I was born and raised in North America. Canada, to be exact, but I believe we are pretty much the same as the US for this story. North American countries have a very specific view on what is considered beautiful or attractive. It has varied a bit over my life, from the waif thin Twiggy and Kate Moss looks to the more physically strong but still very thin current ideal. Sure, there’s a bit of a range there, but it’s all a variation on thin.
When I was 24 years old, I moved to a Caribbean island. I had gotten a massage therapy job working for a large, prestigious hotel chain. Before I left Canada, I had a deeply ingrained fear that I would get to the island, they would take one look at me and see my size, and send me home on the next flight out. For the record, I was smaller then than I am now, but I still thought I was so big that they would reject me immediately. Ridiculous thoughts, I know… now. Completely illegal, also, but that wasn’t part of my thought process. At the time, I was completely consumed by my irrational fear.
So I packed my fears into my oversized luggage, and I left the great white north and headed for the beach. And I wasn’t sent home. But something amazing happened when I was there. I was exposed to a different culture. A culture where being a larger size wasn’t just ok, but often the ideal. All of these beautiful, full figured women wandering around owning their bodies with pride, and not thinking for one moment that they were any less perfect because of their size. It was the complete opposite of the culture I had grown up in.
Island culture was also one where men complimented women, all the time. “Hello, beautiful!” “My day just got better because of seeing you.” “Hey, sexy!” Ok, I know that maybe not all of those are the most respectful. It might make some women quite uncomfortable, as I was at first. Honestly, I was a little taken aback. Confused, even.
Are they talking to me? Do they think I’m beautiful?
I was a woman who had never had such a large population of men be so flattering. Again, I’m not saying that I approve of their forwardness, but that 24 year old girl was harboring huge amounts of hate for herself and was drowning in self judgment, and to hear all of those positive messages was actually a perfect experience for me to have. Those compliments I received made me question the negative attitude I had towards myself.
I thought I was just taking a job at the beach to get away from Canadian winters. But it changed my life. It was my first exposure to a culture that was different than mine. It taught me that just because I was raised in a culture that idealized being thin, didn’t mean that everyone everywhere idealized thinness. In the 90’s, magazines and television shows told the young me that I couldn’t be beautiful unless I was skinny, but they were wrong. I was already beautiful, and it had nothing to do with my weight.
Back home in North America, I think our society is slowly shifting. I think we are rising up and pushing back against the ideals that the media was projecting for so many years. I think that the messages of self love and self acceptance and self worth are gaining traction. I think that we are starting to see that the number on the scale doesn’t really matter. Whether big or small, tall or short, blonde or brunette – none of that matters. You are beautiful, exactly as you are. You are perfectly imperfect. You do you, and forget about what any one else says.