Dealing with Body Image Issues on a Beach Vacation
“I’m probably the biggest woman staying at this hostel. Probably the oldest too. And no doubt I’m the least cool person here.”
It didn’t take long after arriving at Selina Santa Teresa for me to develop a bit of a body image complex. It seemed like every girl had flat abs and perky bottoms and endless confidence as they lounged around the pool in their itty bitty bikinis. The guys were just as beautiful. Tanned skin and biceps and pecs to make you weep. Every girl looked like a yoga instructor and every guy looked like a surfer. In truth, they very well may have been. Yoga and surf are Santa Teresa’s two main draws after all.
I wanted to get in the pool. It was hot. I was sweaty after the four hour shuttle from Monteverde. Club music was pumping out of a poolside speaker which usually makes me want to groove. But I couldn’t bring myself to change and get out there. Not until 5pm when the pool was all but vacated. So I put on my one-piece suit (it covered the most) and slunk down for a cooling sunset dip. The next morning I made sure I was the first one in at 8am so that I had it to myself.
Why was I being so hard on myself? I’m not particularly heavy. I’m 5’9 and wear an American size 10/12. The average American woman wears a 16. I think the average woman at Selina wore a 6. I used to be an 8 in my mid-20s but my metabolism took a nosedive in my 30s. Nothing unusual there, but for some reason I just couldn’t shake the negative feelings. Quite often I think body image issues have nothing to do with actual measurements. I’m sure even top models still have moments of doubt and low confidence.
I was self-conscious of my thighs, which now touch and rub together in short shorts, jiggling as I walked down the beach. But you know what, even skinny girls’ thighs jiggle some when they walk. I was convinced that everyone seated in the sand for sunset were eyeing me up. The truth? They weren’t. No one gave a damn if I was a size 6 or 16. For some reason, I just couldn’t shut off the negative tapes. It was frustrating. I was actively having arguments with myself in my head.
“Sorry horsey that you got the heavy tourist.”
“Seriously Mel? Stop being ridiculous. You’re actually smaller than the average woman your age.”
“Ugh, I bet everyone on the beach is looking at my belly. So embarrassing.”
“C’mon, give it up. You wouldn’t let anyone talk to your friend that way so why would you let yourself?”
I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t seem to let it go. The whole point of vacation is to just let it go and have a good time right? I had two choices: keep mentally beating myself for something I couldn’t change in that moment or self-acceptance. It took me a few days, and a change of hotel, but I finally got to the latter.
How did I deal with my body confidence issues on vacation?
Check in with yourself
I don’t normally have these same thoughts racing through my brain so I knew something was off. Do a gentle check-in. “You seem off Self. What’s up? Everything ok?” When I thought about it, I realized I was actually feeling a bit lonely. I hadn’t geared up for a solo trip and I hadn’t made any travel friends at the hostel. Once I realized that that was probably the root of my self-defeating attitude it made it easier to ease up on the negative thoughts and be a bit gentler with myself. I booked a few group activities and checked in with friends back home which made me feel more connected.
Bodies are pretty amazing things. Even if you wish you were a different shape or size, the fact that you’re breathing and reading this means that you have a pretty amazing body. It helps to remind yourself of all the great things your body lets you do. Take a few minutes to think of all the things your body does for you.
My body is capable of some pretty awesome things. It’s taken me up mountains. It’s walked 20km around London in Converse sneakers and not divorced me. It’s let me kayak in oceans, ride horses, jump off cliffs, slide down waterfalls, jump waves, explore underwater worlds, cycle countrysides, and so, so much more. Reminding myself of that erased a few more of those negative patterns.
Rewire your brain
Information and thoughts move through your brain via neural pathways. The more your thoughts follow a specific pathway, the stronger that pathway becomes. Think negative things about yourself on a daily basis and that pathway becomes really strong. But the good news is that the same is true about positive thoughts. So each time that negative thought crosses your mind, correct yourself by thinking “that’s not true” and think of a positive thought.
Stuart Smalley was on to something. “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”
If I had a negative thought, I’d try to instead replace it with two good ones.
“My thighs are too big.”
“My legs are strong. My calves look great in heels.”
Eventually these more positive thoughts got stronger than the negative ones.
By the time I got to Isla Tortuga I was back to feeling like myself. I was just fine with spending the whole day in my bikini. I was more interested in fresh pineapple and a cold beer than trying to hide my perceived flaws. I chatted with people on my tour and enjoyed swimming in the ocean.
While it’s a bit too bad that negative thoughts chased me for a few days in the paradise of Costa Rica but if I look for the silver lining, it’s that it gave me a chance to practice and sharpen some self-care tools.
Have you ever had something similar happen on a beach vacation? How did you deal with it?