THE BEACH GON GET WHATEVER BODY I GIVE IT: Body Shame on Vacation
My family loves to travel. Always has. We’re not the sit-by-the-pool-and-soak-Up-the-sun type either. Sifting at an archeological dig in Israel, working at an orphanage in Ecuador, and touring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Old Manse in Concord, MA are all run of the mill vacation experiences in this family.
As the oldest child (and biggest ham) I’ve always wanted to be in all the pictures we take on our adventures. Even as my weight fluctuates as a teenager I never thought twice about taking up space on these trips. It wasn’t until I was twenty and our family spent two weeks at Christmas working at an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador that my carefree approach to being photographed came to a grinding halt.
I was home from college where I’d spent a semester eating junk and frying my hair with box color. Every time we took a picture in front of ancient ruins or with the precious children, I felt myself wilt like a flower. The image I held in my head of who I was - vibrant, bubbly, pretty - warped into someone else. I began standing in the back of pictures, or even begging out of experiences where I knew pictures would be taken. I laid on the bed in our hostel staring at the ceiling as my family zip lined through the jungle. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing pictures of myself hoisted in the air, screaming and flailing and looking fat.
Between that moment and this one, there have been a lot of vacations. A lot of therapy sessions, a lot of pictures that I’ve edged out of. I’m writing this while on another family vacation. Not only have I smiled for every camera pointed my way, I also find myself pushing my way into them.
What has changed?
First of all, I invited myself to admit that it had actually nothing to do with body size. If my comfort with my family and pictures was truly linked to a number on the scale, then I would’ve felt better and worse about myself as my weight fluctuated over the years. Spoiler alert - I didn’t. It’s never been about the number.
Second, I began setting boundaries with my family before we left on vacation. We instituted a ‘post check’ policy - meaning before anyone posted pictures of someone else in the family, we’d get their permission. This has proven difficult to stick to, but so important. It helps everyone feel a little more in control of how they are presented to the world. No scrolling through Instagram and seeing an image of themselves that make us want to melt through the floor.
I also tried to approach both myself and others from a place of compassion rather than comparison. I found that when I let myself look for flaws in other people, I was twice as harsh on myself. When I mentioned earlier that my discomfort wasn’t linked to the number on the scale it was true - the real danger for me laid in comparing myself to others. Specifically the other women in my family. Pictures where I was alone weren’t half as upsetting to me as ones where I stood next to my sisters and immediately began comparing my body to theirs. Retraining my brain to look for happiness and connections rather than putting us against each other has been incredibly healing for me.
Finally, I gave myself permission to be my most authentic self on vacations. That meant buying a swimsuit in a style that I liked and a size that fit, regardless of the size I ‘wanted’ to be wearing or not wearing one at all. I’ve started buying myself a ‘trip lip’, a lipstick on every trip I go on. This gives me a beautiful little souvenir and encourages me to branch out and focus on what makes me feel beautiful in pictures - my bright smile, my talent with makeup, and my perpetual search for a good red lipstick.
What are some tips you’ve found that help you navigate traveling, or feel more comfortable in situations with your family? What’s your favorite souvenir to bring back from travels? Sound off in the comments below!