Over summer, I fall off the grid. I take a big break from my day-to-day. Thongs replace heels, sunscreen replaces bronzer, swimsuit replaces clothes, sleep-ins replace the school run. A big part of this respite comes from turning off technology. I spend way, way too much time filling my brain with popular culture - inanity and images. So I flick the switch. Disable apps on my phone, cancel EDMs and walk away from the newsstand. Summer is the time where I chip away at the pile of books beside my bed, write letters long unsent, play Scrabble and people watch.
Due to the insanely good weather, much of said watching occurred at the beach. It was there, on the sand, sitting amongst hundreds of near-naked holidaymakers that I had my first Oprah (A-Ha) moment for 2013... The beach is great for your self-esteem.
It really is. Stay with me.
The beach is perhaps the last bastion of body reality. A place that provides an honest depiction of what women's bodies actually look like. It doesn't Photoshop, doesn't discriminate, there's no dress size, no target weight - the beach just tells it like it is.
We are saturated in a couple of generic examples of female body shape - overweight and underweight. Over time, all the average, in-between, interesting figures have been frozen out of the mainstream and replaced with extremes. All we see are versions of Victoria Secret models and Honey Boo Boo's mum. It makes it so difficult to feel anything particularly great about your body when your comparison barometer is closer to a cartoon character than reality.
Not so at the beach. There, you'll find your body double (just like the movies) - one that will make you feel good about yourself. Over the weeks, I noticed women seem to let their guard down on the shore - something we don't usually do when wearing so little - and I saw much more confidence at the waterline than I've seen at the water cooler. Maybe it's endorphins from the sun, but whatever the reason, I witnessed women of every size, age and shape strutting their stuff like Miranda Kerr on the runway.
There was the teenage surfer with gorgeous strong legs and washboard tummy, the 70-year-old beauty aged like wine in a navy blue one piece, the new mum with milk-bolstered boobs teaching her toddler how to jump the waves. Pears, apples, bananas - the beach is a fruit salad - and one that is very healthy for body confidence.
I'm so steeped in a soup of sameness that I'd forgotten just how fabulous the female body is. Gosh we're lucky. The curves, the softness, the angles - women are a pretty incredible package. Spend enough time on the beach with no clothes or iPhone filters to hide behind and I promise you'll stop seeing things we're conditioned to criticise in ourselves (and others) - stretch marks, cellulite, excess hair - and you'll notice things that actually matter like the horizon, the colour of the water - life.
Take your daughters to the beach. Please. It provides young girls with all the evidence they need to appreciate that women are not created equal. We wiggle, jiggle and shimmy in different ways to the girl next door, down the road, on the towel next to us. It's so important for young women to see just how many ways we differ and how many of us don't look like the generic examples we're presented on a plate. The more time they spend in the land of real bodies the stronger their esteem will be.
Now back at work, fully dressed, with the computer well and truly on, I'm hoping that, like sand on wet feet, some of summer's new-found wisdom and confidence just might stick.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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