Summer, that wondrous time of the year where the weather is hot (supposedly), you have vacations (ideally), and you can soak yourself on a beach or pool and just chill. I could go on expressing my love for summer, my favorite season, for ages. I guess some part of me never grew up and still gets stupidly excited whenever I'm in front of the water. I mean, what's not to like? You may argue that the weather is the worst, and in that case, I can't help but feel sorry for you. But I'm digressing. Besides the fresh beverages and golden tans, summer can be a hellish moment for many people out there and that’s the nightmarish pressure many feel over their own image. For such a long time, but probably more in our current era, the idea of having the perfect beach body is something that torments people who don’t think they can achieve those near-impossible standards. You know the drill: for guys it’s the athletic bod with the respective six pack, and for girls, the slim yet curvy anatomy with no visible hair, no stretch marks, and absolutely no extra fat. I know, these beauty standards are there all the time, not just during summer. However, there’s no doubt that during this season the pressure grows exponentially.
In her article for The Cambridge Student, Nailya Shamgunova makes a dissertation about the beach body and all the shaming and pressure everyone feels at some point, which makes them enter a severe state of depression. She opens her text with an anecdote of how a visit to the Uffizi Gallery changed her perception of beauty, and to be honest, she made me think a lot on the impact and the effect of visual representations of beauty in our mind and social construction. I’m not only talking about what we all know regarding magazines telling us how we should look like, but more on the historical impact this has even today. So, going back to Shamgunova’s article, she says that finally being able to stand before Botticelli’s famous Birth of Venus made her realize how contrasting, or better said, hypocritical, these views are.
Let’s expand on that matter. These nudes are thought to represent the ultimate incarnation of beauty. They were like goddesses back then and still today. But if we were to see Botticelli’s Venus posing with a bikini for a fashion magazine or on Instagram, I’m pretty sure she would be shattered and shamed. I mean, her arms are a bit wide, she has a little belly bump, no marked collarbone, and of course, she would be a total failure in the many Instagram trends and challenges, like the thigh gap. If you think about it, more than being the goddess who has just emerged from a seashell, many would think she doesn't have the body one should be proud of exhibiting, and that’s completely idiotic. I mean, if you really look at her, she has a lovely body, and that’s why these paintings have become the epitome of beauty, which is basically the body most people have. So, why is it acceptable and revered to have these bodies on display in a gallery but not in real life?
Naturally, I’m kind of exaggerating, but not really. People (especially women) are constantly bullied for their bodies. This only creates a sense of hatred and self-rejection, and to be honest, this couldn’t be more stupid. Yes, I agree that encouraging people to lead a healthy life is important (I mean, I will probably be stoned for this comment; it’s great to love your body, but morbid obesity is a health issue you should do something about), but all those bodies displayed in magazines are sometimes unattainable and only generate confusion and imposition in our society.
Now, Shamgunova’s remarks are great. It’s amazing to feel identified with the "flaws" of a body. But if you expand the idea, I can perfectly imagine Renaissance women looking at these paintings and returning home to tighten their corsets and being ashamed because they can’t reach those bodies depicted by these geniuses. My point is that, no matter the time period, there have always been, and there will always be, impossible beauty standards that evolve with the passing of time. The thing here is not looking at other times to find one period where our bodies resemble those that were worshiped, but learning how to love our uniqueness in a healthy way.
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