As our lovely Editor-In-Chief jets off to a body positive retreat at #BabecampJamaica, we're following her along for a week of ocean air, radical acceptance, and all-around babeliness. You can find previous entries here.
The coastline of the resort we are staying at isn't like the coastline of a Jamaica postcard; it's rocky and inhospitable. Everything nearby is rusted from the salty air. There is an ocean-fed pool that is nestled among the sharp hills and crevices.
Just beyond the pool is a ladder that drops straight into open water. Not coastal, shallow water, but water that is deep and crystal clear. Water where the bottom looks so close, but is unreachable.
This morning I woke early and left my cabin alone. I didn't ready myself at all, just walked out in my pajamas and a towel. When I got to the coastline, I dropped my clothing and dropped myself into the sea. I swam out for some time without looking back. When I turned, I was surprised to see that I had gone until the land was very small.
It occurred to me, because of the whole "deep water/ barracuda" thing that this might not have been the wisest choice. When I looked down, I found life that you don't see near the shore. Waving blue plants, small fish, other things that I don't know the name of because I'm not a sea-ologist.
It's not important.
The important thing was, I was far from the security of the shore.
The other important thing was sharks.
I don't know if there are sharks here — and if there are, what kind. But look, I've seen Jaws, and that's enough for me to be afraid of being eaten by a giant great white. To be safe, I opted not to kick my legs. This probably wouldn't keep me from being eaten by a shark, but it felt like it might keep me from being eaten by a shark, so I went with it.
After I had a panic attack about being in the middle of the sea, I decided to float to see where the water might take me. Small waves pushed salty water over my face. The salt of the Caribbean is a different kind of salt. The Pacific Ocean is salty, but this is something more than salt. This water is so salty that it burns your skin when you get out of it, drying to a grainy white powder (salt, duh). It stings your eyes. It is unlike the salt of the human body.
Yesterday, after snorkeling, I just left the salt on my body all day. Every time I touched my skin (usually to scratch a fucking mosquito bite), I was reminded of my afternoon with the fish.
Floating in salty water is truly floating. Your body takes on a buoyancy that allows you to lay atop water without effort. I did this for some time. When I put myself upright, I saw that the sea had pulled me away from the shore again. The current had taken me into deeper water. I could see the bottom, but it was far from me.
I thought about how this is a metaphor for life in many ways. It's certainly a metaphor for the fight we engage in to succeed, to grow, sometimes to survive. But it's also a metaphor for the way a fat woman learns to love a body she loathes. If you stop to lay on your back, the culture will pull you back into it.
I thought about how this is also a metaphor for living with mental illness. There are days when it is a fight just to stay alive. It is not about success or failure, it is not about growth or self-improvement, it is merely about the need to survive a disease that tricks your brain into thinking the world would be better off without you.
I was having a lot of deep thoughts in the ocean, OK.
Being nude in water is not like being clothed, and I don't just mean that in the obvious "you had clothes on and now do not" way. I mean, the buoyancy of your body changes everything. Breasts that droop, now float. Bellies that hang, do not. I hadn't thought about this until I ran my hands along my abdomen, and discovered that it was flat. Not toned like the abdomen borne of an eating disorder, the abdomen made by thousands of sit ups, and 800 calorie days, but soft and pillowy. Matt calls it my soft underbelly. I feel now what he has felt.
It made me wonder if my feelings about my belly would be different if it was just soft instead of soft and folded over on itself. Which made me think, why is the fold the deal breaker? Maybe it's not. Maybe my belly is loveable regardless of its appearance.
By 7:30 it is already hot. The thing about the heat here is, well, it's awful. That's a shit thing to say about paradise, I realize. But sorry paradise, you're hot. And not the good kind. The thing about this kind of heat is everything sticks to you.
I haven't worn makeup or brushed my hair. The only shower I've had is either cold, or in the sea. Generally speaking, I don't wear deodorant ever. But that fact becomes especially noticeable when you are constantly dropping with sticky sweat. I haven't worn a bra since I got here, which is making me question why I ever wore one at all. I didn't bring a razor, so the stubble is coming in. In the sea my legs are prickly with hair and goose bumps. I am unadorned, unkempt, living in my body without manipulating it.
The bra, the makeup, the hair, the smooth skin, those things aren’t about me; they’re about everyone else. Isn't that most of life?
I popped my toes out of the water and remembered that the pedicure I had before I left was only half completed. By the time the buffing and scraping had been done, I was out of time. I planned to come back for the polish portion, but I never made time. So I came to Jamaica bare-toed. I can't think of a time that I haven't had polish on my toenails.
This is all making me have a lot of feelings.
I climbed up the same seawater-rusted ladder that I had gone down. It was still early, not yet time to meet for breakfast, so I lay nude on the flat rocks in the near-equatorial sun until my skin burned with heat. Then I dipped myself in the pool — which is colder than the sea — and got out to write this, while the emotions were fresh.
After I'd written all I could, I wrapped up in a towel and headed across the gravel road to the main area of the retreat. On the way, I ran into Jube. We went on a hunt for his pregnant dog, finding her curled in a ball in obvious labor. Jamaican animals are mostly left to their own devices. Goats walk the roadsides. It's not uncommon to see a cow chained on the side of the road. The dogs are dirty and flea-bitten, but loved. Jube knew the dog was about to deliver, and he seemed to know that today was the day. Once we located the dog, he went about his work. He was simultaneously cutting dead branches off of living trees, and talking to me about how Haitians cut their living trees for coal. He wasn't pleased about this.
Jube is 52. He has lived at Tinaglaya's for 21 years and has not cut his hair in 25. Jube is one of two people who are on-site at all times. Maria cooks and cleans and makes sure everyone is cared for. Jube keeps the grounds, catches fish, takes care of the pack of dogs, and offers sage Rastafari wisdom. Jube asked me about my family, gasping when I said I have five children. I don't think a family of five children is uncommon in Jamaica, but Jube isn't married and doesn't have kids, so it probably seemed alarming to him.
Jube and I talked about why I was there. He walked beside me as I headed toward the main house. As we opened the gate to cross the path, Jube looked at me with his toothy smile, "Yeah mon. You have to take care of yourself me lady. No one else will take care of you. Jamaica, no problem."
There are a few things all Jamaicans say. "Jamaica. No problem." "Respect." "Yeah mon." "Me lady." I've never met a more peaceful group of humans.
Jube and I parted ways. I dressed and made a slice of avocado toast and drank a lot of water.
No one else is going to take care of me. Thanks Jube.