I feel like every woman has a bit of a complicated relationship with their body. From a young age it feels like everyone around us is telling us how to feel about our own bodies.
We are told that we need to be summer beach body ready otherwise to be worthy to wear that bikini. Magazine articles zooming in on celebrities’ ‘imperfections’ bombard us. The thought of cellulite on our legs is sold as disgusting, unnatural and must be removed (ignoring the fact that 93% of women have cellulite).
We are told that in nearly every way possible that our body is wrong.
From a very young age my relationship with my body was not a positive one. I remember being 9 years old and talking about going on a diet. Shorts and trousers were completely banned from my wardrobe because I thought they were too unflattering. The first thing I would do when I walked into a room was scan the size of everything single other woman there to see if I was the largest. I spent my life feeling fat. and thinking that when anyone else saw me, that is all they saw too.
Body confidence and positivity just never seemed the make a long lasting impact and I would once again return to analyzing my body in the mirror every night, scrutinizing it’s ‘worthiness’.
But weirdly enough backpacking (slowly but surely) changed all of that for me with two very simple realizations-
- Beauty is arbitrary
- Our bodies are a machine
Lets start with the first realization-
Beauty is arbitrary.
For some reason the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” never quite sunk in. It sounded like an excuse to say to make people feel better, when in reality all anyone really wants is a leggy blonde model.
But that thought all got turned upside down in Nicaragua.
When I had travelled before it was to areas that maintained the beauty status quo that I had grown up around (Europe and SE Asia). That status quo was that to be beautiful you had to be slim (but with unexplainably large boobs), blonde and carry Caucasian features.
I am not saying that Latin America does not hail some of these standards as beautiful as well, afterall Colombia and Venezuela are hot beds for the plastic fantastic.
But Nicaragua was different. It is a poorer country with tropical heat. You cannot afford surgeries that alter your entire appearance, it is too hot to contour your face beyond recognition. You come as you are.
Beauty Ideals and Body Confidence
My legs had always been my ‘problem’ area- they were just too big. I wanted the skinny little legs that I saw on models around me. I spent years of my youth fantasizing about legs that didn’t touch in the middle.
But yet, in Nicaragua my legs had become a source of compliments. For the first time in my life they were seen as beautiful. Shapely legs and a large bum were the beauty ideal, not something to be ashamed of.
I remember an incident in a nightclub where my friend and I were dancing. This night I had worn some white denim shorts and was feeling fly….
This was until a local Nicaraguan women came up to me to show me a video of my friend and I dancing (bit (read:very) weird). She had been filming us dancing to show her friends “look some gringos can actually dance” lol.
I saw myself in those shorts and felt a sinking feeling. I looked chubby. Was that really what I looked like??? Has the tiny house mirrors been deceiving me?!?
What had all this fried rice and beans done to me?!?
When I said to her “Oye, estoy gordita no?” (I look chubby) she replied to me-
“No, in Nicaragua the bigger the better!”
I laughed and carried on my night, but that thought never left my mind. Something that I thought was so vehemently unattractive on me, to his lady made me look more ‘beautiful’.
With these incidents I began to rethink of what I thought of as beautiful. As I thought more and more about all these issues I’d had with my body over the years I realized. None of these were organic thoughts. I thought I was fat because I had been told I was fat by the society around me.
All this self-deprecation was not me, it was outside noise.
I began to look at beauty from a blank slate and realized, that what I thought beauty was, wasn’t what I had thought at all. These beauty ideals were all opinions I had continually been told were ‘correct’ by those around me. As I thought more and more about what is considered beautiful around the world as I came to the realization- it is all bullshit. It is all made-up. What is considered beautiful around the world is so different from area to area. Does that mean only one area is right? Of course not!
There is room for everyone at the table.
What do I mean by this? There is not only one type of beauty. Does Nigella Lawson look like Naomi Campbell? Obviously not. Are they both absolutely beautiful? 100%.
It was the realization that it is in our differences that we are beautiful. I am never going to be a skinny blonde Victoria secret model… and that’s ok. I don’t need to be.
We are all attractive in our own way. Maybe you just need to go to a continent that feels you.
And moving onto point number
Our bodies are machines.
All this talk of what beauty is in reality doesn’t matter. Attractiveness is just like any other trait. Just part of a bigger package… And yet we put so much emphasis on it.
We think so much about what our bodies look like, that we forget about what they can do.
When I look back and think about the way I talked about my body I feel bad. I was so angry that I didn’t look a certain way that I chastised my body for just being there. This wonderful body that is healthy and has kept me alive was not ‘good enough’ because of how I felt I looked.
My body has allowed me to do incredible things. Whilst backpacking, I have climbed volcanoes, I have zipwired across jungle ravines, I have swum in oceans all across the world, I’ve failed (haha) to surf some mad waves, I’ve had crazy meditative realisation in yoga, I’ve boogied the night away, I’ve seen some incredible sights and I’ve had the best time doing all of the above.
And what I looked like doing all of this is the least interesting part.
Maybe I had a muffin top in my zipline harness, or maybe I looked sweaty as hell walking up a volcano but that is irrelevant. Our bodies were made to do, to explore, to enjoy.
To quote the People’s Queen Shakira “lucky I have strong legs like my mother to run for cover when I need it”. My body is not there for the appreciation of others, it is there to power me. Its there to support me. To literally take me for A to B. My body is mine and it is powerful, and maybe that realisation is true body confidence .
And you know what, I realized I needed to repay that favour.
In all those years of negative self talk, I never thanked my body for everything it had done for me. I never said thank you for climbing me to the top of that hill so I could see that view. Thank you for allowing me to hear this incredible music. Thank you for my taste buds and nose so I can taste this delicious curry.
Our bodies are the only thing we have for life, if we don’t look after them now we are actively choosing to no invest in our future. So please, thank the body you have and look after it the way it looks after you.
Body confidence can be difficult when you are backpacking. It feels like you spend your life in a bikini, my eyebrows melt off in the heat, and there is no room in a tiny backpack for spanx.
This more ‘natural’ way of living is hard to embrace when you don’t embrace yourself.
Body confidence is difficult when there truly is nowehere to hide, especially in a hostel when everyone sees how you look when you wake up, get out of the shower, or after a messy night out. It forces you to embrace your true self.
Backpacking truly grew my body confidence in ways I could’ve never guessed.
These two realisations, simple as they may be, would not have been possible without the expereinces surrounding them. Who knew that going on a plane would finally cure all these hang ups I had held close to me for years.
It was the realisation that I could, and should, say fuck it to that old thought process. To say goodbye to the stiffling opinions that had surrounded me, and hello to the new ones I was encountering each day with every new country and experience.
They say you can never escape yourself (both in the mind and body), though ironically sometimes this ‘running away’ to a foreign land can make you more intouch with yourself than ever.
Safe journeys and positive thoughts,
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