Body Image & European Beaches: They’re Doing It Right

by farrah on August 13, 2013 · 32 comments

Here I am: late 30s (37 to be exact), two pregnancies (one with twins) and three breastfed boys later. I’m not saying my body has ‘been through the ringer’ but I would be stretching the truth if I told you my body was in as non-stretched out condition as it was 20 years ago. I’m starting to think that body image and European beaches could work wonders for the mothers of America. FYI- they all don’t look like this:

torsoUm, no.

The fact that I had two c-sections is somewhat lost on me since my scar has all but disappeared. That’s good and bad, I suppose since there’s really no mark to say ‘Here emerged my children.’ Or something like that. But what I DO have- is a lovely baseball shaped stretch mark on the left side of my tummy thanks to Linc. The child who tried to push his way out of my body while I laid on my side during bed rest for three months. I also have some stretched out skin- which gives me the little pouch that so many of us moms can’t quite figure out what to do with. And lastly, I have my chest- which is actually in halfway decent condition, considering all its been through.

Take all of these factors- and you might be thinking to yourself that they’re nothing. You might have ‘other’ areas as your hang up- which make you cringe at the idea of being seen or exposed. Well I’m here today to tell you ladies: It’s not as bad as you think it is. In fact, no one but you probably even notices.

I’m not a gym person- never have been. So I don’t get the whole working out thing. If that’s you- then great! You probably look super-duper awesome in a bikini and I applaud you. For the rest of us, where life is our ‘gym’ I say ‘Psssst. We’re in the majority here folks’- in case you didn’t know.

I’m not talking about being obese or unhealthy. I’m talking about those of us that carry around the marks of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing which we find is embarrassing or shameful. Stretch marks, extra skin that won’t go away- that sort of thing. While at the beach last week I couldn’t help but look around me and think ‘Wow. These women look awesome.’ — and it wasn’t because they were all in tip-top shape. It’s because they were cool with their bodies the way that they were- and were out there doing their thing regardless of stretch marks and breasts that we less consider less-than perky.

Sunbathing without a top is no big deal in Europe. At least where we have been- the beach here in the Netherlands and now the beach in Spain. Women of all ages, sizes and conditions are out there without their tops to cover their breasts or tankinis to cover their bellies. I won’t lie and say that there weren’t some pretty darn nice looking twenty-somethings, but those women haven’t been where we are just yet. They will, someday- but for now I’m not going to hate them for it.

The majority of women I saw were lounging- but there were also these energy-filled moms playing paddleball, catch, swimming and doing everything else with their kids- all topless. None of them looked perfect- and truth be told my biggest concern for them was skin cancer- but no one cared. No one was gawking. No one was thinking ‘Oh. I look fat today. Poor me.’

I saw stretch marks and sags, ‘shelves’ and muffin tops. All in the name of our children. It really made me think long and hard about how we put pressure, pressure pressure on ourselves to be competitive with this ideal- this woman who really doesn’t exist outside of magazines and really bad television. I saw what real women- women like me look like and it’s not bad. I don’t have a stylist or a personal trainer to make sure that I look perfect each day. I do take care of myself, take pride in my appearance- and that should be enough. Truth is, I’m proud of what my body has accomplished and that should be all that matters.

So did I partake in the topless sunbathing? I did. But I was so paranoid about sunburn that I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy it. In fact, the second day I even wore a two piece bikini I picked up at the last second ‘just in case’. I ended up with an awful sunburn on my lower stomach so ended up the third day in my snowmobile suit-one piece. I felt MORE out of place wearing that! Well. And my neon/eye-blinding white skin. But that’s besides the point.

What do you think? Would you wear a bikini or take off your top on a beach where it was common?


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anna @ eatseedoblog August 13, 2013 at 8:01 am

Yes! They have a much healthier body image balance in Southern France. Obesity is not ok but neither is stick thin. People of all different healthy shapes walk along the beach and the judgement factor is much lower. US and UK actually are very all or nothing it seems – obese or body-obsessed. So unhealthy.


2 farrah August 13, 2013 at 8:03 am

You know what- you’re exactly right: All or nothing which is terribly unhealthy. So many mixed messages- I guess I can see why some just give up and others go to the extreme.


3 Gayla August 13, 2013 at 9:20 am

I’d probably wear the bikini, though I’ve NEVER even considered that an option before now. I’m not a member of the mothers’ club, but with an aging body I have hang-ups about my appearance, even just wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts in the summer (I, too, have blinding white skin – with freckles). Since moving to the Netherlands, though, I think I’m in better shape and worry less about body image. That’s a big improvement over how I felt living in the US…
You’re right, ‘they’re doing it right’ over here 🙂


4 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:01 am

Yay! I feel the same way. Of course I pitched my bikini before we moved here- thinking- I’ll never wear that thing again. And yet- here we are considering just that. I’m glad it’s had the same effect on you too 🙂


5 Andrea August 13, 2013 at 11:16 am

I’d wear a bikini and not “care” as much, but I wouldn’t go topless. That’s just not my kind of thing so I’d be uncomfortable and wouldn’t enjoy it.


