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When the sun comes out, so does our self-loathing

Selfies suggest we are body proud, but our desperate paranoia in the sun shows otherwise, writes Sarah Caden

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Vogue Williams shows off her fabulously toned figure

Vogue Williams shows off her fabulously toned figure

Vogue Williams shows off her fabulously toned figure

The June issue of VIP magazine has a seasonal, summery vibe, including a pictorial piece featuring celebs in their swimwear. "Sorry, readers," goes the intro, "but prepare to hate yourselves, because these pictures of Vogue Williams and co are pretty damn depressing."

Oh mother.

Do you laugh? Do you cry?

On the basis that they are far from stupid at VIP, you can only laugh and see how, in one sentence, they skewer all that is painfully insane about the modern body image.

Deliberately poking fun at the madness of it all, they sum it up in three moves. There is the sense of resignation in the opening, anticipatory apology. There is the sense of certainty that the sight of someone else looking good will make the reader feel bad. There is the sense of acceptance that ­Ordinary Joanna's ­ordinary body is fundamentally ­something that depresses her.

I chose to laugh. And chose to believe that I had been deliberately made to laugh, but also prodded to pause for thought. VIP was making fun of the modern mindset, but it was also telling the painful truth. Because this is how many, many people - mostly women - think.

And we can talk all we like about "strong not skinny" and good health being more important than a thigh gap, but that's all talk, literally, when the visuals just keep coming of hot-dog legs in the sun, concave-tummy selfies and, just lately, jutting-ribcage bikini shots.

There's no point just blaming the celebs, either. Or the celeb snappers. Sisters are doing it to themselves.

The irony of the modern age is that while we've never put ourselves so much on show before, apparently at ease with displaying our bodies, we've never hated ourselves so much.

And, boy, how the summer points up the contradiction.

Summer adds a new element of one-upmanship to the selfies. Because the clothes come off and we feel that this separates the men from the boys, so to speak.

Now, we all know that photos can be misleading. Suck in your stomach and you are going to look more concave on that sunlounger. Stand sideways and your hips and thighs will look smaller. Raise your arms above your head and not only will arms look leaner, but your ribcage might jut a bit.

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Oh, what joy, you look slim, therefore you are a good person. You might even, nearly, be on a par with "Vogue Williams and co".

The irony of being ­depressed by the sight of Vogue in her togs is that Vogue is the kind of plain-talking girl who makes it clear that her bikini-ready body requires almost daily workouts and a really strict diet. It's pretty much her job to look like that, and she treats it like work, and all without claiming that her body is perfect. It's not perfect, it's a human body, and it doesn't matter that it's not perfect. That's her point: you can be proud without being perfect.

Because what is to be gained from hating the body you have? Slim thighs aren't bestowed on better people. Pert bottoms aren't a pronouncement on your personality.

Physical characteristics are a fluke. But tell that to the countless people online "depressed" about their "hip dips", the hollows beneath the hip bones but above the start of the thighs. No, I hadn't heard of them until recently, either, but people are in mortal combat with them, though some "experts" say that no amount of exercise or dieting will eradicate them.

This sums up the culture of ­self-loathing, though. Hip dips are just your shape, part of who you are. Fighting them is as fruitless as despairing about your eye colour and yet we keep at it, kicking against who we are, tweaking our images online, telling ourselves that the girl without the hip dips is somehow better.

I went to the beach during last week's mini-heatwave. It was after school, with the children and some friends.

There was a young woman in a skimpy bikini on whom a huge number of eyes were trained. She was very toned and very tanned and she looked great.

And, mortal sin of all ­mortal sins, she looked like she knew it.

She trained her phone on herself, endlessly, in every pose and position possibly, snapping selfies and preserving the moment. While not actually taking in the being there, obviously.

Being at the beach is secondary to being seen to be at the beach and being seen to be gorgeous at the beach.

The envious and admiring eyes took this as her due. She was gorgeous, therefore she had the right to show it off. And, then, the opposite seemed to be the truth for far more women on the beach than was healthy.

There was a lot of don't-look-at-me body language, a lot of covered head-to-toe in clothes despite the heat. There was a lot of unhappiness with the heatwave because it raised the issue of what to wear. Or what to take off.

We don't do hot weather well in Ireland.

On holiday, where we hope no one will know us, we can strip off to swimwear, but at home? Well, what if you met someone you knew while in your togs? They'd see the hip dips, bits of cellulite and breasts diminished by reproduction that we usually have covered up under clothes. And they'd think less of us, we reckon.

Sure, your workmates and neighbours and friends have seen you half-naked on your social media, but that's different. That you can control.

Just standing around in skimpy clothes or swimwear on a Dublin beach, that's real exposure and, well, sorry to make you hate yourself, but we seem to find it sort of depressing.

We love the sun and the sunny days, but God how they make us hate ourselves.

What they sharply observe in VIP might make you want to scream. Or might make you scream with laughter, as was probably intended, but sadly it's also a painful truth.


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