Every single fourth of July weekend for as long as I’ve been writing on the internet, I’ve penned a post specifically focused on body-image issues. As a girl who continues to battle those pesky eating-disordered demons, I’ve always found the fourth of July to be particularly triggering.
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“Bu-bu-but what about the girls in the Instagram picture? They look so curvy and perf-” “NO ONE LOOKS LIKE THE GIRL IN THE VIRALLY ADORED INSTAGRAM PICTURE. NOT EVEN THE GIRL IN THE VIRALLY ADORED INSTAGRAM PICTURE,” Wise Zara screamed so loudly, my four poster bed, literally shook from the vibrational intensity of my voice. She continued, in a softer voice, “Look. You’ve always been able to see the beauty in all kinds of people. Why can’t you see beauty in yourself when you can see it so vividly in everyone else?” She blew a perfect ring of smoke in my face and disappeared. I (Weak Zara) ruminated on her words for awhile. She was right. I do see beauty in all kinds of humans. I don’t believe beauty is one note; I believe in so many epically different versions of beauty. Most pressingly, I truly believe a “summer body” is simply a body in the summer. Yet, I blindly subject myself to the beauty standards I reject for everyone else. At that moment, I decided no more. So last summer, every single time I began to beat myself over how I horrible, blah, wah, I looked, I actively changed the narrative. Rewrote the script. Ventured outside the steel bars of the prison of my boring brain and decided to direct my attention toward the beauty of the beach. Just like Wise Zara suggested. (LINK TO PIECE IN BIO. I KNOW LABOR DAY WEEKEND CAN SCREW A GIRL UP SO READ IF YOU NEED A PEP TALK.)
Memorial Day weekend usually harbors the leftovers of spring’s last chill, so there aren’t eons of pressure to be gallivanting around in a bathing suit. Memorial Day is for cream-colored maxi dresses and lilac manicures. But the second July rears her sweat-adorned head into the otherwise mild orbit, summer has officially made her grand entrance, shamelessly showing off her tropical tan whilst clad in an obnoxiously-neon string bikini. She makes her party debut on fourth of July weekend, but her snide energy taunts us for weeks prior.
She usually pays me a visit on July 1st, right as the midday sun shines its harsh, unforgiving light through my office window. I’ll be sitting on my laptop writing about something important like, I don’t know, the escalating and total destruction of culture or whether or not Britney Spears is being held hostage by her “handlers.” (I personally think she’s overmedicated and being held hostage.) I’ll be utilizing my well-oiled brain when good ole’ July taps me on the shoulder with her pointy acrylic nails. She smells like coconut-scented tanning oil and bleach. Her belly button is pierced; the long emerald green gems of her body jewelry glimmer in the sunlight as they cascade down her taut navel. She’s clutching a Chanel towel (I think it’s a fake. Only really rich seasons — like Aspen Winter — can afford real Chanel towels). Her soulless snake eyes send a shiver down my spine.
“It’s me, July,” She’ll rasp in her menthol cigarette voice.
“I know who you are.” I’ll turn my head back toward the static computer screen and begin to aggressively clank on the keys of my laptop.
“Are you ready for me?” she’ll smile her crocodile smile and trace her fingers against her ribcage.
A tidal wave of shame will wash over my body. The nuanced content that lives and breathes inside of my brain will float away with the fishes of the deep blue sea. Its vast empty space will be filled entirely by one entity: a killjoy named Body Shame.
“I’m afraid I am not up to your standards, July,” I’ll say, hanging my head in defeat.
“You weren’t up to them last year, either.” July will pop a diet pill she’s been storing in her bikini top and proceed to swallow it down with no water. “Come to think of it, your body always disappoints me. Maybe during those two years you stopped eating and stopped getting your period in your late teens you passed the test. But since you started eating solid foods and enjoying fine wines, you’ve been a failure, Zara. Every year you say it’s going to be different. It never is.” Her words will emerge from her puffy lips like smoke. I’ll watch them gracefully dance and curl into the air.
