Living in a tropical island means, by default, that frequently visiting the beach is a must. It’s the perfect getaway—you can fight the heat in the water, relax on the sand, and run away from responsibilities, all in all without having to go very far. No matter where you are, a beach is always a (relatively) short drive away. Everyone loves it. However, the beach can be a stressful environment. It can get crowded, and some people find it difficult to strip down to their swimsuit in front of strangers and expose their bodies to the possible staring and judging. Needless to say, I’m one of those people.
At 12 years old, I was the first of my friends to hit puberty so I was the first to grow boobs and hips. It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t look like anyone my age and other people noticed it, too. My family would often comment that I looked like a “señorita” and kids at school would whisper about my ever-growing chest. I became extremely self-conscious and developed the habit of wearing baggy clothes to hide the curves that I had begun to hate. Under my oversized sweaters and big t-shirts, I felt safe from the world. So, you can imagine how big of a struggle going to the beach became.
I had always loved the beach, but it all changed when I noticed that people, especially men, would openly stare. Their gazes followed me when I walked by, and none of them made any effort to hide it. I’d feel embarrassed, and whenever I told someone about it, they’d just tell me to ignore it and take it as a compliment. I didn’t understand why at the time, but this advice didn’t sit well with me, so I began to avoid going to the beach as much as possible. I missed birthdays and pool parties, coming up with excuses left and right. If I saw no way of getting out of it, I’d cover up in a t-shirt and shorts, but I felt like I stood out from the crowd even more. It got to the point where I swear I’d hear alarms going off in my head whenever I heard the word “beach.”
It took me years to push aside my insecurities and to become comfortable with my body. I started to accept my curves and even came to love them. Finally, I gained the confidence I needed to get into a bikini and face my fears head-on. And, for a while, it was great. I realized I had missed the salty air, the sparkling waves, and the warm sand. Later, I began to wonder why I had made such a big deal over it, and regretted all those times I could have been out having fun in the sun but instead chose to hide indoors. Then one day, it happened again. I was walking from the shore back to my spot on the sand when I saw a man standing nearby staring at me. I didn’t think much of it, but barely five steps later, I saw another man, lounging on a towel, look up at me and stare, even turning his head as I walked past him. At this point, I started to get the old urge to cover myself up, but I pushed it down and kept going. Ten steps later, I caught a third man staring at me, this one old enough to be my grandfather, sitting on a beach chair near my things. All my fear melted away and was replaced by anger. I stared him down with the meanest look I could muster until he looked down in shame. I had to fight the urge to stick my middle finger out.
At last, I sat on my towel and remembered what had made me stop going to the beach in the first place. I was furious. I wanted to go back to each of those men and tell them that they had made me feel violated for doing something as normal as going to the beach in a bikini. I was entitled to be there as much as they were, and they had no right to make me feel unsafe in my own skin.
I wanted to scream that women aren’t theirs to look at and touch as they please, that no matter what we wear or don’t wear, we should be respected as human beings with feelings, opinions, and rights. I wanted to scream at all those people that had told me to get over it, to ignore it and move on, that getting attention was something good because it’s not! They were just perpetuating the victim-blaming narrative, making me feel guilty for something I didn’t do or deserve. I wanted to scream at myself, for being foolish enough to let it get to me all those years, for believing that I had done something wrong. I felt helpless.
I made up my mind not to let men like this win. I wouldn’t let them force me back into hiding— those days were over. I would keep going to the beach, keep wearing my bikini, keep holding my head high, and keep living my life and doing what I love. No one would take that away from me.