A couple of years ago, a Special K advert made me angry, reminding us of the joy we had as children at the beach, and suggesting the way to recapture it is to lose some weight. Personally I think splashing around in the water, playing stupid beach games, or even low levels of drunkenness are more likely to recapture being a kid on a beach, than losing some weight. And I write that as a person who would generally always like to be a little less squishy than I am.
With the controversy and reaction surrounding the Beach Body Ready advert currently decorating, and being ‘re-decorated’ in London tube stations, the issue has gained a great deal of momentum. I am following it with interest, having noticed and rolled my eyes at the advert in the days before it hit the news.
Rather than focusing on those posters though, my mind keeps being drawn back to a sunny day last summer, at Brockwell Lido. I lived just a short bus ride away from the Lido last summer, and spent some of my favourite days there, lying in the sun, jumping in, and being as close to being on holiday as you can be, when you’re really very close to home.
After the end of exams, the Lido was often full of GCSE and A Level students, relaxing, messing about, and hopefully having one of those summers that seem to go on forever. In a group of confident and chatty teenage girls, there was one girl who stood out, who I wanted to take aside and hug. This summer day, with heat and friends, chips and ice-cream,and cool blue water, so full of promise, the shame and anxiety rolled off her in waves. She stooped and blushed.
At the Lido, there are two cubicles for the women’s toilets, and an open changing room. Just two cubicles between the dozens of women and often their children too, sodden with the splashes from wet people from the pool, puddles of toddler pee, and piles of wet loo roll. I love the Lido, but on busy days, those cubicles are not nice places to be. Instead of change beside her friends, I saw the girl, ashamed and anxious, join a queue of women, waiting for the loo, and wait the fifteen minutes until she could pick her way between the piles of wet matter and into a cubicle, to get changed alone and hidden. She emerged clutching a towel around her waist, nervous and desperate-looking. For the rest of the afternoon, when I walked past her group of friends to my locker or to buy a drink, she remained, white-knuckled clenching her towel about her, wanting to disappear and be invisible.
No-one has to change clothes in public, or even amid others in a changing room. No-one has to wear a bikini or swim if they don’t choose to. But to me, it didn’t look like she felt she had a choice.
Those wasted moments of possible joy, lost through fear, shame and anxiety, are the things that worry me. A teenager is allowed to be awkward, and want to disappear. It’s part of the job, surely. But future possible joyful moments lost because of fear that someone could consider your body not beach ready? That’s what I keep thinking about.