Her eyes will study me, like I’m a piece of art she isn’t quite sure about. I’ll feel my body swell and expand with each passing second.
“As a punishment for your imperfections, you are not to have any fun at the fourth of July party get-together you’ve been so excited about. You are to feel ashamed, self-conscious, unattractive, and wracked with social anxiety. I might even make you drink so much you get sick and ruin the entire day. I’m not sure.”
“Isn’t that a little harsh?! I mean no one can live up to your screwed up beauty standards, JULY! No one!” I’ll start to cry. Not a deep sob — the kind of silent tears that burn.
“IT’S MY MONTH AND I SHALL BURDEN YOU WITH AS MANY BODY DYSMORPHIC ISSUES AS I DAMN WELL PLEASE,” July will shout, sounding akin to an evil queen banishing the endangered princess to a lifetime of darkness in a Disney movie. Her hands will be stretched out in front of her as if she’s casting a spell on me and an actual lightning bolt will emerge from her long, skinny fingers.
“Gahhhh!” I’ll scream, feeling the electric shock blast over my body.
July will snicker, pick up her (fake) Chanel towel, and leave. She’s got a busy day of body shaming ahead of her.
Yesterday (July first), I was preparing a beautiful breakfast for my family: eggs with yolks the color of gold and avocados more lush and voluptuous than Ms. Marilyn Monroe in her prime, spread gracefully across the most gorgeous hunk of sourdough bread your eyes have ever borne witness to. I like cooking for my family. It feels primal, natural, and healthy for the body and mind. I was listening to the song “Starfuckers, Inc” by Nine Inch Nails. “My god sits in the back of the limousine/My god comes in a wrapper of cellophane/My god pouts on the cover of the magazine/My god’s a shallow little bitch trying to make the scene.”
And that’s when July appeared. I didn’t recognize her at first. She was wearing her signature neon string bikini, but she looked different. She looked — healthy. Her usually empty eyes were full of star-shine. She smiled at me warmly.
“Can I have a piece of that glorious avocado toast you’ve been whipping up?” she asked gently.
Her energy was as soothing as a Cat Stevens’ song, but I was still skeptical. “I thought you don’t eat carbs,” I scoffed.
“That was the past. With all the shit going on in the world, I did some deep self-reflection,” she sighed. “I refuse to torture myself or any other women anymore. My perception of beauty was warped by the patriarchy. But during quarantine, I did a lot of thinking.”
“And?” I asked, my insides perching up like a Meerkat.
“I realize I want to be part of the change in the world. I want to go to protests. If I continue to starve myself and degrade other women, I won’t have the bandwidth to dismantle our sick society. I want to reclaim what I, as a season, represent. I want July to be about nourishment, joy, self-care. I want to erase my name of body shame! It will take time, I know. But it’s better to show up late to the party than never show up at all. Right?”
“Your wicked wrath of body-negativity f*cked up every summer of my adult life,” I said slowly. I took a bite of my avocado toast. It tasted like love, the non-toxic kind. The kind that elevates your life and adds to your shine in lieu of dulling it.
“I know. I know. I know. But I’ve evolved. And whether or not you believe me it’s still my month. And this month, I DEMAND THAT YOU HAVE FUN AT YOUR SOCIALLY DISTANCED FOURTH OF JULY GET TOGETHER, OKAY? You deserve it. All women do. Plus I need your brain space to be freed up from poison. We’ve got a world to change!” July winked at me and helped herself to a piece of avocado toast. “Wow Zara, this tastes like love. The non-toxic kind of love. Healthy love.”
We sat at the kitchen table for hours and talked about everything. Now that we had both set ourselves free, we found that together, we could have nuanced, fun, entertaining, and stimulating conversations! And after inhaling two slices of avocado toast, I vowed to her that, in her freshly-empowered honor, I will not body shame myself this year — in solidarity. If July can release herself from the shackles of shame, so can I. And so can you.