I can’t claim to understand what being a celebrity in the limelight feels like, but I know how it feels to live under a microscope, and that’s why it hurt to see what happened to Selena Gomez this week.
Some paparazzo took photos of her in a bikini—in very normal, human positions—and then she was inundated on social media by users worrying about her supposed “fat.” I felt deep sympathy for Selena. We may lead very different lives, and paps don’t watch my every move, but our stories as women are more alike than they are different.
I tweeted it because I’m concerned about Selena. I was never attemping for body shaming.
— SelenaGomezForever (@selgforever0758)
We’re taught from a young age to view our bodies as projects, that we have to be somehow constantly working to improve them. It often feels like we’re on an endless loop, being served up images of perfect bikini bodies as expectations no one can ever quite meet.
As a kid, I wore a T-shirt over my bathing suit to the beach and pool like an invisibility cloak. Covering my thighs, stomach and arms, I felt like I could finally enjoy something I loved to do, even if it meant dealing with the discomfort of oversized cotton clinging awkwardly to my wet body. That was a discomfort I learned to live with in exchange for hiding the parts of me I hated. I lied and said I didn’t want to get sunburnt, but my insecurities put me underneath a spotlight—even at 10-years-old, I felt like society wanted me to hide myself.
Although by most standards Gomez certainly fits into the mould of what it means to be an “attractive woman,” her fierce response to the body shamers was pitch perfect. And she didn’t even mention her body. She killed them with kindness, and instead talked openly about taking care of herself and candidly about the “beauty myth” we all subscribe to. You get that wind in your sails, girl!
I’m going to take Gomez’s words to heart, and you should too, especially as we approach summer—a.k.a., the season of the “bikini body,” a time of year when we’re attacked with body ideals and supplements promising the fat loss required to wear a freaking bathing suit.
Throughout my life as a woman—who has never in her adult life worn below a size 10—I was taught to be disgusted by my fat. If I had fat, people mustn’t see it and I *should* be striving to get rid of it. My body didn’t belong on the beach, didn’t belong in a bathing suit and didn’t really belong in the world at all.
So when I see Selena, smiling and enjoying life with her friends, I don’t see fat rolls, cellulite or a woman who has “let herself go”—I see a person taking care of herself, an empowering act I wish I’d been taught to put ahead of being skinny.
I wish my 10-year-old self could have seen a post like Selena’s, because it took me until I was in my early 20s to buy my first bikini. It was for a spring break trip to Cuba, and I’ll never forget it. Black and white with polka dots and extremely high-waisted bottoms—but it was still a two-piece and it still felt like a monumental life change. I was determined to wear it because to me, it represented much more than a style choice: it was a big f-ck you to being told I couldn’t wear it.
While I walked along the beach sans T-shirt, I realized that my choice to expose my body—cellulite, flabby arms, tummy and all—meant so much more to me than just a cute fashion statement or getting a tan. It was an act of resistance. And it still is a form a rebellion against the beauty myth Gomez is talking about.
Gomez is right when she calls physical perfection a trap. The beauty myth, , works to keep women complacent in their own oppression. But this summer, let’s all make like Selena. Let’s care for ourselves and our well-being before wasting any more time agonizing over what to wear.
And as for me, well, I just ordered three more bikinis. See you at the beach.