It often strikes me as odd, the things that we find ourselves doing on holiday. Drinking at lunchtime aside, the idea of stripping off to what is effectively our underwear, covering ourselves in cream and lying underneath an enormous ball of fire, risking third degree burns in the process, all to ensure that our skin changes colour is actually nothing short of weird. And yet, every year the tourist industry is kept alive by our pathological need to tan, just this week the Barbados tourist board are profiting from that desire in me.
A desire that actually finds me doing things that are totally out of character. At home, wherever possible, I am a jumper wearer. I feel the cold more than most but I also feel safe in them, cocooned underneath layers of fabric, safe in the knowledge that the four Bakewell tarts I took on the night before can remain my secret and not be shown to the world in the shape of my stomach. I, like a lot of girls, don’t explode body confidence and so try, when I can, to keep said body, fairly hidden from the world.
But then, when we come on holiday, all of that changes. Not only can we not wear jumpers here on account of the fact we’d have melted by breakfast, we are actively encouraged to take off all of our clothes, showing all of our wibbly-wobbly bits to our friends, families, and countless strangers. And for a lot of us, that is not an easy thing to do at all.
Since being here I have noticed self-consciousness everywhere that I have looked, less so in the blokes who mostly seem focussed on drinking beer and kicking a football around (the guys I’m here with really are playing up to a stereotype), but in every young woman that I have seen. When you see us all lying down you would not think that we had a problem in the world, flat tummies everywhere (thank you gravity), headphones plugged in and books held high. But after the sun gets too hot, someone addresses us or nature calls and it’s time to partake in the only exercise any of us have planned for the foreseeable future, a sit up, everything changes.
I watch arms jump to attention as they cross themselves around the waist, I watch posture change as people breathe in as hard as they can and I see wild groping as people search for their cover ups. Hell, I watch it, but I also do it. For the first few days here I was guilty of all of the above, as I look down and watch beads of sweat seeping out of various stomach rolls I kick myself for that third piece of toast and marmalade that I had at breakfast time and as I stand up, exposing my IBS bloated tummy to the world I’m furious at myself for giving up on the gym just when things were starting to get interesting.
For the first few days of any holiday, the most confident woman in the world, I’m sure shares these feelings. It’s a massive shock to the system. Before last week no one had seen my legs in about four months and the only person to see me in my underwear since last summer, apart from Alex, was my unsuspecting neighbour who I flashed a few weeks ago. There are parts of my body that I spend a lot of time disliking, hiding, wishing weren’t there and in a bikini, there’s no getting away from them at all.
It’s not surprising at all that many of us find stripping off for our holidays a daunting thing to do, it is therefore even less surprising to find people desperately insecure when they get here. But if six days in the sun, rarely hidden by anything more than a dress that cost a fortune but is basically pointless because it’s totally see through, has taught me anything, it’s that, for the time that you are away, you are given a free pass on caring.
So here I am, perhaps not ‘bikini body ready’ in the way that society told me to be, but in a bikini nonetheless, feeling pretty well ready for anything. Of the 52 weeks that make up a year, I am spending two of them here. That’s a long time in one sense, but in the other, it’s a tiny flash. Before I know it I will be back at home, stressed af, busy as hell, hiding, once again, under a jumper. I will be longing for the days of rum punches by the sea, of being too hot whist basically naked, of being able to go swimming whenever I want to without having to worry about a) my hair b) my clothes c) the old guy who takes up half the pool. And with that in mind I decided that I was NOT going to waste my time in paradise.
It is asking a lot to get a girl to take off all of her clothes and all of a sudden be totally cool with what she sees. If she dislikes it in England, chances are she won’t feel much differently 6000 miles away, but good God guys, to spend a whole holiday worried about what you look like has got to be the biggest waste of time and money that there is. YES, I wish I’d eaten less and worked out more but NO, there is absolutely sweet fuck all that I can do about it now.
And so, instead of sitting with my arms across my stomach and forgetting to breathe for hours on end for fear of exposing my true identity to the world, I am going to do what one is supposed to do on holiday and enjoy every minute. And more than that, I am going to take what I have learnt home with me; the knowledge that right now, in this very minute, there is absolutely nothing that I can do about my body and that really, I would be a damn fool to waste a moment, worrying about something as small, as insubstantial, as my stomach rolls.