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Why Bikini Season is Problematic

Summer is right around the corner, which for many people means hitting the beach and pool scene and going on vacation.

The amount of opportunities to don a bathing suit has earned the time of year the nickname "bikini season." And while the moniker may sound harmless enough, in actuality, this term—and the “bikini bodies” that go with it—can be harmful and stigmatizing.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
May 16, 2024
illustration of woman looking int a mirror
In this article

The origin of bikini bodies and bikini season

Bikinis are a relatively new innovation in the swimsuit world, hitting the market in the mid-1940s and, interestingly, being designed partly in response to material rations connected to World War II.9

It took some time for the fashion to catch on post-war, but once it did, the phrase “bikini body” wasn't far behind. It was first coined in 1961 by a Slenderella International ad that read: “Summer’s wonderful fun is for those who look young. High firm bust—hand span waist—trim, firm hips—slender, graceful legs—a Bikini body!”7

The ad glorified a certain “ideal” body type, notably thin, and shamed women whose bodies didn’t fit this image. But that didn't stop the alliterative term from catching on with other weight-loss companies. For example, a weight-loss salon called Suddenly Slenda ran a 1963 ad that promised women they could obtain a "bikini body" using one of their weight-loss strategies.8

The phrase didn’t become widespread in everyday language until the late 1980s, but adding a "bikini body" to the popular vocabulary soon spawned the need for a “bikini season."8 Now, it was implied that women would be spending ample time in these swimsuits, so it was all the better to prepare for the occasion by dieting or engaging in other weight-loss strategies. 

woman looking at self in a mirror

The problem with bikini season and bikini bodies

The concepts of "bikini bodies" and "bikini season" have received pushback from activists and media outlets in recent years. Still, once certain phrases and imagery catch on in the popular imagination, undoing their influence can be extremely difficult.

Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that the phrases are fat-shaming, fatphobic, and stigmatizing and can cause several physical and mental health consequences.

Bikini season celebrates thinness

If the term “bikini season” meant nothing more than the season in which people swim in their bathing suits, it wouldn’t be so bad. However, cultural messaging and diet culture communicate to us that bikini bodies are thin, toned bodies. This alienates and stigmatizes other bodies and the people who live in them. 

Along with countless advertisements pressuring people to lose weight in preparation for "bikini season," the terms wind up shaming people whose body size, shape, or weight doesn’t fit into the societal "ideal." And because of this shame, many people may end up covering up at the beach or pool due to a fear of weight discrimination and fatphobia—or they may avoid beaches or pools altogether.

Bikini season is fatphobic

Fatphobia is the extreme fear and dislike of fat bodies, leading to weight bias and weight stigma. Labeling only one type of body as a “bikini body” is a prime example of fatphobia. The message behind it is that people only want to see thin bodies uncovered.

Fatphobia and weight discrimination harm people in higher-weight bodies in countless ways. Some negative consequences of weight stigma include:1,2,3

Many of these complications and mental health symptoms are known risk factors for eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa

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Bikini season encourages dieting and weight cycling

Many gyms, weight loss programs, and fad diets take advantage of "bikini season" by leveraging the pressure people feel to have a "bikini body." These companies might release new ads or programs as early as late winter, encouraging people to prepare for the upcoming season by "shedding those winter pounds" or otherwise pursuing weight loss goals.

This encourages a pattern of dieting that can be problematic and has been tied to a higher risk of developing certain eating disorders.10 Another issue with dieting is that it can actually lead to weight gain in the long run. About 80% of people who lose weight by dieting eventually regain what they lost and sometimes even more.4

As such, people who diet to achieve a “bikini body” may wind up gaining back the weight a few months later, setting them up for another round of dieting for the next bikini season and establishing an unhealthy pattern of weight cycling. This process can have many adverse effects on a person’s health, such as:5

Moreover, individuals who engage in weight cycling may experience psychological and emotional issues, such as:5

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-blame
  • Feelings of failure

Bikini season emphasizes the “ideal” body over health

People may think that they'll feel good once they achieve their "bikini body," but in reality, the concept emphasizes achieving an “ideal” rather than following a healthy routine that could actually help someone feel better—physically, mentally, and emotionally—in a sustainable way.

