There is no place like Florida for dealing with body image.
I used to lecture on sexual objectification and body image to female clients working to overcome addiction and criminal history. We would talk about photoshop and media savvy; I would show them the pictures of the famous Redbook modifications of Faith Hill and we would discuss the body beautiful in every form. It’s easy to forget that the real world still exists when you rip out magazine pages all day.
On my recent jaunt to Florida I was wearing a bikini, no small feat for me, but something I’ve been working up to for years. It was a surprising pleasure walking along the beach.
As a self-conscious and miserably overweight teenager I usually spent trips to Florida huddled in a towel or under the water, dreading my mother’s enthusiastic trips to the swimsuit store where I would have to walk past the racks of string tied tops to the old lady one pieces in the back. I would sit on the beach miserable, watching other girls and women walk by, thinking about how I would know I had finally made it when I could do the same.
Somehow, as a teen, I missed the lack of uniformity among these women.
On this trip, as I (mostly) confidently walked around with my stomach showing, I noticed the wonderful and totally real assortment of women on this beach. We stayed in Siesta Key, south of Tampa, and despite this being a spring break trip, there was little fodder for a frat movie to be found. Tanned and taut teenagers were there in force, but they were far from the only people. Older women. Extremely thin women. Large women. Women with C-section scars. Women with bellybutton piercings and faded tattoos, women in pink and in oddly cut suits, wrinkled women, white women, tanned women.
Although it was clear to me that this experience was geared towards the middle class white suburban family (especially evidenced by the fact I saw only 2 black women my whole week), this experience was enormously corrective for me, and for that awkward 14 year old girl still huddled in my head somewhere. To see all these bodies on display, with little self doubt.
Just for a second, let’s take a second and give it up for Florida. Putting women and men in bathing suits with each other, FOR REAL.