There, I said it. I will never have a thigh gap, or a bikini bridge, or whatever else seem to be assets of only the genetically blessed. I will neither have the time to work out for endless hours a day, nor will I ever give up my nutella and peanut butter. I came upon this revelation at a pivotal moment in my travels, and it drastically increased my happiness from that moment forward.
Now, I wasn’t always liberated from the shackles of mass media’s concept of beauty. I’ve been a swimmer for most of my life, and having an athletic build is part of my nature. Although I’ve never had a serious self-confidence issue, I went through a phase where I was obsessed with working out for two, three, four hours a day – striving for the “elegant” arms and legs I’ll never attain.
It wasn’t until about two weeks into my European adventure that I realized I was driving myself crazy over figuring out how to work out while traveling. I’m well aware I’m not the first traveler to deal with this dilemma. I’ve come to know friends that left their European adventures early because dealing with the wear and tear on their bodies was too much to handle. I didn’t want to be that person.
When I had spare time in between classes and independent travel, I would take long runs around our little town through the Swiss Alps. I’m sure you would think I had the most incredible views in the entire world, that it was the most picturesque run. But I was too focused on running a certain amount of mileage in a certain amount of time to take in the breathtaking views. I was set on getting back before dinner in enough time to do my ab circuit. Crazy, right?
I distinctly remember talking with my mom, and she reminded me that I was only in Europe for a short amount of time. I shouldn’t be worried about the consequences of not having a gym at my leisure. There are foods I won’t be able to taste every day back at home. There are unique beers and wines I won’t have the luxury of consuming on a nightly basis. I decided right then and there to fully appreciate and enjoy my time in Europe in every aspect I could. What’s a couple of pounds that can be easily lost at home compared to enjoying a round of steins at the Hofbrauhaus, a French wine and cheese platter, the delectable Swiss chocolate that can be found on every corner? There’s simply no comparison.
Instead of miserably trudging through runs, I spent hours exploring and hiking the Swiss Alps – taking pictures, feeding llamas, playing basketball with local children, stopping for a picnic by the railroad tracks. I adventurously sampled foods, beers, and wines from all over. I shamelessly bought chocolate croissants in almost every train station we stopped at. And I loved every second of it.
Once I made the decision to enjoy life, I enjoyed so much more than just the food. I enjoyed European culture. I enjoyed the company I surrounded myself around. I was full of life and adventure.
Not once, have I met someone outside the U.S. that discussed how many pieces of bread they ate that day, whether they should go for the dessert, if they’ve worked out their “tri’s” and bi’s.” For the majority, they simply don’t place such a high value on the “perfect” body. And for those of you who have traveled, have you seen many overweight locals in Europe on a regular basis? Probably not. They walk everywhere, they have fresh food, and they value a well-rounded life.
In Europe, you don’t go “grab” dinner. You share a meal. You share tapas and wine and stories and laughter and memories. You share an experience together. I believe it’s a true symbol of their value of culture and love.
Not only did I leave my two months of travel with a more positive, grounded, happier and worldly mindset, but I also no longer felt the desire to force things that weren’t meant to be.
In this particular case, I knew my body was never going to be the slender, dancer body I always wanted. I’ve always been an athlete, and I’m grateful for the discipline and determination I gained from so many years in competition. But it took me a while, as you can see, to realize I can’t force a body I’m not meant to have. I hear it all the time, whether it is online, in magazines, in daily conversation, that we should have the thigh gap, the bikini bridge, the “skinny” arm. For those of you that weren’t blessed with those genes, you can understand how frustrating this can be.
Traveling taught me more lessons than I could possibly begin to blog about. But if there’s one that has made a significant impact on my daily habits and attitudes, it is this:
At the end of the day, I’m not going to remember how I looked when I was traveling. If anything, I looked ratchet 90% of the time. (Long train rides in the summertime will do that to you.) I’m going to remember the “butterflies in your stomach” feeling as I jumped off that cliff in Croatia. I’m going to remember (slightly) dancing to “Get Lucky” with my twenty classmates at the Top Pub in the Swiss Alps. I’m going to remember running wild through the streets of Dublin in a Christmas sweater.
You know what I don’t remember? Not having a thigh gap.
So for the love of all things natural about the female body, accept who you are physically. If you are of the lucky few, I will always jealously applaud you for rocking those American Apparel disco shorts. But if you are not, don’t put yourself down. Stay healthy and active. Take a deep breath and look at your beautiful friends, family and environment that surround you. And enjoy life, in all of its beauties, tragedies, laughter and tears. Enjoy every moment you have because every second you spend wishing you had something you don’t deprives you of one more second of happiness.