By Ruthie Kovanen, Columnist

It’s getting to be that time of year when parkas and rain boots are put away and exchanged for swimsuits and flip flops. Similarly, it’s about that time when magazines, commercials and print ads become plastered with perfectly sculpted “beach bodies.”

More accurately, perfectly retouched bodies.

It is no great revelation that the images we see in magazines are highly scrutinized and highly altered via Photoshop. Knowledge of the intentional alteration of photos doesn’t always lessen the images’ impact, however.

It is all too easy to be convinced and consumed by the power of the images disseminated by the media. However, that is their point exactly.

The intent of advertisers is to convince consumers to purchase a product, to subscribe to a belief, to embody — or yearn to embody — the image that is presented to them.

The ideal beach body is an arbitrary image manufactured to rouse the insecurities of the public in order to purchase something, be it a fancy diet plan, a gym membership, a health magazine or cellulite cream — whatever the heck that stuff is anyway.

The implications of the fabricated beach body standard are great.

One of the problems is that it creates a value system of body types with the elusive beach body physique as the archetype. Those whose bodies do not naturally conform to this standard are devalued, made to feel awkward and driven to “correct.”

It generates the notion that certain bodies are problematic bodies — a notion that is altogether false.

Also, the term itself implies that certain bodies are not prepared to be found at certain locales — like the beach — or in certain clothing — like swimsuits.

By deeming certain bodies as beach bodies or bikini bodies, persons whose bodies do not fit in these categories are regarded as unsuitable and unacceptable for certain places and articles of clothing.

An additional wrinkle in the beach body phenomenon is that it encourages unhealthy behaviors. By nature, the entire concept of beach bodies highlights supposed shortcomings in one’s natural body and prompt action to fix, modify and alter.

Those who feel compelled to change their bodies often do so in harmful ways, including severe restriction of caloric intake and obsessive exercise routines.

If concrete action in terms of eating or exercising habits is not taken, the psychological and emotional stress endured by individuals who feel as though their bodies are “wrong” is intense and damaging.

As a society we must reject the idea and label of “beach body.” It creates a hierarchy, is limiting and exclusive and promotes unhealthy thoughts and actions. It is never justified to separate and value people differently on the basis of appearance.

We must instead open our minds to embrace and respect all bodies and the people who inhabit them.

Ruthie Kovanen hails from the great state of Michigan, is a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University and is studying anthropology, Hispanic studies and women’s and gender studies. She is the incoming co-editor of PLU’s social justice magazine,The Matrix.

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