The Mediterranean Sea and Body Positivity

The Mediterranean is one of my favorite places in the world. The countries bordering it are all so culturally rich, hospitable and beautiful — so you really can’t go wrong with any Mediterranean destination. The first time I experienced it was in Tel Aviv. I was battling a nasty cold, but got in the water despite it — It was too beautiful not to! I came out with all my cold symptoms gone — a true testament to how magical that sea is. So naturally when planning our itinerary for the south of France, I had to get back into that water.

Being on the beach in a European country is a very strange experience for an American. Men wear speedos, women are tanning topless, and the strangest part of it all: everyone seems so comfortable with their bodies. Older women are still rockin’ bikinis no matter what they looked like and everyone is really proud of their beautiful bronze, yet extremely wrinkly/saggy skin — no shame, just being real.

Confronting Body Shame on the Mediterranean

The first day we spent in the French beach town of Cavalaire was filled with a lot of contemplation about this, because from a very early age we’re taught to cover up our bodies when they’re too fat or too wrinkly. As a kid I was scolded by my grandmother for wearing swimsuits that were too revealing for my chubby physique. The older women in my life at a certain age would all wear the same, conservative swim suit being careful not to draw too much attention. You learn early to think things like, “at least I don’t look like that fat women in her swimsuit,” to make you feel better about being in yours. Shame is so attached to appearances for women and there is no place we’re more vulnerable to that than at the beach.

So, to see women of a variety of shapes and sizes take off their clothes so freely and not trying to hide under anything was uncomfortable, but beautiful to me. A more beautiful experience that I got to experience from a distance unlike in Tel Aviv when I had to change into my swimsuit in a large, open dressing room. All I could think was, what’s it like to just not care? What’s it like to look at your body and just be okay with it and with other people seeing it so revealed?

Now, I don’t think Europe is some beacon of body positivity — we all know that’s not true and maybe these women were just as self-conscious as me. However, they’re absolutely more comfortable with their bodies and showing more skin than I ever could. Even if I was 20lbs lighter, I don’t think I could go to the beach without wanting to cover more of myself because there is just that much shame in me. Which had me thinking even more…

Beaches are my favorite places in the world and something I seek out on every vacation — hell, even in the winter I’m up for a good beach. However, I am riddled with anxiety over my body on every beach trip I take. My self consciousness spoils so many of my experiences. Sometimes, I think that’s something that unites all women. But other times, there are people, women, who are legitimately confused why I have so much anxiety over wearing a swimsuit. I once refused to go to the beach with a people I was uncomfortable with seeing my body that vulnerable, and my friend couldn’t comprehend it. I still don’t know how they couldn’t. Is that some sort of thin privilege? Though I know plenty of thinner women who can relate.

Transforming Shame into Confidence and Gratitude

I don’t know where I’m going with this other than I think we should all try to be more comfortable with our bodies and more empathetic to people who aren’t comfortable with their bodies yet. We should aim for a society where people can wear whatever they want no matter how revealing or modest, and no one will bat an eye. It’s ridiculous how much time I and many others spend going crazy over their bodies before we go to do something that brings us so much joy because we know we’ll be judged. We spend so much time an energy on this and it can spoil amazing moments in life — it’s exhausting.

Your body is amazing. It carries you through life and allows you to do so many things — like swimming. We should always been in a state of gratitude to our bodies, our vessels through which we experience life. We shouldn’t be ashamed of what this beautiful gift looks like without clothes on. Because, ultimately, whatever it looks like is what it’s supposed to look like. Perfect bodies don’t exist, and even if they did it’s so much less important than experiencing life it.

I know this is all easier said than done, and the fear of judgment is so huge. I use to think body positivity was easy when I was 70lbs lighter, but gaining weight has made me work a lot harder to become comfortable with myself again. However, if I’ve learned anything from that, if we don’t work on our confidence constantly, if we don’t challenge the voice in our heads that is telling us we’re too fat, too ugly, too skinny, too wrinkly — then it won’t go away…It’ll just grow.

So fuck what other people think and enjoy the beach.

Go for a swim, lay on the sand, climb some rock, and then thank your body for giving you the ability to do so.

Monique LeBlanc was born in Lafayette, LA and is currently living in New Orleans, LA working in government finance and exploring her creative passions. She's an aspiring world traveler with a love for food and food culture. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of REVA CREW, a young women's professionals organization in New Orleans. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies with minors in Arabic, Religious Studies and WGS.
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