I’m sitting on the Jersey Shore right now (or rather, I was when I wrote this!), taking a real vacation for the first time in a year and a half. The salt air nips my nose, the cool breeze actually giving me goosebumps despite the romper and cardigan I’m in. The tide crashes steadily towards us, erasing castles and fortified walls and filling gaping holes of particularly ambitious children armed with shovels. I’m in relaxation heaven.
An image popped into my head a bit ago. A particularly dark duo of Barbaluts had just strolled past languidly in their ruffled bikinis and I-don’t-care beach hair (do they know how much people pay for products to achieve that?). And yet all I could see was what this beach scene must have looked like in 1905.
A large pavilion, I imagined, something like those lawn tents in Downton Abbey, set up home base with a delicate luncheon set on some lovely tablecloth, with elegant lawn chaises on which sat, in complete shade and layers of clothes, several well-coiffed ladies.
And in that moment, I ashamedly felt a surge of envy. They weren’t expected to be active tomboys or to go diving into the water or even to lay their teensy brown bodies on brightly colored beach towels to intensify the evidence of their extensive leisure time. They just went to sit at, walk on, and absorb the beach atmosphere.
I have never been a tomboy (except when it comes to power tools or fixing things around the house, although that apparently doesn’t count in our coolness culture). Even today, I hate cold water and extreme physical exertion. Whether it’s because I’m not naturally athletic or because I just wasn’t raised to be that active, the fact is that I only ever enjoyed going to the pool in my junior high/early high school phase of trying to achieve a tan; once I gave that up and embraced my white English skin, the pool scene became a complete waste of time. I’m just not a water scene kind of person, I guess.
But that doesn’t have any bearing on the pressure I feel when I do go to the beach or the pool. It seems like I only have two acceptable options – to be really athletic and love playing in and around the water; or to tan a perfectly dieted body. I’ve never been comfortable doing what I really want to do: just to sit in the partial shade, often clothed, watching and breathing and existing in a world I never get to be in.
Well, today, I did just that. It didn’t matter to me that it was basically me and the 60-year-old women doing so – I was comfy and happy and enjoying myself. That only took me a couple decades.
Am I the only one who has struggled with these expectations? What’s your feeling about the beach and beach-body culture?