This summer and every summer, my body belongs to me.

“Every body is a bikini body” has been one of my favorite phrases for a long time.  

Growing up, I found that I was most unhappy with my body in the summer. Not only was I unable to achieve that mythical “bikini body” that all the magazines by the check-out counter promised to deliver, I also hated that the sun made my skin even darker than it already was. While my white friends sought out the sun to try and tan to that perfect golden-brown that our society calls a “healthy glow,” it became hard to stomach the fact that I’d never have the body everyone seemed to want in the summertime.  

We know that women and girls are faced with a barrage of confusing messaging from a young age regarding their appearances. We’re explicitly told that you have to be skinny to be pretty, or that real women have curves, or that the size of your jeans dictates whether you’re considered healthy. But the messages we learn indirectly are sometimes the most impactful – no one tells us that you have to be white to be beautiful, but every magazine with a small, bikini-clad white woman on the cover tells us otherwise. From photoshopping models to have lighter skin to the potential racial bias in Tik Tok’s algorithm, we are told otherwise.  

As the movement for body positivity has gained momentum over the years, I’ve had to have a lot of hard conversations with myself about what it really means. Here’s what I’ve concluded: to be body positive is to love all bodies the way they are, especially your own. It means celebrating bodies of all sizes, shapes, and skin colors. It means interrogating the ways that we perpetuate harmful stereotypes and expectations for women and their bodies.  

I’ve always thought that we as a society are too judgmental of others – we want to issue our opinion on every passerby, regardless of how little we know about them or how little they affect us. For many of us, our gut reaction is to criticize: to point out that someone’s outfit is ugly, that they have a double chin, that they have no meat on their bones, that their swimsuit shows too much skin, that they’re wearing the wrong clothes for their body type, that their meal has too many calories for you to ever eat it.  

But no one is asking you to eat it. What other people want for their bodies is their choice – we can support them in their empowerment, or keep our opinions to ourselves. The better optionf is to interrogate why we have those opinions in the first place – who taught us, as women, that our figure matters? Who told us that the only way to be sexually desirable is to look like this white woman or that white woman on the cover of Cosmopolitan? The beauty industry, the wellness industry, the porn industry sold us these lies, and we bought them.  

I was genuinely shocked that I never internalized the fact that my body is for more than aesthetics. My body carries me through the world; it has sustained me for twenty-two years as I’ve grown into an activist, a writer, a thinker and a woman. My body has held me steady in 100 degree heat and freezing wind, has protected me through loss, heartbreak and trauma and reminded me that I am alive.  

I’ve been told my whole life that I need to slim down, that I have too much cellulite and too many stretch marks, that I look so pretty with makeup or that a girl of my size can’t wear shorts that length. I’ve had countless people tell me that there’s a good and bad way to look, act, dress, and behave as a woman, and I call BS. I don’t cede control of my body to the opinions of others, today or any day, this summer or any summer for the rest of my life. Every body is a bikini body, and every body houses a real human being capable of deciding who they want to be. Today, we love our bodies — tomorrow, we know that we are so much more than just bodies.  

Blog by Liyanga de Silva, Communications Department intern at the National Organization for Women.  

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