Up until a decade ago, I’d mark the start of every May by ordering a cleanse. These fancy delivery meals (which were sometimes just… juices) were framed as “healthy” ways to give my body a reset; but really, they were just diets. And every single year, I sought them out.
There’s this idea that the “summer body” is made in the winter, and every spring, there’s a build up to summer and showing skin, which is largely created by brands and their social media marketing. So many women find themselves on this seasonal, up-and-down roller coaster of binging and restricting—every year, 45 percent of Americans’ Years resolutions are related to diet and exercise, but only a third of people actually stick with the goals they’ve set— and it really hits a peak right ahead of summer. Particularly, this year, the pressure to “get in shape for summer” feels worse than ever, because people have just lived through a pandemic and may not be feeling their best after spending a year at home. What I’ve learned in my journey toward body acceptance, however, is that no one has to—or should—live this way.
In my opinion, it all comes down to the idea that we’re thinking about weight management in the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong: People are allowed to lose weight if they want to. But the conversation surrounding weight management needs to shift to what’s being added to someone’s life if they make the decision to lose weight versus what’s being taken away. The goal can’t just be numbers on a scale. Maybe you aren’t feeling your best, and are in a place where you want to get into better shape… but what does that actually mean? Do you feel sluggish, can you not bend down, can you not get up the stairs? There needs to be a focus on reframing weight management beyond fitting into a particular jeans size or looking a certain way in a bathing suit.
And no one can heed this message more than those working in the fitness industry. Instead of harping on the fact that summer is coming and it’s time to get in shape, why not have a 365-days-a-year ethos of encouraging people to do something that’s good for their bodies and that makes them feel good? We need fitness programs to address actual fitness for the sake of health, not weight management. To me, that means talking about exercise in terms of how it makes you feel instead of how it makes you look, and there are ways to communicate strength within your fitness regimen without showing a certain type of “summer” body in a bikini.
As far as my own exercise routine goes, I tend to approach things from a straight-up health point of view instead of focusing on aesthetics. I look at it as something that will help me get stronger, or will help me do daily activities—like walking up a set of stairs or bending down to feed my dogs—more easily. Plus, there are also the endorphins I get from exercise, which are really important for the sake of my mental health. For me, it’s been about finding workouts that I enjoy doing, and that fit into my daily life. It has nothing to do with squeezing into an old pair of jeans—my only focus is on doing something that makes my body and mind feel good.
This time of year, I ramp up my swim content on my Instagram, (link to @KatieSturino), and make it extra real so that people can see my back rolls and my cellulite—which are really just normal parts of my body. And you bet you’ll see me applying my Megababe Thigh Rescue ($14) all summer long, even “throwing a leg up” in public to do so. As I recently said in an Instagram post in response to the oh-so-problematic conversation surrounding that bikini photo of Khloé Kardashian: stuff jiggles. The fact that people feel like they need to be airbrushed into a cartoon character just to post a photo of themselves in a bikini to Instagram is a symptom of our society, and it’s not the truth.
I like to think the fitness industry is making some strides—there are more size-inclusive activewear brands than ever, and brands like MYX fitness feature trainers with all kinds of different body types, for example—but there’s still a long way to go. What we can change right now, though, is the way that we talk to ourselves about these things. Start to flag the negative comments you’re making about your own body, whether that means seeing someone in a dress and thinking, “I’ll never look as good as her,” or picking apart your perceived flaws every time you put on a swimsuit. After you’ve acknowledged this behavior, the next step is to stop doing it.
Even now, I still sometimes have moments where I can’t button my jeans and get triggered into thinking, “I need to go on a cleanse.” But the difference between me now and me 15 years ago is that, instead of acting on it, I just let it go. And yeah, I still drink green juice. But these days, it’s not as a meal replacement or for the sake of “cleansing for summer.” It’s all about adding something health—and that I enjoy—into my life.
Sturino’s book, “Body Talk,” which deals with these subjects is out May 25, 2021—you can pre-order it here.
As told to Zoë Weiner
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