By Leah Boehner | Art by McKenna Lewis
My summer body is the same as my winter body, but that hasn’t always been the case. My weight doesn’t change with the seasons, I don’t get much more tan in the summer. As a much younger teenager, March was the month that signaled the time to start doing rounds of sit-ups in my room. March was the month when I started to give away most of my lunches to my friends (sorry Mom, I know you worked hard on packing lunches). March was the month that I started to change.
I ran extra hard at soccer, made sure I took stairs instead of escalators or elevators, and made a point to discontinue my love of ice cream and french fries. I couldn’t wait for the feeling of the sun burning a sun-kissed bronze onto my skin. Then in June when the pools were warm enough to dip in, I prided myself on a stomach that was toned and muscular and a body that was underweight, undernourished and sunscreen free. Today, sitting by the pool, slathered in the highest SPF I can find, I see young girls and boys and wonder if they’re thinking about or making the same mistakes as I did.
I wouldn’t blame them, looking fit for summer is something introduced at a young age, whether that be in a magazine at the grocery or on the television. Everywhere there are scantily clad models posing with white sands in the background. They are perfectly airbrushed and altered to remove their human flaws and make them look long, lean, and tan.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, the average American woman stands 5’4” tall and weighs approximately 140 pounds, whereas the average American model stands 5’11” tall and weighs approximately 117 pounds. At any age, it is hard to look past a cover so provocative and not be jealous of someone that seems so perfect.
In a study by Kristen Harrison, Professor of Communication at the University of Michigan and Veronica Hefner, Professor of Mass Communication at the University of Illinois, for girls ages 7 to 12, exposure to media in the form of television (shows and advertisements) led to a thinner ideal body shape and predicted more disordered eating. An average of only 40 percent of people enjoy eating, according to Pew Research Center, a sad statistic for something that is so necessary. But eating doesn’t have to be unhealthy or irresponsible.
Something to keep in mind before and during the summer months is that the perfect summer body is one that is healthy. According to Berkeley Wellness, the leading online resource for evidence-based wellness information produced by the University of California Berkeley, there are a few very important aspects of a healthy diet to keep in mind.
First of all, eat a variety of foods. Every key nutrient and the appropriate amount cannot be found in a single food or group of foods. Eat produce and whole grains such as oats. Keep away from refined grains and added sugar; grains don’t maintain their health benefits when heavily processed. If an indulgence is needed, go for healthy fats such as nuts, fish, and everyone’s favorite fruit, avocado.
On the other hand, stay away from bad fats, such as trans fats, that can be found in animal products such as beef and as well as sugar. A sneaky carrier of calories and fats are drinks, and not just soda. Watch out for juices and smoothies, they can be loaded with sugar and carbohydrates, leading to an excess of calories. Another thing to keep in mind are portions; it is so easy to overeat!
Besides weight, another aspect of the ‘perfect’ summer body is glowing, sun kissed skin. While bright sun and warm weather is exciting, it may be the most dangerous part of the season. UV-A rays most commonly make it to the surface of the earth, while more energetic and harmful UV-B rays are usually stopped by the ozone layer. These rays are what cause sunburns. According the Centers for Disease Control, any time UV rays change skin color, it is classified as an injury. Every time skin tans, it increases the likelihood of cancer.
Skin cancer, although the most commonly diagnosed cancer, can easily be avoided. Reducing sun exposure by staying in the shade or wearing protective clothing helps to block harmful rays. Reducing sun exposure between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the rays are most direct also helps dramatically. Another method of prevention is wearing sunscreen. There are many brands and formulas to try, but the most important aspect of sunscreen is remembering to reapply! To know how often to lather up, simply multiply the time is takes for untreated skin to burn by the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreen. This is how many minutes the formula will last.
In the end, bodies should not be altered for a season, but kept strong and healthy year round. To get a sun-kissed glow without risking damage, use a bronzer or self tanner. If body image is an issue, just remember that the best body is a healthy one, and summer is the time to show it off.