Guest Blog: Hillary McBride: Bikini Bodies…..
Bikini Bodies: Learning to love myself through another woman’s day at the beach
I didn’t realize until it was a few days into my trip to Hawaii over a recent holiday that there would be bikinis involved. More specifically, there would be a bikini on my body, and the bodies of other women who were also at the beach. I had been working so hard to finish my semester at school, wrap up all the loose ends at work before heading off for vacation with my family, that this simple fact seemed to escape me. It might seem confusing why this is even something worth mentioning – especially since I packed my own suit, and willingly consented to going on this family trip- I’ll get into that.
It took about two days of beach time, reading books, and winding down from the semester to begin to notice that there was something in me that was getting all stirred up. (Stirred up is a term I use in therapy a lot with my clients, it’s another word for triggered, or like having your psychological snowglobe shaken up). For most of my conscious life I have struggled with my body, and who I am within my body. But in recent years have come to the place where I finally feel free in my body, free enough to wear a bathing suit joyfully at the beach, move my body in time to the music that I hear,- dance with abandon. That’s why sitting on the beach and suddenly realizing that I was being triggered by bikinis, and the women they were being worn by, was such a shock. I thought I was over this. I thought I could look down at my body, in any shape and size, and with honesty- really like it.
The story gets more complicating (and shameful if I’m honest) if I tell you what created this sudden realization. There was a woman, who appeared to be about 65 or 70, standing a few feet in front of me brushing sand of her cellulite covered thighs. She had far from what our western culture would define as the perfect body, and was wearing an orange bikini so bright it was as if the bikini was saying ‘I don’t mind if you look’. I am embarrassed to admit that the prominent thought that entered my mind was: ‘some people are just not meant to wear certain things’. I think, if I am courageous enough to sit with this long enough to uncover what that might mean, that it means that in that moment I believed a few things: only certain kind of bodies deserve bikinis, she should be ashamed of the way her skin hangs over the top of her suit, and that her body, women’s bodies, should look a certain way in order to be acceptable. If I’m trying to protect my ego a bit more, I might say that this meant that she should cover up and have more dignity, not make herself an object, to have more modesty. But the truth was,that I was the one sitting there judging her. I was the one who was evaluating her as if she was an object which needed to ‘measure up’ to the standard our culture has set for her- I was the one, implying with my judgment, that I had the power to determine if she was good enough or not.
It has been a few weeks since this happened. But to be honest, I have felt kind of jumbled up inside- realizing that perhaps my attitudes towards my body were not as free as I thought they were. Instead of joy, it might have just been tolerance, or resignation. In years of graduate school and advanced clinical training to be a psychologist, one of the most significant things I’ve learned was that there is a parallel between how I treat (and think about) others, and myself. I realized that day on the beach that my work to come into more full acceptance of who I am as woman is not yet done. And, truthfully, that may be a journey I am on until I die. But it is not possible for me to judge the woman in the orange bikini while actually really being free in myself. I can’t serve the masters of judgment and freedom at the same time. In reflecting on this experience I realized that after all of this my embarrassing thoughts about her skin and thighs, the work left undone in my heart to accept my whole self as I’ve been created- on that day on the beach she may have been more free than me.
I don’t know what was going on in the head of that woman when she put that bikini in the morning, how she feels about herself in general, or how she felt about her body while brushing sand off her thighs in view of everyone on the beach. But I know that what my heart needed, it got: a very salient reminder that my journey as a human, to be refined, is never done. I have more work to do to learn to love myself as I am, not through the eyes of my cultural context. How I think and treat other women is a litmus test for how I’m doing in that area. Instead of seeing where I, or others, do not measure up, I yearn to be a woman who can see where there is beauty and strength, creating a narrative of life and spirit in the space we take up in our physical selves as women.
My name is Hillary McBride, and I’m a PhD student in Counselling Psychology and therapist in private practice in the Vancouver area. I am passionate about helping women love themselves, as they are, resisting shame about all parts of themselves, including their bodies. I have partnered with a number of organizations to provide workshops for women of all ages to help them resist body hatred, and prevent or treat disordered eating. I also write a column for the Feminist Current, called the Feminist Therapist. In October 2017 I have a book coming out called Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to love ourselves as we are. Follow me on twitter for updates about writing and speaking: @hillarylmcbride, or on my website at www.hillarylmcbride.com