I love the beach, but perhaps not for the exact same reasons that other people do.
Yes, the sun and water and sand are all lovely. The sound of the ocean persistently crashing against the shore is indeed the most soothing of melodies. And salt water is really great for my hair.
However, one of my favorite things about going to the beach, or even to a neighborhood pool, is witnessing the beauty and diversity in the forms of human bodies. Seriously, I love it.
As someone who has ranged during my life from being utterly self-conscious about my body, to embracing the wider “Body Positive” movement, to finally settling into a self-possessed and self-confident modesty, I have a bit of a fascination with the human body and attitudes towards it. Attitudes towards one’s own body and attitudes towards the bodies of others are often intertwined and complicated, and modern culture has made the whole subject somewhat toxic and confusing. It can be seen as “empowering” to put your body on full display, but this idea is often only directed at women and just allows for further objectification and scrutiny. At the same time, I should be able to wear a sleeveless shirt and shorts when it’s 90 degrees outside without feeling self-conscious about stretch marks and my less-than-svelte muscle tone. For me at least, the last couple of years have been a balancing act between modest dignity and practical acceptance and embracement of my body.
What I love about the beach is the democracy of form. Everyone is exposed, to a fuller or lesser degree, and yet no one is made to feel as if they were on display. You can go without make-up, with your hair a mess, with all of your jiggly body parts jiggling away, and it’s all deemed acceptable and even unnotable. You can observe other people’s real bodies, not the airbrushed and photoshopped versions of celebrities and models whose jobs it is to look good. And if you pay very close attention, you can see that all bodies are good and beautiful.
In the Bible, the psalmist says, “You formed my inmost being: you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.” And in his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
All that God created on this earth He declared good; but after creating man and woman in His image, he declared it very good. Who are we to decide that what God created isn’t beautiful? If you accept that God created each one of us, that He knew us even as we were formed in our mother’s womb, then how could you not recognize the beauty of every skin tone, every bone structure, every different shade of hair or eye color?
Our bodies are beautiful and good, but that also doesn’t mean that we must feel a need to put them on display in order to recognize that they are beautiful and good. I once thought that the ultimate move in body acceptance would be to put on a bikini for the first time in my life and go out in public. And perhaps if I find a two-piece swimsuit that I fall in love with and that I feel comfortable in, that may still happen. But I also have nothing to prove to the rest of the world. My body is my own, and I am God’s own, and the dignity inherent in that is enough without making a display of it for others. Recognizing these truths has made the beach that much more enjoyable, as well, because I am not worried about making a “statement” with my swimwear. I’m just worried about what suit will give me the weirdest tan lines and that it will stay in place when a big wave hits me (or when my various nieces and nephews decide to use me as their personal flotation device).
There is still a lot of summer left, and I plan to take advantage of every opportunity to get into some water, soak up some sun, and give thanks to God for the diversity and beauty with which He created us all.
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