I’m not a fan of bathing suits. My hips have never been narrow enough. Possibly, not even when I was born. My waist is too wide, no matter how thin I am, and my shoulders too broad, even when dropped.
Even at my thinnest I would sit tall and ridged next to the pool, so there were no unsightly overlaps.
I’ve never been particularly attractive, facially, so I’ve never really worried about it. But body insecurity has been my middle name.
I’ll also happily be insecure about other people’s bodies around me.
“Oh, I bet she wishes she was a little thinner in those pants. Oh wow, she’d look perfect if it weren’t for the cellulite gathering on her upper thigh.”
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But many times I’m proven correct. Like when I overhear women talking about their flaws with a good girlfriend, or asking their spouse if they “look alright”.
I’ve just always assumed everyone was holding themselves to the same impossible standard that I am.
Then I went to Mexico.
My husband had a business trip to a popular resort in Mexico and I tagged along for moral support and all the hot chocolate I could drink! (Surprisingly, this is nowhere in their brochure. Possibly, there are other reasons to attend all-inclusive resorts, but I haven’t found any.)
On the third day of our trip, I boarded a bus leaving the resort on an excursion to see Mayan ruins. Our tour guide, let’s call him “Frank”, regaled us with tales of Mayan culture and ancient wisdom such as: you can get a real silver pendant with your name stamped on it for $67 dollars. And also that your mom(s) would likely want one, too. For Christmas, maybe.
The literal translation of “Frank” in Maya means “Hey you should buy this. And this and this. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to leave a tip.”
It’s a beautiful language.
I gave “Frank” about 5 minutes inside the walls of the ancient city before I bailed. He was halfway though a monologue about woven tapestries that we could buy on the way out, when I jumped in with a passing tour group and did my best to look Korean. It seemed to be working until we made it to the main structure, at which point they asked me to take pictures of them with their families and spouses. I took no less than 26 pictures. Since no one asked to take a picture with me, I figured my cover was blown and I wandered out on my own.
The ruins were beautiful in the way that old things are. The civilization that built them–impressive and grand. I stared up at the towers and traced my hands along the stone walls. Walls that had crumbled and gone soft with gaps where stones had tumbled free. And walls still perfectly balanced. Intact after hundreds of years, having withstood countless hurricanes and costal storms.
As I came to the end of largest structure, I glanced up in time to see “Frank” and the remnants of my tour group approaching. Some held tapestries I assumed they made themselves during his lengthy presentation. I skittered up the path to the edge of the cliff. A wooden platform spread out over the tiny beach.
Below me families, children, and couples splashed and played in the water. A woman posed for a selfie with two others who must’ve been her sisters. A man lifted his child above each crashing wave. The tiny girl squealing with delight. A woman sat on a rock and breastfeed a baby so tiny she may have actually given birth moments before I reached the summit.
I watched the joy in their body language. I listened to their laughter. I wasn’t sure if it was the ancient civilization or the awe-inspiring view of nature, but I had a realization.
It didn’t matter that the mother was breastfeeding in full view, her bathing suit down and the side of her stomach stretched and rumpled for all to see. She was feeding her child.
It didn’t matter to the man in a European-style swimsuit lifting his daughter, that his potbelly jiggled and rolled as I watched. And certainly the girl was entirely unconcerned with how she looked as the waves crashed loudly below her.
It didn’t matter to the three sisters, who had now moved on to making duckfaces on an outcrop of rocks, that their camera angle barely accommodated their frames while 37 Victoria Secret models could have easily fit in the shot.
The problem wasn’t them. The problem was me.
I wasn’t looking at the powerful arms of the man that swung his daughter towards the heavens. Or joy of a new mother nourishing her child with only her self. I hadn’t seen the strong legs of the sisters as they braced themselves in the oncoming waves or when they scrambled atop the rocks.
I had’t even noticed the people. The people with the kind confidence I promised myself when my jeans fit a little bit better. The people enjoying their lives when I told myself I still had pounds to lose before I could feel that way.
Thongs, and bikinis, and speedos. I was looking at parts–not people.
People with confidence I promised myself when my jeans fit a little bit better. People enjoying a vacation, taking a break from the world, when I’d filled my own with insecurities. The beach wasn’t the only thing that was shallow.
I looked down at my body. Browned, but still kind of squidgy. Thighs without much tone that gave me pause about wearing shorts despite the heat. Arms a bit too jiggly that I’d covered with sleeves.
A body, a year and a half ago, I’d asked to pull through crisis. A body I had yet to thank.
I walked back down the stone steps to the old city below me. On legs who have run so many miles. On feet that have walked on continents around the world. In a body still youngish, but changing. A body that housed my soul and birthed another. A body still young on this Earth, with its own sort of beauty in a city of old. A body damaged, but strong.
A body, so, so far, from ruined.
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The Memory Keep Series by Liza Dora
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