Guest Post: Evolving Body Image in Antigua

July 07, 2011

I recently went on holiday to the Caribbean with my family, and being there brought to my attention something that I’ve sort of noticed before but never really considered properly. In England, although I’m not overweight and I’m fairly healthy, I feel fat, because my stomach isn’t completely fat and my jeans don’t quite fit over my bum anymore. But in Antigua, all of this changed, completely, over the course of ten days. It wasn’t because I did lots of swimming and being healthy and ate only fruit or anything. In fact, the opposite was true. I ate lots of fruit, but I also ate a huge amount of everything else that came my way, because it was almost constantly coming my way, and managed to put on almost an entire stone in weight.  Add this to the fact I was walking around in a bikini and shorts among lots of very slim and beautiful people in similar get up, and ordinarily you’d have the perfect recipe for a very insecure and depressed teenager.  But something stopped it from happening, and that magic ingredient was the way Antiguan people seemed to see weight.

Every young woman I saw was curvy and every older woman I saw was overweight.  Body weight seemed to directly correspond to how much respect they got, and it was the size of people’s personality you noticed, not their body.  Also, in hot countries there’s a lot more emphasis on wearing loose, comfortable clothes that fit you and feel good, just because it’s torturous to wear anything else in heat.

As a result of this, I got home and for the first time since I’ve been old enough to realize I had a weight, I didn’t want to lose weight. I felt curvy and I felt sexy and I liked my body the way it was.  This was an amazing feeling, and sadly didn’t last very long (about as long as it took until I was around my skinnier friends again), but it was a real wake-up call for me as to how strongly the place you live influences your body image.  I’ve never been one to do the whole ‘society ruined me’ thing, because it’s definitely possible to say ‘speak to the hand’ to society and get on with body loving, but it’s also impossible to ignore the effect the way we live has on our ability to realize this potential.

image by lollipoppins

Even within one country you see this effect.  I find it really hard to wear jeans because I am just not the right shape for those jeans that come down low on your hips, and I can only find one brand that does jeans that come high enough up my waist for me.  So I was desperately searching around town for some nice jeans, and inevitably ended up in New Look.  I tried on their jeans, the same size as other shops I’d just been in, and found them to be hideously tight and uncomfortable.  No, I hadn’t suddenly put on a couple of stone between shops, and yes, I refused point blank to try on the next size up (it’s a bad habit, but I can’t help going ‘well I’ll buy these and then lose weight’) .  The problem was that this oh-so-fashionable shop had jeans that just weren’t the size I thought they were.  As someone who would really like to be size eight, being bumped up a size because shops all differ on what exactly they mean by a medium, or a size twelve, or whatever, is really demoralizing.

So yes, we all have the potential to love our bodies and be healthy and happy regardless of clothes size, but it’s a game of chance as to whether we end up living somewhere where curves are celebrated, or being slim is valued (of course, nothing wrong with that if you’re naturally slim either), or somewhere where the lines are blurred and the way you feel about yourself changes from shop to shop.  And sometimes it’s just really good to go away for a while, and come back feeling like you’re, actually, really great just the way you are.

My name is Alice Oates, I’m 18 years old.  I don’t write a blog but I love reading Medicinal Marzipan because i can identify with a lot of the issues discussed here. The idea for this post came after I went on holiday to the Caribbean.