Summer body/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Thoughts on the ‘perfect’ summer body

Lo and behold, no one can escape the elusive ‘summer body’ that plagues social media from the first moment a little sunshine appears. While ‘Instagrammers’ and ‘influencers’, who have been reminiscing about the ‘summer body’ in single-digit temperatures, seize the opportunity to make money from their sponsors, fitness accounts have been readily posting training regimens since February, fittingly titled “SUMMER BOOTY WORKOUT” or “DO THIS FOR BIKINI ABS!”

Your Instagram feed becomes jammed with adverts from Shein and Zaful, and Emily Ratajkowski is exclusively wearing Inamorata merchandise in every one of her posts. Suddenly, you’re looking for a shortcut to get that talked-about body, to fit in those talked-about co-ords. Then, it dawns on you. You are too late.

Or perhaps, you’re just in time. You tell yourself that there’s absolutely nothing to worry about – the social media gurus have been preparing for different seasons, a whole season ahead of you.

While you were rushing to the first field of flowers you saw to get that classic ‘Spring’s here!’ photo, (PSA: Don’t sit on the flowers. With every trample comes every bald patch and soon all of you clout-hungry social media trawlers will take away every bit of fauna from this good, green earth. Don’t sit on the flowers. Please.) Instagrammers have been populating temporarily empty beaches to be ahead of the curve. Dear reader, what I’m trying to say is, they do this for a living and there’s no reason to compare yourself to them.

Don’t try to compete with someone who trains for a living

The same thing goes for fitness gurus – don’t try to compete with someone who trains for a living and is sponsored for going to the gym. Their bodies have been cultivated through years, years and more years of training. To get that perfect ‘beach booty’ dusted with a sheen of wet sand, or the toned arms that hold a 21-inch pizza in one hand and a margarita in another, it takes thousands of sessions of training.

That 10-minute ab workout you found on YouTube by that Instagram model, who manages to have the perfect body? At the end of the day, it all comes down to four pivotal factors: genes, surgery, Photoshop, and no shortcuts. (Disclaimer: No shame to any of these factors – while other people get the body they want through other methods, I lack the resources for most of these, and thus resorted to the good old treadmill.)

The dreaded treadmill was the bane of my existence when I first tried to ‘get in shape’. For the past two summers, I have dived into the recesses of ‘fitness’, and from my experimental endeavours, learned a lot about my relationship with exercise and my body. I first tried straight cardio – I was absolutely obsessed with getting the body I wanted for graduation, and decided I was going to lose every lick of fat. I committed to an extremely restrictive regimen of running one to five kilometres every day, coupled with some bodyweight exercises, for an entire month.

Don’t do something like this to yourself, especially when you end up with incredibly damaging body image issues

I theoretically got what I wanted. By the end of that tumultuous month, you could see my ribs from the front and back, and my side profile was like a noodle. I was eating around 500 calories a day, consisting of three bowls of fruit. My takeaway? Don’t do something like this to yourself, especially when you end up with incredibly damaging body image issues. To this very day, I sometimes look at myself in the mirror and wonder, what if I did the same thing again? But then I quickly ask myself, at what cost? Feeling guilty after every single meal I have, even if it’s a glass of water, because I’m terrified of bloating before a public occasion?

This first summer of extreme fitness, about a month long, got out of hand. The night after my graduation buffet, I hugged the toilet bowl and tried to get everything I had eaten out of my system, because my body could no longer handle it anymore.

In a matter of two months, I lost most of the progress I made, and only seemed to gain fat in the wrong places. I highly discourage anyone from embarking on a ‘freak diet’ and fitness routine. Trying to get a ‘summer body’ is not effective. With fitness, you need to maintain the body you get, be it through your diet or your training; suddenly breaking away from all the work you’ve done, especially after summer’s over, will set you back the entirety of any ‘gains’ you have made, very possibly even further, and severely affect your self-perception.

Skip the shortcuts, and remember the importance of maintenance. But above all this, be patient

So, skip the shortcuts, and remember the importance of maintenance. But above all this, be patient. It’s all just a matter of time. This might seem vague and cliché. All you want to know is, how much time, really?

During my second year of ‘extreme fitness’, I embarked on a different journey with a different body type in mind. Being ‘curvy’ instead of ‘thin’ was the new hype. In that time, I’d moved from Hong Kong to the UK, where beauty standards are vastly different. As with being thin, being ‘curvy’ is something you can train for – instead of cardio, weightlifting and focusing on your lower body and shoulders will give an illusion of the ‘hourglass figure’ that some are born with, and others spend years to get and maintain.

Weightlifting takes more than just a month, especially for obvious results. Having begun weightlifting about a year ago, I’m still nowhere near the body I’ve always wanted, and I think it will be at least another two years before I achieve it. (And by then, my goals may have changed and I would’ve dived into another hype. What a cruel, cruel universe of trends it is!) Being able to lift heavier and heavier weights takes a long time to accumulate (I go up by about 2.5kg every two weeks for weighted hip thrusts, and 5kg every two months for squats), and the unfortunate reality is that people of different height (muscles tend to take longer to show the taller you are), body type (endomorphic, mesomorphic, ectomorphic), bone and body structure (people with wider hips or longer torsos develop in different ways) will tempt you into the throes of comparing yourself to their progress. Again, mentally damaging, and incredibly discouraging, especially since it’s something you can’t change, not immediately.

Without goals that you know you can achieve, you won’t have the motivation at all

An additional note on injuries. One wrong move when you weightlift can severely impair you – from long-term cardio, you may get runner’s feet or place excess stress on your knees – and throw you off track. From a squat gone wrong, I was put off from weightlifting for about three months because a nerve in my back was displaced. Every time I go to the gym, I imagine – what if I accidentally overextended my legs, and horrifically injure myself? At the end of the day, even if it means slower progress, be careful. Safety comes above everything else especially when one fatal move can cost you so much more than one month more of working out.

My final verdict is (for now) that weightlifting, with a combination of light cardio if you fancy, is more likely to give you the ‘summer body’ that social media loves to champion. But it’s nothing without maintenance, patience and attainable goals. These can be small, such as going from squatting the bar to squatting 25kg in a month, or being able to touch your toes by the fifth time you go the gym (Do not neglect the importance of stretching! It eases muscle pain and enhances flexibility, amongst some of the many benefits it gives!) Without goals that you know you can achieve, you won’t have the motivation at all.

Try to focus on being fit and healthy, rather than forcing yourself into an extreme routine that you cannot maintain.

On a closing note, may the summer of 2019 be a season of, above all things, self-acceptance of your body image. It’s something I’m still learning to do, but it’s vital to bear in mind. ‘Summer body’ be damned.

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