Let’s get one thing straight: every body is a beach body. There. It’s settled. And yes, although I prescribe to this belief devoutly, I am admittedly still in the process of unlearning years upon years of the stifling, oppressing, and simply boring beachwear regulations thrust upon men and women alike. It is undeniable, though, that occupying the role of ‘woman’ walks hand in hand with a few distinctive mantras:
1. Beauty takes precedence above all (i.e. mental, physical, spiritual well- being).
2. Take up as little space as possible (politically, socially, economically and even physically).
3. Your worth is ≤ (less than or equal to) your sexual value to men.
These socially enforced notions are the optimal ingredients for a dreary, season-less life, and I wish us all babely perseverance on our journeys towards debasing them. Personally, as a gal who has been peachy and plus-size for the entirety of her existence I comprehend that the specific set of complications that us curvaceous/chubby/thicc gals face when seeking self-love are indefinitely formidable, but, well, SO ARE WE.
Anyhow, let’s index a handful of the age-old no-nos for sun soakers:
– Excess self (see also: arms, peachy booties, thighs, tummies)
– Skin Afflictions (ex: psoriasis)
– Not Enough Cleavage
– Too Much Cleavage
Can you fathom fashioning an outfit for fun under the sun whilst adhering to these silly guidelines? It’s exhausting. Demeaning. At the very least, saddening. I know because I spent the first 18 years of my life as a slave to the fear of being body shamed at the beach. Drawing zero attention to myself at the sea was my primary objective upon any visit, which is awful once you consider that the ocean is mean to be a safe space for tranquility, carefree delight, and sandy shenanigans.
I’m reminded of a motto of sorts that I adore which states something along the lines of how we are infinitely more likely to regret what we did not do as opposed to what we did. It honestly pains my heart to acknowledge all of the enjoyment and warm, toasty memories I forfeited in order to be comfortably invisible.
Sadly, I know I’m not even remotely alone in having fallen victim to the chokehold of this war-torn belief system. In fact, islands and islands would be needed to house the vast abundance of us. We’re your sisters, mothers, friends, mentors, baristas, enemies, ex-lovers. Rather than relishing in the beauty of now, we put in twice as much effort into being inconspicuous, hardly detectable, and tiny in every sense of the word. It’s a toxic mindset, and it undoubtedly seeps into other areas of your life.
The muted victim surrenders confidence in their politics, dreams, relationships, sensuality, certitude, social affluence, and so on. Thus, the individual is devalued. And in a democracy, which many believe to be the ideal state of order, isn’t faith in one’s selfhood and the exercising of such the most efficient path to a safe and fulfilling life? A firm sense of worth, particularly for minorities such as women and POC, is pivotal if we hope to impede on the mold of second- class citizen.
Naomi Wolf, a prominent journalist and former political advisor to the likes of Bill Clinton, elaborated on the issue prosaically in her feminist novella The Beauty Myth:
“A consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights…if we believed we could get away with it, we would ask for more love, more sex, more money, more commitment to children, more food, more care. These sexual, emotional, and physical demands would begin to extend to social demands: payment for care of the elderly, parental leave, childcare, etc. The force of female desire would be so great that society would truly have to reckon with what women want, in bed and in the world.”
Besides, if one is uncertain of their social value, being uncomfortable with an act as inconsequential as wearing what you please at the beach will doubtlessly be a side effect, but ultimately not the gravest of predicaments in store.
Yes, overcoming these hard-wired prejudices against yourself will be mortifying at first. I’m nearly a year into my self-love odyssey and still find myself lugging on jeans in three digit Texas heat (my legs have always been my most prominent insecurity). It’s habitual, ridiculous, but I still feel like a Gold medal adorned Olympian every time I combat the urge. Truthfully, it gets painfully difficult at times. On some days, you’ll find yourself slipping back into the mindset that your body is too flawed to be loved, to be unveiled, to be tolerated by the witnesses to what you have failed to correct about yourself. However, in these moments of tender darkness, the necessity of self-love and acceptance becomes as evident as ever.
One could wilt away unhappily for as long as they please, but the world stops for nobody. Your life is shrinking away with every passing breath, and your opportunities to live a fearless and exasperatingly meaningful existence are dwindling away, as well. We needn’t waste these precious moments. Revel in being unconventionally, unforgettably unique and lovely. Campaigns like #effyourbeautystandards, #honormycurves, or Gala Darling’s “Radical Self Love” will hold your hand throughout this entire journey; to this I can personally attest.
The next step for me is daring to take up space on the shore. Companies like Modcloth, Lane Bryant, Swimsuits For All, Catherine’s, and Torrid cater their beachwear to all body types, particularly the difficult to come across plus sizes, and they are all unimaginably cute and flattering pieces! At my next scheduled visit to the ocean, in a couple of days, I intend to bare it all in my one piece (baby steps!): delicious cellulite, a chunky booty, squishable thighs, and the piercing, melodic laughter I’m known for in these parts.
Am I terrified?
Abso- friggin- lutely!
Departing from a space of habit, which for me was being the girl wearing a tee shirt at the pool, into a space where you know you’re vulnerable (and that you’re bound to get some rude/curious stares) sucks majorly at first. But, after a solid ten minutes, the world seems a teeny bit brighter. After an hour, you’ll feel like a radiant, liberated luminary and wonder why the heck you EVER let fear dictate how juicy and radiant your life is. It’s magical. It’s character building, too. To know that you possess the bravery to impede on the vain and objectifying concepts that have been both directly and subliminally fed to you for as long as you can recall genuinely makes those other bold plans you envision seem slightly more attainable. After all, white, wealthy men don’t deserve all of the mojo in the world! We gotta keep giving them a run for their money, luminaries.
Are you convinced yet? Stop holding back!
Your life and your body are your dreamy playhouses. And since the sun is blazing, and the sea (or even the community pool) is sizzling, I once again wish you all heaps of babely perseverance as you take these steps at reclaiming your value.
Have a blast, and don’t forget sunscreen, you stinkin’ rebels.
Words by Nicole Alexis Ozuna.
Illustrations by Steph Linn.