Refinery29's 'Take Back The Beach' Project And Body Image Survey Show Exactly Why We Need Body Positivity

Despite the increasing support for body positivity in the past few years, every summer marks a new season of the pressure to have that perfect "bikini body." Magazines urge us to tone our thighs and arms, bleach our teeth and hair, shave our legs and pubic hair, all while maintaining an air of the effortless Cool Girl. It's an impossible standard, but when women discussed their beach bodies for Refinery 29's "Take Back the Beach" project, it became apparent that it's harder to shake the pressure than you'd think.

The survey asked 1000 Millennial women what they thought of their "bikini bodies," and it's clear that the beach bod narrative has an effect on our self-esteem. Although a little more than half said they were "mostly happy" with their bodies, only seven percent of respondents were totally happy with their appearance, and a whopping 80 percent reported that they avoided activities out of self-consciousness. The most common place that women said they steered clear of? The beach.

Similarly, the occasions that caused the most "body panic" were vacation, beach season, and weddings. In contrast, I went to a wedding last weekend in which the groom wore jeans and cowboy boots next to his wife's $2,000 tailored dress, and my brother literally had no idea why our mother might want to keep her clothes on at the beach. I know the plural of anecdote isn't fact, but come on. Is anyone else noticing a trend here?

According to the survey, more than 60 percent of women have been on a diet, and almost a third of those had tried between four and nine different kinds. Perhaps most alarmingly, 70 percent of them had started dieting before the age of 13. That means that kids who might not have gotten their periods yet were worrying about their weight. Is it any wonder that eating disorders are so prevalent in the United States?

Women were also asked to describe both an ideal "bikini body" and their own bodies, and the results were starkly different.

Bikini bodies were associated with words like "toned," "fit," and "skinny."

Their own bodies, on the other hand, were associated with words like "average" and "overweight." While it's heartening to see that "beautiful" and "healthy" made it onto the word cloud, the positive words are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the negatives.

Until tabloids stop running daily photos of starlets' "SHOCKING weight gain!!" and women can actually enjoy the beach without worrying about their cellulite, it's clear that body acceptance initiatives like Refinery 29's "Take Back the Beach" are sorely needed. "It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both," reads the website's (awesome) tagline.

For more on the mission behind "Take Back the Beach," head over to Refinery 29.

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Images: Illustrations by Elliot Salazar courtesy of Refinery29 (3); Giphy