“The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.”
― Isak Dinesen, Seven Gothic Tales
I donned a two-piece with my farmer’s tan and insecurities in full view of the good people of Anna Maria Island last weekend. Something truly remarkable struck me whilst waist deep in the Gulf of Mexico, I found my inner Florida Girl. Turns out, no one really cares what other people look like in swimwear once they’re out on the powdery sand. All of a sudden my lack of an actual flesh tone and ten extra pounds of stress weight didn’t matter. Perhaps, it was the vitamin D soaking into my skin from the blaring sun or the magical properties of the soft waves ebbing and flowing around me. I felt so alive that I wanted to recite Walt Whitman and “sing the body electric.” (Dr. Armstrong would be so proud!) However, I just silently bobbed along with the current letting my hair get wet for the first time in years.
As a native Floridian, I had spent the entirety of my youth at the beach. It was an inexpensive way to keep my brothers and I busy during summer break. I had a hot, young mom with a bikini body who had three kids by age 30 and sunbathed while I looked after my little brothers on the seashore. She unintentionally drew looks from men of all ages with her tall, slim and tan body. I remember feeling embarrassed by all of the attention she would get, even though she neither welcomed nor enjoyed it. As a kid, the male gaze confused and frightened me that at any moment my mom would leave us for a beach bum. My parents were always fighting and I knew that being “a good little girl” was very important to keep those small moments of peace, as if I was solely responsible for alleviating all the grown-up tension, when really it had nothing to do with me. I was just too young and naïve to know any better. The beach made me an anxious child.
Some form of beach has always been 15-20 minutes away from anywhere I have lived in the Sunshine State. I guess that makes me lucky and in permanent vacation mode or something. But mostly, I avoid too much sun and always wear at least 45 SPF. I have seen too many sun worshippers age into walking, talking saddlebags. Not as appealing as one would think. So, I stayed away. I barely swam in pools or any body of water larger than a bathtub. Thusly, I became the palest Floridian ever. Dark brown hair, bright red lips, and fair skin were my signature look that I totally aped from 50s pinups – until recently. The only downside to my renewed interest in spending summer afternoons on the local beach is the tragic nature of the sunburn. Try sleep, sitting, or walking with a bright red backside without wincing from the pain of such simple movements. The key is to reapply, folks!
A tan doesn’t fix everything. But a day outside of your normal routine pushing your own personal boundaries can be an unbelievably liberating and even thrilling. I actually tried on several bathing suits without cringing in the dressing room mirror. I suppose that I felt disconnected from my inner Florida Girl, because it’s easier to hate your hometown and complain about the life experience you think you missed out on. It’s difficult to truly appreciate your roots when you read about younger artists making it in New York and L.A. There is a bitter pettiness that accompanies a strong dislike in your upbringing, when you should love and embrace it.
Although, I still have an irrational fear of sharks. Even this photo gives me the creeps: