Growing up in a plus-size body doesn’t come without its negatives. From the polarizing treatment I would get from strangers to lack of access to basic facilities, everywhere I turned I would be made aware that my size was an issue to others. This was to cause me develop a self-hatred of my body that manifested itself in a variety of ways – including not taking the opportunity to travel or be seen in public.
When I’d open up travel brochures or see vacations advertised on TV, I would be met with images of models with smaller, super-toned bodies living their best lives on holiday. I convinced myself that travel and beach vacations were not for the likes of bodies like mine, and that I was too fat to enjoy myself abroad.
It sounds silly to recall these moments, but at the time the lack of body diversity in the marketing of travel made me think that you could only visit these beach destinations if you had a body type that fit society’s standard of beauty.
Traveling solo as a confidence booster
Throughout my early twenties, I embarked on a self-love journey of sorts. I was maturing, and needed to shake off trauma as well as unlearn the toxic narratives surrounding body size that I had internalized while growing up. This was essential in my bid to live my best life.
Part of doing so included taking the leap and start traveling solo in a bid to help with my confidence. I started traveling in 2016, and while I had an amazing time doing so, I stuck to cities and rural spots – in other words, places that didn’t require me to wear bikinis, shorts, skirts or spaghetti strap tops. Even though I could slowly feel my confidence rising, I wasn’t at the point where I felt comfortable in my body.
Then, in 2019, everything changed for me. I was invited to visit St Lucia for a few days in honor of Black History Month. While I was filled with excitement, a part of me was also filled with dread.
Visiting a Caribbean island could only mean one thing: hot weather and beaches. The thought of having to wear pieces that would keep me cool gave me feelings of anxiety. I had come so far in my self-love journey; but was I ready to go all out and wear a swimsuit? All of my old insecurities resurged with a vengeance: What would people say if I did? Would I need to work out before going? Should I have a ‘bikini body’? Would it be acceptable for me to wear leggings on the beach?
I decided to go out on a whim and buy three string bikinis, just for a laugh. My intention was never to wear them publicly, but to just see what I looked like in them.
The most body-positive of places
Fast forward a few weeks later and I arrived in St Lucia. It’s no hyperbole for me to say that it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And what makes the island beautiful isn’t just the agriculture, the Piton mountains or the beaches, but the people. From when I touched down until my flight off the island, I was greeted with bodies that looked like mine. Plus-sized bodies of St Lucian women wearing beautiful wrap skirts, tiny shorts and crop tops, just going about their daily lives.
There was no one staring at them, or questioning them for daring to wear such clothing. They were treated as normal human beings. And in that moment, I’d never before felt so seen.
When I arrived at my hotel, I removed the tags on my new black-and-red bikini and popped it on with a cover-up, and headed for Rodney Bay beach. A friend said I should have my photo taken, so I decided to let go of my inhibitions, take off my cover-up and pose in my size-24 bikini. The rush of adrenaline that came with doing that was simply addictive. I was met with compliments and cheers, with people telling me I should be a model. I wasn’t used to my body being seen in such a positive way, and the effect it had on my self-esteem was momentous.
Beauty in all shapes and sizes
Locals I met told me about the St Lucian standard of beauty and how it generally celebrates curvier bodies. I discovered for myself how bigger bodies were celebrated on the island, and how St Lucians recognize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. As someone who has grown up in the shadows of the Westernized standards of beauty and its favoritism toward slim bodies, hearing this alternative take was music to my ears.
I spent the rest of the trip sunbathing in my bikinis and walking proudly in sundresses, and began to develop a newfound sense of confidence. I felt attractive. I felt comfortable. And for the first time, I felt like I deserved to be enjoying myself unapologetically.
I have returned to the island again, and the second time was even better than the last. I will always credit the beautiful island as being the place where I got my body-image groove back.