What Living Abroad Has Taught Me About Body Image

Moving to Spain for a few months was a bit of a no brainer – the children still young enough to adapt but old enough to make lasting memories, the schooling affordable, our business can be run from anywhere and the UK was experiencing one of its more dreary winters.

What living abroad has taught me about body image

Decision made, we envisaged beach side living, embracing lazy evenings with the girls running free, sand between our toes and increased wine consumption. Much of this has come true – not forgetting the more mundane aspects of life such as supermarket shopping, school runs, tantrums (ours and the children’s) and actually having to work. For all our wonderful new experiences, one has taken me by surprise – what living abroad has taught me about body image.

I consider myself to be reasonably body confident – I know that I am at the lower end of my body/height ratios, I like to exercise, I don’t diet, I’m a Starbuck’s addict but I work out and I didn’t think I hid my body…until we moved abroad.

After three pregnancies, two cesareans and being the not-so proud owner of an umbilical hernia (that I really should get fixed) I consider my body to be in the scubs-up-pretty-well-all-things-considered-but-probably-looks-best-with-clothes on category.

We’re currently living in Marbella – home to a jet-set (and wannabe jet-set) crowd. However, there is nothing new about the body beautiful brigade, whether they’re on the beach or in a magazine. I have never been one to compare myself to anyone who makes working out their lifestyle or career.

My revelations have come from the beaches and promenades set away from the glitz and glamour of the holiday crowds, on the local beaches and our nearby parks.

We hadn’t been in Spain long when we were walking along the beach past a volleyball competition, bikini clad men and women of all shapes, ages and sizes. Of course some looked amazingly fit but others jiggled in their costumes, soft bellies and large, even lumpy, thighs – everyone laughing, moving, having fun.

I found myself considering why wearing a bikini in public (never mind actually running and jumping around in one) made me feel slightly panicked – borderline horrified.

As we approached summer and the temperature increased I had to shed layers. My daughters need me to have fun, play on the beach, in the pool and in order to do those things I have to wear the right clothes – it’s humbling to admit to myself how much I hid behind my jackets, jeans and scarfs in the UK.

Exercise is the norm here, early morning and evening sees the promenades and beaches full of locals walking, swimming in the sea or riding bikes – parents jogging alongside their young children on scooters and bikes or using the free exercise equipment. We’ve embraced it, walking miles every day or riding our bikes instead of taking the car. I genuinely thought I was active in the UK but I see now it was all just the bare minimum.

I read and write about healthy living, I talk to my daughters about the importance of exercise to be strong and have fun, we go to the gym in the UK and my children play sport but nothing prepared me for the lesson learned by watching healthy living in practice. Not as a fad or something done behind the doors of a gym, not the results seen in a photograph or by the very slim and beautiful.

Healthy by the definition of getting from A to B. A simple walk or a game played on the beach, riding your bike because it’s fun or playing in the pool with friends. The experience has forced me to recognise my own negative behaviour. I put a bikini on and my girls didn’t even look twice, they just asked me to play, I wore shorts (personal pear shaped nemesis) and I felt nothing but gratitude to not be overheating on a hot day. I have bared more skin in the last few months than I have in years.

what living abroad has taught me about body image

As our thoughts turn to returning home to the UK in September I want to find away to remember these lessons, to keep the healthier mindset that my family has developed. Clearly the weather plays an enormous factor in our everyday lifestyle choices – I doubt anyone in York would applaud me for my confidence to wear a bikini on a random Tuesday.

We will remain mindful though to move more as a family, to park the car further away, to embrace our country and riverside walks, to swim, walk, cycle and run more. To incorporate exercise as the norm rather than a specialist activity that we have to schedule and arrange.

I will also be mindful that this may involve getting rained on a bit more in Yorkshire…!

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