Worried about your beach body? Take a lesson from gen Z | Zoe Williams

Last Updated: June 8, 2024By

Confident? No Way! How Seasons Mess with Mr. Z’s Head

Mr. Z was seriously doubting himself, all because the seasons were changing. Summer used to be a breeze when he was younger—you just wore fewer clothes, no big deal. But now, in middle age, he’s bombarded with questions: Is it okay to wear shorts? What about vests? Should he be self-conscious about body hair? And what if it’s turning grey? Has anyone ever figured out the rules about socks, sandals, and whether men should worry about their toenails? It feels like a total minefield. Maybe it’s easier to just stay in bed and not get dressed at all.

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Men vs. Women: The Clothing Dilemma

It’s almost cute how different these worries are for men and women. Mr. Z is 49 and just now wondering how much clothing is acceptable to take off. He didn’t think about socks and sandals until late May!

The Female Perspective: Are You Beach Body Ready?

For women, this timeline looks way different. Ever heard the phrase “are you beach body ready?” In the 90s, it was thrown at every woman and girl around March. This gave us time to buy whatever they were pushing—fake tan, diet plans, bikinis. None of it was fun stuff like beach balls or inflatables.

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Pushing Back: Body Positivity Through the Years

In the 00s, we started to push back. “I have a body, and I’m putting it on a beach, so yeah, I’m ready,” we’d say. By the 2010s, the question was more of a joke, but the underlying pressure was still there. If you didn’t fit the ideal body type, it was your job to cover up—even if it meant sweating in a polo neck when it was 98 degrees. Maybe chiffon would make it bearable?

The Next Generation: Embracing Change

Young women today see my generation’s body shaming as bizarre and laughable. Staying connected with modern times means, at 50, I’ve done a complete 180. Now, my only nod to societal norms is choosing to wear my pajamas to the small Tesco’s instead of the big one.

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The End

Embracing Summer: Mr. Z’s Seasonal Struggle and Our Body Image Journey

Mr. Z was having a crisis of confidence, due to the change of seasons. He thinks summer’s easy when you’re young; you just wear fewer clothes. In middle age all these questions crowd in: are you allowed to wear shorts? Where do you stand on vests? Should you be worrying about your body hair? What if it’s greying? Did society ever land on a decision regarding socks, sandals, toes, men, pedicures and the peculiar pallor below the ankle tan line? It’s a minefield. Better not to get dressed at all.

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It was such a stark contrast of the social experience of the genders, that it was almost endearing. Imagine reaching the age of 49 before worrying about how many clothes you’re allowed to take off. Imagine reaching the end of May before the sock-and-sandal question breaks into your consciousness.

My experience of the timeline, conversely, is distilled in the phrase: are you beach body ready? In the 90s, it was delivered as a completely straightforward question to women and girls of every age, sometime in March, to give us all time to buy whatever the hell they were selling (fake tan? Diet plans? Bikinis? Whatever it was, it was never anything fun, like a sea inflatable).

In the 00s, there was a little pushback, along the lines of: “Well, I have a body, and I plan to put it on a beach, so I guess yes, I am ready.” By the 10s, the question tended to be asked in jest, but the foundational expectation remained, that physical deviation from the ideal was your responsibility to cover up, and if that meant you were wearing a polo neck in 98-degree heat, well, had you considered one made of chiffon?

All the young women I know find my generation’s reflexive, internalised fat-shaming weird and ridiculous. Which, just in the spirit of remaining connected to modernity means, at 50, I’ve come full circle, and the only concession I make to the weather, the patriarchy, the whole architecture of social norm-enforcement, is that I’ll go to the small Tesco’s in my pyjamas, and never the big one.

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