6 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:02 am

I can’t say I enjoyed it nearly as much as some of those ladies. I wish I had a little more of their attitude in my life 🙂


7 Ace August 13, 2013 at 11:24 am

This is so true! I appreciate the sense of what truly is “natural” in so many parts of Europe – it does the soul good to know that. Though I still don’t wear shorts if I can help it, even if no one else cares.


8 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:02 am

Ha! Isn’t that funny? I guess the good thing is that we only have a couple of months to wear shorts 🙂


9 Christie Tate August 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

I would do it. I want freedom And joy around my body.


10 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:03 am

High five. That’s what these ladies had- freedom and joy- and happiness.


11 Leighann August 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I think I would be more comfortable there than here… and I might just partake!!


12 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:03 am

Yay! Sounds good to me. And I think you’d love it.


13 Kristen August 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm

If we went to a topless beach, Chris would find a way to hide or break every single one of my tops so I could join in. I don’t think I would have a choice. 😉 I would however be the girl with her arms wrapped awkardly around herself. And oh, the sunburn! Those girls have never truly seen the light if day.
Great post!!


14 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:05 am

Thanks Kristen 🙂 And yeah- my husband was more than encouraging. But I couldn’t stop fretting over how WHITE (of all things) I was. That made me feel the most awkward of all. And yeah- even with sunscreen, I still burned.


15 Ann August 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I barely like wearing shorts, so this would be difficult for me. I’m just really comfortable wearing clothes.

But, I love this attitude.


16 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

I like layers and layers too- but there was just something about being out there with all of those people and no one cares. I did think it a little strange when I saw one woman insist her friend take her picture topless, but who am I to judge? No one else seemed to care- I shouldn’t either.


17 Ann August 14, 2013 at 11:29 am

That’s true. I guess wearing even a one piece or a coverup on a beach where the rest of the women are topless is like wearing a snowsuit on a regular day to the mall or something.


18 Monique August 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm

A friend and I were just talking about a similar topic. We were noting that, unless your body was extreme, as in very obese or Giselle fab, no one seems to care. While wouldn’t go topless, I am less self-conscious about being on a swimsuit on the beaches of Europe.


19 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:07 am

That’s true. I couldn’t stop thinking about my blinding white skin though 🙂


20 Kiley August 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I love love love love love this post! Topless? Me? No-but if I was in europe-I think I would do it-and skip and jump-just to feel free for once! It would be fun!


21 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:08 am

Heck yeah! And yes- here, totally. Home? Not so much. It would just be weird.


22 Kerstin @ Auer Life August 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I used to go topless all the time. No big deal, whatever!
You are right, Europeans have much healthier body images – it is what it is, right?
Growing up in Germany I was brought up in an environment that’s very open about body and sex issues. It’s just a normal thing.
In Northamerica unfortunately it is a normal thing to let kids watch violence in movies rather than a naked boob – for me that really sums it up…
I would let my kids watch a movie with nudity over people getting killed any day of the week!


23 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:09 am

That’s a really good point. Ann just sent me an article that said the Germans are the most likely to sunbathe topless- I’ll have to send it to you.


24 Erica August 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Ok, so how did you get that photo of me to use in this post? 😉

But seriously, I’d never go topless, but thumbs up to those that can bare it all. 🙂


25 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:09 am

Hahhah! It’s ME, silly. (um, no it’s not)….


26 Chasing the Donkey August 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm

My new local beach here in Croatia has exactly what you describe – fat, old, young, slim and all ages… BUT I still wear my daggy one piece costume – and run as fast as I can from where I dump my bag to the water. If it was acceptable to wear a wet suit … I would wear two.


27 farrah August 14, 2013 at 7:10 am

I need to read up on how long you’ve been there… and I promise you this- if my obsession with Croatia does indeed come to fruition and we go, you can bet I’ll be ditching the one piece 🙂 I am no spring chicken, but if 80 year old grandma can do it- so can we!


28 Stephanie August 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Oh, girl. I have a long, difficult relationship with “bottom stomach”. Breech twins stomping around down there didn’t help. Topless? I’m a little saggy, but I’d do it. For a while. I would be too worried about sunburn on my fishbelly white skin!


29 Colleen Lanin August 15, 2013 at 3:42 am

I did topless sunbathing when I was 20 years old. Of course, I felt all awkward & could only think about what was imperfect with my body at the time. Now I’m 39 and guess what? When I’mm 70 my 39-year-old body is going to look pretty dang good to me then. So, I’m going to enjoy it…year by year. (I may wear a bikini top though…!)


30 Lynn @NomadMomDiary August 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Hey Farrah, thanks for tripping on by my blog. I do love this post and you are absolutely right if you suspected that my brilliant deduction and acceptance of my mommy body happened on a European beach. No one, and I do mean less than 1%, no one wears a one-piece or cover-up on Italian beaches. You rock a bikini or you stay home. And while many of the women do have enviable shapes, a lot have a mom body like me…and you. The last thing I expected to learn in Italy was to love my shape, and it makes me feel better to know that I am not the only one. Keep up the great writing!


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