Coming from a pretty conservative upbringing, there was always a sense of shameful inappropriateness that surrounded my body and the level of comfort with public nudity. During puberty, arguably one of the most awkward and painful periods of a person’s existence, my mom, after making me lift up my shirt so she could examine my breasts, concluded that they were just “mosquito bites” and that I’d have to wait another year before she would take me bra shopping.
Crushed, from that moment on I knew that this would be my crucifix to carry throughout my long journey to adulthood. I was left wondering why the gods hadn’t blessed me with a Pamela Anderson-esque rack that would surely grant me the confidence I was lacking. Instead, they just gave me my height and I continued to tower over my classmates; I’m talking being 5’6” when you’re 9 years old.
Carrying this feeling of inadequacy around for years to come, it wasn’t until after college that I finally started to accept my body for what it was and stopped trying to wish I had someone else’s. Older, and arguably wiser, I had many friendships and ex-boyfriends which heightened my sense of self-worth. Additionally, a fair bit of backpacking alone around Europe and Central America had increased my confidence.
But life is peculiar in that twenty years and 25 countries later, one can still be followed by the same insecurities of a pubescent teen. No, these wounds don’t go away once you board a plane; rather they manifest themselves into your daily life and something as simple as going to the beach may very well be a trigger.
Living 30 minutes from the coast in Bilbao, I’ve spent more time at the beach this summer than I’m proud to admit. And as such, I’ve seen my fair share of public nudity. At first sight, I felt a rush of alarming disapproval and abashment from seeing so many different shapes and sizes walking freely across the sand. I was always under the impression that you needed to have a beautiful body to bare yourself in public like that. After all, I thought I was being risqué by wearing a bikini when I was certainly not a perfectly toned specimen.
However, after later reflection what I realized was that the people on the beach, who were exposing themselves so openly and freely to the rest of the world, were doing so not because they thought they were perfect, but rather they were comfortable in their own skin. And while I’m sure each and every one of them has their own personal insecurities, just as I have mine, what they were saying by lying half-naked on the sand was, “This is me, I may not be perfect, but I’m ok with that”.
Admiring their courage, several weeks later I decided to join the other half-naked strangers on the sand by uncovering my very own insecurities.
I wish I could say that the first time I ripped off my bikini top was done in the same fervor as ripping off a band-aid, but alas, I’ve never been good at that. Rather, it was more akin to finding the most secluded area of the beach and lying on the sand with my top by my side and my hands covering my breasts for two hours while I pretended to sleep.
Thoughts of my mother rushed through my mind and what she would say if she knew what I was doing at this very moment. I imagined if she could she would lock me in a closet and yell at me to “cover my dirty pillows”, like the mother in Carrie. But much to my surprise, the hand of god did not smite me that day on the sand, and the next day I went back and applauded myself for not having a panic attack when others set-up their beach towels within a 10-foot radius of mine.
And like this it went, returning to the beach daily and step-by-step gaining more confidence in this simple act of public exposure. Until finally, one day I found myself on a small strip of sand outside of Bilbao lying topless in between a hoard of people.
I won’t claim that through these small daily victories instant mastery over your adolescent fears is imminent; but continuing to push your personal boundaries and challenge your deep-seated notions is a valuable process, that once accomplished, can become quite liberating.
Because everyone has wounds— some physical and some mental — that they carry around with them on a daily basis. Many of them have healed into scars, but they still linger to remind you that something painful used to be there. However, the only way to diminish that scar is to accept it for what it is, peel back the band-aid and let it see the light.
By exposing your insecurities, even if it is on a crowded beach in Spain, you face your most natural, vulnerable, and honest form. And that feeling you gain as a result—being comfortable in your own skin — is something inherently beautiful, which no one should be ashamed of.