How to get a bikini-perfect body in just three weeks is one of the main headlines adorning the covers of women's magazines at this time of the year. Alongside is a picture of a young woman with the perfect body frolicking on a beach. The article will then go into all the daily exercises you need to do, foods you need to avoid and alongside display incy-wincy bikinis that only Gisele Bundchen could wear. Heaven forbid that you'd opt for a one piece without a plunging cleavage or tied together with string. It's getting as bad for men now with the invention of the half thong, a strip of material that barely covers the essentials.
All this begs the question, why go on holiday? Weeks of suffering beforehand to then spend the duration of your trip focussed on what you look like on the beach. Surely holidays should be the opposite of this tyranny - a chance to be free, to relax and read a book, indulge in a hobby and enjoy ourselves, to spend quality time with friends, family and partners, rather than checking oneself in the mirror and worrying about cellulite all day long.
It is easy to dismiss the impact of each individual 'bikini-perfect' article but all this pressure to be body perfect has serious effects on how we live our lives. According to a recent survey a quarter of women will avoid choosing a beach holiday this year as they don't like revealing their bodies. 77% would choose a flattering swimsuit over a comfortable one and 44% purchase cover ups like sarongs to hide their figures when in public. It is so unseemly, so unfashionable to be anything than a perfect size that many are now afraid to get undressed. It also starts early - 60% of teen girls give up sport and dance early for fear of revealing their bodies.
People and brands have tried to demystify this ridiculous trend with Dove's real beauty campaign and Gok Wan's How to Look Naked but there is a still a huge fear of looking too wobbly, flabby, skinny, stodgy, orange peeley.
Some elements of the media have created the illusion that we will be judged if we aren't model slim, that somehow we aren't good enough if we haven't pounded the treadmill or downed copious kale and blueberry smoothies before we take off to the sun. They have built up a false idea of what's normal, so that secretly we see all other women as the enemy, with thinner thighs, silkier skin and more toned abs. It's no wonder people are aborting beach holidays.
Yet if we look at younger children on holiday, they are carefree and able to experience the best of times - splashing about without thinking about their hair, gorging their faces on ice cream without experiencing a guilty feeling afterwards. Their energy in and out of the water, tearing up and down the beach, laughing, playing, all of it is better for the soul and a real break from everyday pressures instead than a painful diet or a torturous gym regime.
But our biggest judge is our self. When we look in the mirror we are more likely to critique our bad bits. We are all guilty of being more critical to ourselves than we are towards our loved ones. The first step towards holiday freedom is to like what we are, to stop buying into the impossible beauty ideals and to step out this summer wearing what we want and doing what we want. A mum with three kids should be free to feel proud of what her body has created rather than obsessing about reversing the impact of three pregnancies. An older woman should be able to feel comfortable in the skin that has lived through so many wonderful experiences. Yesterday a woman with Crohns disease wore a bikini for the first time as she was so ashamed of her colostomy bag. We live in a very sad society where we are afraid to be anything other than perfect. Bethany Townsend has by today's standards an incredible figure, yet it is marred by having a health condition. it begs the question whether perfection event exists, as soon as we think we find it, we become quickly dissatisfied and will find fault with ourselves or others. It explains why women become addicted to cosmetic surgery, they correct one flaw, plump lips, a wrinkle free brow, pert butt, but that somehow makes the rest of their body look more imperfect. If I can look a bit like Barbie, why not look totally like her?
Above all we need to set an example to our children. For if they see us covering up, bad mouthing our legs, tums and bums, what will they end up saying to themselves? Their visual cue will be that if you're not body perfect then you're somehow bad, ugly. They have enough pressure as it is with the ever intrusive presence of social networks with their selfies and freeflowing images of 'beauty'.
I call on every woman to shake off those feelings of inadequacy and to run freely this summer, for #beautyisbeyondlooks is the greatest message we can transmit to our children and it starts with us. Every day from 1 July I am doing an #antibikinidiet plan for three weeks - tune into to @_uglylittlegirl #happysummer.
Our own behaviour can be more influential than an editorial in a weekly magazine. If we all change our behaviour, the cultural agenda will have to change too.