How one vacation changed the way I saw my body

I prepared for my upcoming vacation by buying a set of bathroom scales, swearing off junk food, and joining a gym. As the summer drew closer, my scales remained firmly in the cardboard box they arrived in — and I staved off my guilt over not hitting the treadmill by ordering pizza, and hiding my shame under mounds of mozzarella. My Google searches became increasingly desperate: whereas I had started in January researching “healthy ways to get in shape this year,” by July I was manically looking up how to “drop 10 pounds in 10 days.” By the time I gave in and bought my first one-piece swimsuit, I was feeling like a failure. Our big family vacation was here, and I was nowhere near ready.

This was going to be the holiday of a lifetime. We were off to an island in the Caribbean, on a trip we’d planned for more than a year, and it was going to be completely luxurious. Everyone else in the family was looking forward to the sun, the sand, and the snorkeling — and I was miserably checking off days in my calendar and wishing I had more time.

Here’s the worst part: I don’t think many women reading this would think this story sounds at all unusual. Wanting to look good for your vacation? That’s totally normal! It’s absolutely expected that all you can think about is your body and what it will look like in a bikini, and whether a fake tan would help, and what everyone will think when they look at you.

Let me tell you what I learned on my vacation. I was sunbathing on a secluded beach, overlooking an unimaginably azure sea, and I realized that the rum punch I was drinking tasted every bit as delicious as if I were 15 pounds lighter. I laughed every bit as hard as if I fit into a size zero swimsuit. And the island was every bit as breathtaking as it would be if I’d gone to the gym after all. Our villa had an outside shower, and I took full advantage of it. I bared my embarrassing body to the elements — and I loved it. (Seriously, I never want to shower inside again.) I may not have looked picture perfect standing out there in the trees, but the island didn’t care. So neither did I.

I won’t pretend I felt totally confident all the time. One glorious week is not enough to erase 24 years of body insecurities — and succumbing to the pressure coming at us from every magazine stand and movie screen does not mean we’re weak. So I won’t pretend I didn’t have moments of uncertainty in the mirror. I won’t pretend I didn’t untag myself in some Facebook pictures, and I won’t pretend it was always easy to stand next to my slim, beautiful, and impossibly tanned sister on the beach. But I thought my body would define me on holiday, and it didn’t. When I was laughing and joking and talking with the people that matter most to me in the world, I didn’t think about my body at all.

But hang on, let me give my body some credit. It may not have fit into last year’s bikini, but my beach body ran and climbed and stretched and swam (despite my crippling fear of the sea — I did it!). My body felt the heat and savored the rain; my body hauled me out of bed for early morning Pilates on the beach. My body took me on adventures around the island that I’ll never forget.

And I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a pretty good beach body.


The summer that changed how I think about my body

[Image courtesy author]

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