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Essay: Forget the summer plan

A satire on trying the newest fad diet, finding the best bikini and achieving the perfect tan

KRISTINA HOUSER

Don't feel guilty about destroying that to-do list. The best part of summer is forgetting about those pesky obligations.

June 14, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

If it’s true that summertime is when the livin’s easy, then the entire year leading up to it is one big anticipatory headache. It’s the exact opposite of the calm before the storm. It’s the apocalyptic nightmare before the dust settles.

Well, for women, at least. We’re planners. For example, I’m the person who asks what you’ll feel like having for dinner while I’m on my third bite of lunch. In general, women like to be prepared for a wide range of chance encounters.

Like the chance someone with photo or video recording technology will demand posed pool pictures (bane of my existence). Or the chance I might be invited somewhere tropical on a moment’s notice.

Prep work is necessary to be the ray-catching duck calmly atop a metaphorical glassy pond throughout the summer. So from January through May, we must be feverishly kicking feet below the surface. It’s as if our schedules for the six-month stretch between New Year’s Day and the official first day of summer must be spent getting our affairs in order before our motivation and productivity slowly give way to relaxation and Vitamin D. Now that we’re enjoying our summer,
let’s take a look back at how we got here …

The Regimen
It starts with threatening diet pill ads featuring an intimidating Jillian Michaels throwing away AN ENTIRE cake. (I cringed, too.) Still, like zombies, we download those fitness apps, buy new running shoes, sign up for gym memberships and pop Yoga Booty Ballet into the DVD player. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

Then we buy magazines promoting fabulously flat abs that will glisten in the sun like those of a Greek god ­­— in five minutes with three quick and easy steps! How exactly do the five minutes happen? Do you change into workout clothes for just five minutes? Is this like a pre-shower situation or a post-shower situation? Should I just drop to the floor for some ab work during the word from our sponsors?

Really, it’s not about the abs. It’s about all those clichés: the energy, the confidence and most importantly, the moment we cock our heads to the side while looking in the mirror and like what we see.

The Power Suit
To max out the confidence meter while beaching, there must also be the elusive perfect swimsuit. Every suit consists of a few inches of fabric that are literally cut from the same cloth — the same spandex-y Lycra nylon cloth. Yet, you can pick up one suit from a bargain bin for a few bucks and two racks over, one for $475. All suits were not created equal. And somehow $500 gets all the better colors and patterns.

It’s not just a price that could conceivably serve as a swimwear speed bump. Without fail, every magazine on the newsstand will inevitably publish an article titled something such as THE PERFECT SWIMSUIT FOR YOUR BODY! or FIND YOUR SEXIEST SHAPE! And God bless those gorgeous and brave representative models, but they always feature the most exaggerated version of said shape, and sometimes the magazine has the audacity to actually draw the shape and place it next to her.

Without further adieu, a sampling of shapes:

-Pear: Why couldn’t we go with “Bootylicious”? The Beyonce-inspired term was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004. If it’s good enough for B, it’s good enough for me. Sometimes “pear” follows the “apple” shape (fuller stomach). If your shape has a fruit name, count on descriptions such as “supportive” and “great coverage” for solid-colored swimsuits. Fruits get the worst stuff.

-Boy/Athletic: What about athletic women with curves? Non-boy-looking athletes? Are we assuming that they hit the genetic lottery and require no swimsuit guidance? Meanwhile, the rest of us are one big school of fish mindlessly following the leader.

-Small-Chested: Always lots of ruffles. So many ruffles. (Ruffles, you are fooling no one.)

-Hourglass: Congratulations! Every swimsuit fits you, you proportional goddess, you.

These categories mostly annoy me because if we’re being honest and accurate, I am an athletic, small-chested micro-pear whose hips don’t lie. The struggle is real. And that’s why I haven’t bought a swim suit since 2008.

The Glow

The next question I must ask myself before baring (almost) all is ... to tan or not to tan? That is the question (Shakespeare just rolled over in his grave). One of the most cruelly ironic phrases in society’s collective vocabulary is “a healthy glow.” Never “precancerous glow,” always “a healthy glow.” Red carpet announcers and swimsuit ads alike rattle that one off constantly. Every beach season, women are faced with decisions. As my beautiful ivory-skinned roommate says, “It’s an uphill battle, but I’m fighting every day.” By fighting, she means single-handedly fueling the self-tanning and bronzer industries. Another roommate has a four-part faux tanner application process that is one shower and two days long. Here is my beauty bible chapter on the sun.

1. Thou shalt not visit tanning beds. Both for financial reasons (hellooo, tan tax) and the goal that thou shalt never physically age (lofty, but noble).
2. Thou shalt tan only when the sun is out. Because it’s natural, and it’s what your ancestors have been doing since the dawn of time, damn it.
3. Thou shalt own SPF 60 to use on face. Thou shalt avoid wrinkles and “leather bag face” at all costs. Of all Jagger’s moves, that is not one you want.
4. Thou may spend up to $50 on self-tanning lotion to avoid the terrible smell and telling streaks of the cheap stuff.
5. Thou shalt not burn. Say “no, thank you” to lobster looks and melanoma.

Still, hat’s off to those rocking porcelain skin. Live it, love it, embrace it. Read centuries worth of sonnets written about you. Check out the Mona Lisa. Listen to “Jolene.” Emulate Christina Hendricks in Mad Men.

The Time
And lastly, there is the issue of time. It all comes down to finding the time to carve out my moment of enjoying my abs, my show-stopping swimsuit and my flawless, glowing skin. As to the age-old question of whether women can have it all, if my life serves as anecdotal evidence, the answer is not usually. But if I’ve learned anything in my 22 years, it’s that women know how to have it all without “having it all.” Despite what every tabloid and Kardashian will try to sell you, it’s not about getting our affairs in order and checking off everything on the pre-summer list. Whether it be for 15 minutes, a day at the beach or a month on vacation, the point of summer is to rip up or burn the checklist and forget about it.

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