stood together at the end of our shoot, hair windblown from the fan and cheeks hurting from fake laughs that turned into real ones, I nearly cried. Seeing all of us together, with every stretch mark, roll and so-called “imperfection” on full display, made my heart full with joy. Meaghan summed it all up perfectly: “The more I looked through each photo, the more I started seeing the beauty in myself and the beauty in the message that the photoshoot sends. The smiles, the fierce poses and the power behind us speak a thousand words.”