Beauty and the beach.

Like a good Floridian, I kicked off Shark Week with a Saturday trip to the beach.

The hot sun and how hard it is to evenly spray yourself with no-rub sunscreen made for some awkward tanlines. I brought a couple of books, but I barely cracked them. The conversations of the other beachgoers were better.

One guy — a New York Italian — stuck his feet in the water with a cell phone stuck to his ear while retelling the story of that one time he told the one guy “why I’m gonna sue your @$$!”

A couple of women, both on the brink of divorces, discussed their marriages: one, feeling like hers might work out, hopes her husband doesn’t find out about the impromptu beer and conversation she had with a male stranger in a hotel lobby on a trip she took last month. The other, whose husband hopes she isn’t telling her friends that she’s going to Al-Anon, isn’t doing squat around the house. If her husband doesn’t quit drinking, he can forget the Betty Crocker she used to be. (Her words, not mine.)

The third conversation I heard was between two girls, no older than 12 or 13. They floated on boogie boards and discovered they wear the same sizes in pants.

Girl 1: I hate shopping with girls who wear a size zero. We should shop together!
Girl 2: I have short legs, so my pants are always crinkled at the bottom. People say things about it all the time!
Girl 1: Once, a friend of mine actually said, “I have to wear a size double zero, but sometimes I have to wear a zero. It means my hips are getting bigger!” But she is so skinny.

It reminded me of the time I lost 40 pounds in high school and one of the skinniest girls in my class seemed super impressed.

“Arleen!” she said. “Your thighs! They’re almost as skinny as mine!”

Thanks?

But isn’t sad that how we look plays a huge role in how we’re received. Have you ever noticed that the first thing women say when they meet up is often about appearance?

“Have you lost weight? You look great!”

“I love your hair. Did you get it cut?”

“That is such a great top! Where’d you get it?”

And it feels good to get a compliment. I give them all the time. But the tendency is indicative of a culture-wide obsession. It’s the same obsession that fuels the health news headline I heard on the local news this morning: “If you’re heading to the beach, make sure you’re toned up before you put on that bathing suit.”

Seriously?

It’s why before the conclusion of back to back Roseanne on a Tuesday night, it’s really easy to feel like your arms are too jiggly, your hair is too frizzy and your teeth aren’t white enough.

So we buy the products we see during the commercials and deny that we do it because advertisers have set up a problem — something often otherwise perfectly natural — and positioned their product as the solution.

And then, long story short, young beachgoers feel inadequate around skinnier girls or girls with longer legs. I know that the woman in the ad has fake lashes on, but I want the mascara anyway. Guys want skinny girls and they don’t know why.

What can we do about it?

Good question.

Hard question.

We can do our best not to buy into what we’re told about beauty. If you need some motivation, I suggest the following:

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