I never liked the beach as a kid. I was probably the only child I knew of who felt a hot disdain for a day in the sand and water. Inevitably I would find sand in my molars, and a disgusting mixture of sunscreen and sea water coating my body. It wasn’t until I moved to Israel and sat on the beach in Tel Aviv that I realized the truth: I learned to dislike these things to protect myself from a reality that scared me.
I was the first kid in my fifth grade class to hit the 100-pound mark on the scales. I remember how ashamed I was when I looked over my belly and peeked at the round number. For a while I could move slightly side to side or stand on my tiptoes to make it go back to 99.8, but eventually I lost that battle too. I had been aware of my chubby face and rounder body for a long time, but my fuller chest is what earned me the hurtful nickname “moobs.”
I have carried this hatred of my body with me my entire life. Even though my medical issues with my ears prevented me from diving freely into the water since first grade, the real reason I made my peace by the pool with a book rather than a bathing suit is because I could never handle the feeling of people’s eyes on my chest. As time went on, the body that never saw the sun grew whiter with age and only added to my humiliation. When puberty came about and my friends’ bodies began to even out and become more firm, my womanly curves stood out no matter how tight the tank top I wore beneath my school uniform clung to my skin.
I spent my life carefully avoiding spaces that required me to undress in front of others. I double checked the lock on every fitting room, carefully noting how far down anyone would have to stoop to see me through the slats in the door. I peeled my clothing off as if I were on fire when I had to change after football practice. Luckily I could run home immediately after football practice to shower rather than joining my friends who casually disrobed the second they entered the locker room. I successfully hid my body from the time I hit puberty until my early 20s.
My husband was the first person to see me without a shirt for nearly fifteen years. Even then I was uncomfortable. He told me he loved everything about me, including my body. For the next five years I struggled to love the parts of me I had tried to ignore my entire life.
When Alex and I moved to Israel, we met our best friend. He decided to take us to the “gay beach” in Tel Aviv where he assured us there would be lots of eye candy sprawled out on the sand and enjoying the waves.
I felt a cold sweat developing as five years of self-love washed away.
“I don’t need to worry about a bathing suit,” I stammered. “I can’t swim anyway. You know… my ears.”