I had first seen Good Harbor Beach during the chill of late March a few years ago. It was empty apart from a few people with unleashed dogs racing in and out of the surf. The dogs were running around like happy idiots, unaware that they were soaked to the bone with sea water that was approximately the temperature of liquid nitrogen. It was a lovely scene, with the lighthouses in the background and a clear blue sky framing the whole picture. It charmed my husband and I like the naive fools we were.
I pictured myself nestled into the warm sand with a book, wearing overly large sunglasses and not enough sunscreen, sat next to my husband who I would make wear a sun hat. We would complain about rapidly warming drinks and sand getting into various crevices, and would on occasion wander down to the water to float around like a pair of content seals.
This has yet to happen.
I peer out the window of the car during the summer, eyeballing the glistening blue of the Atlantic in the distance. It calls to me, saying “Come in. It’s lovely in here, I mean it. Sure, my water is 40 degrees but for the 55 seconds that you can bear it, you’ll feel great.” But I never give in to the temptation.
I go for walks on the beach all the time. I stroll barefoot in the sand at the water’s edge like an idyllic tampon commercial, enjoying the feel of the water on my feet and rolling my jeans up so they don’t get wet. (Yes, I am that asshole in long pants at the beach.) I stare at the water and listen to the waves, barely audible above the din of what my brain convinces me is a crowd of impossibly beautiful people, all judging me and my fat ass for blocking their otherwise perfect view.
Now, logically, I know this just isn’t true. Average looking people go to the beach, too, though I’m sure they judge me just as harshly.
I stare at the water, and I want to go in. I linger and dig my toes into the sand and try to avoid the fresh, gelatinous seagull shit. I linger for a while and daydream about floating in the surf, then I move on, back to my car.
Why does this happen? Why does my brain do this? I don’t fucking know. I’m overweight but I’m not obese. It’s illogical, damaging, silly, ridiculous, but all I know is that I get hit with crippling anxiety at the thought of unveiling my blindingly white, uneven, imperfect thighs and hips to the world. It keeps me from enjoying my summer, and that makes me angry and resentful.
Before you think it, I can’t just “get over it.” My brain has been sabotaging me for years, like a bitchy lifelong frenemy who you keep hanging out with because you convince yourself you deserve her scorn. Even when I weighed eighty pounds less than I do currently, my mind would still very helpfully whisper “You should probably wrap yourself in a sarong. Better yet, just keep those shorts on. No, you don’t look stupid swimming in shorts at all, you look great. This is so much better than just relaxing, trust me.”
I thought that buying a bathing suit for “curvy women” (that’s what they call larger women now, FYI) would help. So I found a website that specialized in clothes for larger gals. It was populated with large gorgeous women, all looking impossibly glamorous while lounging around the pool with giant sunglasses, great hair, and expressions that screamed “I look good. I want to swim, and I refuse to wear a goddamned mu-mu, so go fuck yourself if my fat ass bothers you.”
I was inspired.
I clicked “buy now” and waited for my package of confidence to arrive in the mail. When it showed up, I immediately had to try it on. I hadn’t worn a bathing suit since the last time I had been swimming, which was back in 2001. The sensation of pulling this thing on, this weird, once piece contraption of stretchy fabric and underwires, was foreign. I had hoped to put it on and immediately be blessed with the self confidence of those gals living it up poolside, as if the fabric was woven of some magic “I give zero fucks” attitude.
That didn’t exactly happen. I didn’t look bad, but I still looked like me. I prodded at my soft parts, tried posing and looking for the right angles to minimize the bits I didn’t like. Still, I had spent the money on this thing and I promised myself that I would use it. We live a stone’s throw from some of the most gorgeous beaches in New England, and I told myself to stop being such a goddamned baby.
I’ve worn it once.
I wore it, not to Good Harbor (small steps, folks) but to Plum Cove which is like Good Harbor’s older, crotchety aunt who gives you off-brand candies. It’s small and not terribly picturesque, both the beach and the water are lined with uncomfortable pebbles and rocks in lieu of soft toe-diggable sand, and the water is topped with mats of vaguely menacing looking seaweed.
I felt a little sorry for the lifeguard who got assigned there. It was a beach populated that day by grandparents and their charges, exasperated looking moms who just probably just wanted to read a book but had to get up every few minutes to intervene in a child fight, and a fat girl trying to mentally will eyeballs blind to her presence. (It was me, the fat girl was me.) I concentrated hard on my book, and got up exactly twice to venture into the water with a practiced quick-walk meant to both get me there ASAP, and draw as little attention to myself as possible. The uncomfortable rocks underfoot had other plans, sadly, and my graceful walk was reduced to a herky-jerky shuffle.
I thought then about trying out Niles beach, but I pictured it as the domain of East Gloucester, populated by thin women with designer beach towels and a taste for chardonnay, and stylish moms feeding kale chips to children named after a plant. They would, my brain assured me, give me the stink eye and I would immediately be given a look of disgust for being fat near them. They would point at me and tell their kids “Look, Maple and Barley, that’s why you don’t get refined sugars. Have some more quinoa.”
But this year, THIS YEAR will be different. I will be different. I will find that bathing suit and rescue it from the depths of forgotten and ill fitting clothes, I will wear it, and I will be fat at the beach and I will float in the water like a happy seal.
So I tell myself.
Check back later.