In the run up to summer, it can be hard to avoid the constant reminder that we’re a bit out of shape and could do with going on some sort of diet and exercise regime before donning swimwear.

The volume of these messages can imply that should I not hurry and do something about it, the body beautiful police may harpoon me and drag me away from the other perfect beach-ready beauties as I’m spoiling the view.

This year it pleased me to see a bit of a backlash on social media – some piss-taking or even angry responses to the ‘getting summer ready’ messages. The other extreme is the messages about how we should love our bodies, viewing each stretchmark as a mark of how amazing we are and each thigh dimple as a dent left behind from angel’s kisses (or something). Now, I’m all for positive thinking and sometimes these messages can be inspiring, but they can also make me feel guilty for not loving my lifeless tits.

I’ve just come back from a beach holiday; the overwhelming thing when I really looked around me is that we really do come in all shapes and sizes. Over two weeks I saw perhaps one body that resembled the kind of toned woman you might see in an ad, and I’m being completely honest when I say she looked odd next to the rest of us. There were big butts, flat butts, pendulous swinging boobs and teeny tiny ones. The array of bellies was tremendous – tiny waists, muffin tops, athletic toned midriffs and many, many mum tums. It’s not even about weight when it comes to the belly area after you’ve had kids. Once that skin has been stretched, especially more than once, it changes. Oh, it changes.

With such an array of bodies, and yet apparently only one type of beach body perfection ie very slim and toned, something isn’t quite right. Having asked friends how they feel about the ‘are you beach ready?’ messages, they all find them exhausting. None of them were totally happy with their body, but all found being reminded of this annoying; being guilted and shamed in to doing something made them feel angry. They also found that despite using up mind-space thinking about it, they hadn’t actually had the time to do anything to feel better, so the run up to holiday was full of ‘I should probably…’ and then feeling they’d let themselves down when two days before they were due to fly the six pack still wasn’t forthcoming. Oh the irony that a holiday is supposed to be our break from normal life and worries and yet the lead up can cause this additional anxiety.

I think many of us have demons about our bodies. There’s not a lot someone else can say about my body to make me feel differently. If I’m in the right frame of mind I can drag out that old favourite – perspective. I have my health, and I know that my post-baby body is what it is; it has positives and negatives. I could change some parts should I really want to, but I also want the balance of enjoying life, and food. Everyone has a different motivation, but the calls to get summer ready are often driven by companies wanting to sell something. Mostly they’ll be encouraging something faddy rather than lifestyle changes that will actually benefit us in the long-term. Looking awesome on the beach might work for some as a driver, but having just been on holiday with my family, I wanted to take a moment to point out how utterly RIDICULOUS the idea of being ‘beach ready’ is for many of us.

I don’t know one woman that relishes putting on swimwear. It all starts with that dreaded encounter in the changing room. Firstly – bright lights shining from above that show every bit of cellulite in all it’s glaring glory? Meh. Retailers should consider introducing candle light, they’d make a killing. Then there’s the added mirror so you can see your rear view. Or in the right (wrong) position you can see multiples of yourself, like the Gok Wan mirrored box thing he does. Except you haven’t got him next to you saying ‘Go sista, look at your a-may-zing jugs – you are WOMAN’. Your greying pants and ill-fitting bra look even sadder when you can see them from all angles.

Posturing in front of a changing room mirror is one thing. Standing stock still, sucking everything in and viewing yourself from your best side, you may reach a purchase you’re comfortable with. Over the last few years I’ve avoided the changing room horror and relied on my old faithfuls, purchased for my honeymoon 6 years ago. Due to age and having seen me through two pregnancies and the accompanying weight gain/loss, the elastic is not quite what it was and it all sits a little precariously. Which brings me to the real test of swimwear and our summer bodies – forget the changing room, we’re at the beach. More specifically, the beach with small children.

Gone are the days of sauntering on to the beach, a small canvas bag thrown over your shoulder containing little more than a book and a towel.

Now you make your entrance stumbling across the sand juggling a couple of kids and what you shamefully know is the most ridiculous amount of stuff. There’s the array of awkward-to-carry plastic shit, six towels (of course you need spares), various only-partially-deflated inflatables, multiple changes of clothes due to likelihood of someone getting covered in wet sand before you’ve had a chance to get swimming costumes on, an unfeasibly large cool bag, Beach umbrella, large bottle of thick-as-paint suncream plus sunsuits, sun hats and armbands, and a book that will remain untouched, mocking your optimism. Once a spot has been agreed upon (I don’t recall ever wondering along a beach in my twenties looking for the ‘right spot’) you throw everything down and notice one boob is hanging out.

One hour later and you’ve managed to get everyone in swimwear and applied more paint-like sunscreen. You’ve enthusiastically got the kids building sandcastles, and you have learned your lesson from last summer’s terrible tan lines. You’ve worn a strapless swimming costume with the wisdom that the mum-tan means excessively bronzed arms and shoulders whilst everything else remains pale because you can’t. lie. down. No flies on YOU. You’re on all fours and glance down to see your crepey belly and boobs are hanging like upside down pyramid tea bags, but it’s ok because *sharp intake of breath* the kids are happy playing and your partner has suggested you go and lie down.

Just as you’ve got to the towels, he says ‘oooh, can you do my back?’. You leap up with an ‘of course darling’…ahem… and then you lie down. Thirty seconds later you’re running across the beach to rescue one of the kids, who has fallen face down in to the sand, waves lapping over them, somehow unbeknownst to daddy. Once the wailing has stopped and they’ve also covered you in wet sand, you look down to see the smugly-chosen bandeau top of your swimmies is round your waist and both tits are hanging out. The other thing about running in swimwear is that it ain’t going to be pretty. You know those images of people in wind tunnels and the skin ripples and dents and flaps? That. Hats off to the lady playing bat and ball topless. I wish I had your balls. And your buoyant boobs.

Then one of the kids takes against the sand. It’s become like hot lava and must not touch their feet, even though yesterday they happily rolled in it. They’re crawling up your body in desperate panic, grabbing whatever they can for purchase – bikini bottoms, belly skin, nipple. Both your arms are still grappling with the inconsolable sand-hater as you stumble your way back to the safety of the towels. In the kerfuffle your slightly-sagging bikini bottoms have got displaced and you can feel the material creeping up your bum due to aforementioned sagging-elastic pants. You’re worried that asking your husband to remove the wedgie will make more of a scene (and possibly be misinterpreted as a come-on), so the material stays up your bum whilst you head to the only place that can offer sanctuary and calm – the ice-cream freezer. Of course a boob is hanging out. If you’re really lucky, the material of your bikini bottoms is askew at the front too.

How to have a beach body

Having shared parts of your body that only a lucky few and your midwife have seen, it’s time to sit back, lap up some sunshine and scoff a cheese and ham toastie. It gets washed down with a well-earned holiday measure of gin.

You see, after the first couple of hours of being on a beach with kids, the image of those bikini-ready women in the ads is so laughable that it’s beyond ridiculous.

So ladies, are we beach-ready?

I think I speak for all of us when I say

Oh fuck off.

Do the summer-ready messages drive you nuts, or are you in fact beach ready? I’d love your comments below.