I recently returned from an impromptu trip to Puerto Rico. My sister invited me at the last minute and I obliged her by saying yes. The archipelago – still recovering from a devastating hurricane the wreaked havoc two years ago – has never been on by bucket list of destinations and presented me with my own unique set of challenges upon arrival. Nevertheless, I am not one to crank open the jaw of a gift horse and inspect its molars, so I took the free airfare and made the best of my “vacation”.
Though Puerto Rico (or San Juan I should say, specifically, to be fair) was not a particularly welcoming to me or the small band I was traveling with, I could not in goo conscious say that entire affair was a disaster. The two highlights of my trip were the food (the coffee and plantain are out of this world) and the beaches. They simply cannot be beat! I have only spent a little time in the Caribbean – a week in Belize on a resort and the Bahamas on a cruise, respectively – but this was the first time I took the opportunity to observe my surroundings and more importantly, the bodies that surrounded me. When you’re on a cruise, your attention is constantly being drawn to the decor, the shows, then planned events. Resorts are diverting for similar reasons. But when you find yourself on a remote cay like Icacos Island in PR where the only distractions are is sugar white sand, the azure blue waves and the handful of other beachcombers and divers, you notice a thing or two. Pointedly, how few people take notice of you.
In September of 2019, Nana wrote about what going to Carnival taught her about confidence and freedom. This morning I woke up to day 3 of peeling from sunburn (a parting gift from my trip) when the article came to mind. She said, “My absolute favourite part of carnival was how little clothing women of all shapes and sizes wore,” and I discovered I had a similar appreciation during my day excursion. There were women of all sizes, shapes and fitness on the beach. Some scampered across the sand effortless, others lumbered after children, and others still languished in one attitude, shifting only to take sips from drinks within arms reach. NO ONE was covered in a sarong or any of those gauzy get-ups that discount stores sell to protect one’s modesty. Not a woman there was performing for the eyes of a passerby, and though there were plenty of men about, not one made comments or kept their eyes lingering too long so as to cause discomfort. (Unlike Accra, where everyone stares at you.) All bodies were accepted here. It took me about 20 minutes to understand what was going on, but once I did, there was no going back. I thudded around the beach, sarong-less and with abandon. It was glorious.
I have many insecurities about my body, as many women do. There are parts that I try to conceal as much as possible, as often as possible – like my knees. But there’s something about the Carrib that makes you want to bear it all, that literally siphons guilt and shame out of you and leaves you with only a sweet sense of liberation. It changes something inside of you forever. It’s a peculiar type of healing.
So if you are ever given the opportunity to take a free trip to a Caribbean island, even if it’s not one on your bucket list, go for what it can do for your body. Trust me, no matter what “flaws” you believe you have, your body is beach ready. The Caribbean does a body good.