I’m thinking a lot lately about beauty standards, shame, body confidence, and how I want to be and how I want to parent. It reminded me of something that happened on one of our trips last summer.
The beaches in Menorca are all topless. Actually, at every beach we went to, bottoms seemed optional as well – many of the kids at the beach, up to even age 8 or 9, went naked. And one older gentleman, deeply bronzed with nary a tan line to be seen anywhere on his body, was completely nude as well.
Shortly after we arrived at the beach the first day, I realized that it was topless. I didn’t mention anything to the kids; I figured the less of a thing I made it into, the less of a thing it would be. Bridget caught on pretty quickly though (to be honest, there were boobs everywhere) and shot me a wide-eyed look of shock.
This seemed like a parenting watershed moment. My response would become her response.
So I shrugged. “They’re just boobs,” I said. “It’s only weird if you make it weird. Every woman has them.”
She considered that and nodded. “And some men, actually,” she replied, “and they don’t cover them up!” We both laughed. And that was it.
As we were talking, though, Gabe walked over and caught the end of it. He asked what we were talking about.
“It’s a topless beach,” Bridget said.
Gabe hadn’t noticed, but his head whipped around at that, and, confirming that she was right, he turned back to me, mouth agape and eyes popping out of his head.
I repeated my statement: “It’s just a body part. It’s only weird if you make it weird. For everyone here, it’s totally normal to be topless at the beach.”
He looked around some more and then nodded. He could accept that.
Obviously though, Gabe went directly to both of his brothers and shared the information. Two more sets of wide eyes and questions. Matt and I both made it clear that it was simply the way things were. The boys asked why. We said why not. And that was it.
I realized over the course of the three days we spent on the beaches there though, how much healthier an attitude toward bodies everyone simply had, how much less shame there was all around.
There were women of every shape, size, weight, and age at the beach. Nearly every one of them wore a bikini, and it didn’t matter what they looked like. And many, many of those women took their tops off. Old women, young women. Thin and fat, fit and not fit. Moms and grandmothers. Boobs everywhere.
The women inhabited their bodies unapologetically. It was refreshing. It was gorgeous. It was so much healthier than the covered up shame you see in so many other places — England and America right on the top of that list.
I was jealous of all those women happily living in their own shapes and sizes. I wanted to feel so completely comfortable that I didn’t think about sucking in my stomach or wish the bathing suit top I wore had a bit more padding or my butt took up just a bit less space. I wanted to feel unencumbered.
I left my top on though, and I kept sucking in my stomach.
My children were not brought up in a place where seeing topless women is the norm. They could handle it in Spain because, if nothing else in the last two years, they’ve learned to adapt to different cultural norms pretty quickly.
But having their own mother topless would not have sat well. Not with them. Not with me. We can live with the norms of other cultures, but we live WITHIN our own.
So my top stayed put. But I learned something about shame and beauty, and that will come with me wherever I go.