This misunderstanding dovetails with another popular myth: That thin people are always healthy or healthier than people in larger bodies. People can experience medical complications at any size. Some studies even suggest people in larger bodies have lower mortality rates than those in lower-weight bodies.6

Tips for dealing with bikini season

If you feel stressed about being ready for "bikini season," you aren’t alone. Millions of people feel undue pressure to achieve a "perfect" body for the summer—even though there is no such thing, and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

Still, there are some ways to help lessen the feelings of distress, isolation, and discrimination that come with "bikini season": 

  • Unfollow toxic social media accounts. Social media can influence our mental health and emotional well-being in profound ways. If you follow fitness accounts or those that perpetuate diet culture, consider unfollowing them and following accounts that promote body positivity, body neutrality, and radical self-love.
  • Wear what makes you feel confident and comfortable. It can be challenging to ignore what other people say or how they treat you, but if you like a swimsuit or piece of clothing, you should wear it. Conversely, don’t wear something that makes you feel uncomfortable or triggered.
  • Practice body positivity or body neutrality. Some people prefer body positivity, which involves accepting and celebrating bodies of all sizes. In contrast, others subscribe to a body neutrality perspective, which means you don’t have to always love your body—you can accept that your feelings may fluctuate but that you can still live happily with the body you have.
  • Practice radical self-love. This involves loving yourself, including your perceived flaws (which may not be actual flaws), granting yourself the kindness and forgiveness you’d give a friend, listening to yourself and your instincts, reciting positive affirmations, doing things that bring you joy, and challenging your negative self-beliefs.
  • Create a gratitude practice. Every day, write down three things you’re grateful for, which can help keep things in perspective and remind you of the good things you have in your life.

If you have struggled with dieting, intuitive eating may be another helpful practice. This involves listening to and tuning into your body’s hunger and satiety cues and then eating accordingly. If you feel hungry, eat what you desire and how much until you feel satiated or satisfied. Don’t police what you eat—instead, your body is the expert on what it needs. All you have to do is trust it.

Regardless of what society says, loving your body and yourself is the best way to rise above the unrealistic standards associated with body weight and appearance. And, if you want to wear a bikini, then your body, no matter what it looks like, is a bikini body.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2006). Confronting and coping with weight stigma: an investigation of overweight and obese adults. Obesity, 14(10), 1802–1815.
  2. Weight stigma - what is it and what can we do to address it? (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed February 2024.
  3. Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. American journal of public health, 100(6), 1019–1028.
  4. Oh, T. J., Moon, J. H., Choi, S. H., Lim, S., Park, K. S., Cho, N. H., & Jang, H. C. (2019). Body-Weight Fluctuation and Incident Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality: A 16-Year Prospective Cohort Study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 104(3), 639–646. 
  5. Sciarrillo, C., Joyce, J., Hildebrand, D., Emerson, S. (2020, November). The health risks of fad diets. Oklahoma State University. Accessed February 2024.
  6. Wang, Z., Liu, M., Pan, T., & Tong, S. (2016). Lower Mortality Associated With Overweight in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey: Is Overweight Protective? Medicine, 95(2), e2424.
  7. Taylor, E. (2020, June 14). Here Comes the Sun. Denver Post. Accessed February 2024.
  8. Robb, A. (2014, July 23). Why Can’t We Stop Talking About “Bikini Bodies”? Slate. Accessed February 2024.
  9. Fashion on the Ration: The Evolution of the Bikini. (2021, July 12). National WWII Museum. Accessed February 2024.
  10. Howard, C. E., & Porzelius, L. K. (1999). The role of dieting in binge eating disorder: etiology and treatment implications. Clinical Psychology Review, 19(1), 25–44.


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Further reading

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