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Two Years Without Insecurities

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At some point between the Caribbean and the Galapagos, my ligaments and muscles and bones had painfully stretched themselves until they managed to hold me at the great height of 5 feet. A few months later, in the Tuomotus, a picture of my mother and me revealed that my middle school growth spurt was still plugging strong ahead; my mom’s uncontrollable curls that give her an extra inch to claim 5-foot-1 were, for the first time, just beneath the top of my ponytailed head. I remember it feeling uncomfortable, being taller than my mom. It meant I was the second tallest in the family, and at that time, my family was my truest measurement.

There were no mirrors onboard Zen’s two 50-foot hulls. Or at least, there were two mirrors that couldn’t have been more than 6 square inches each and that were positioned much too high for anyone below 5-foot-10 to actually see themselves in. And so I lived for two years only knowing my own appearance when I’d catch glimpses of my tanned limbs flickering across a glassy bay or my distorted face reflected in the metal plates drilled into the deck above my bunk. There was no scale, there were no magazines of airbrushed women, there were no clothing stores or advertisements, there weren’t even other American girls my age.

I didn’t think about what I looked like. There wasn’t anything to think about. I lived in a body that was entirely mine. I had no regrets, no doubts, no insecurities because there didn’t seem to be any reason to have them. I ate when I was hungry and truly enjoyed everything I consumed. I slept when I was tired, no matter where the sun or moon or stars sat in the sky. I didn’t think about exercising, and yet I’d swim and walk and run miles every day because it was adventure, because it was fun.

I didn’t realize what I’d looked like for those two years until I moved off the boat and into a real house again, until I came to Wheeler, until I uploaded my memories onto my Mac. There are thousands of pictures from that time, which seem to haunt me in ways I love and in ways I have desperately failed to cope with. The long, lanky, growth-spurt legs, the arms toned from hours of swimming and changing sails, the salty, sun-stained hair chopped just beneath my chin, the flat feet from months without shoes. But there was something more, deeper, truer. It was some kind of youthful cultural ambiguity that made people from around the world treat me with the same willingness as they would treat their own because so many of them seemed to believe I was their own.

I didn’t appreciate it enough then, but I think that’s how it was supposed to be. I let myself see the world through eyes that weren’t distracted by the heaviness of a grumbling stomach or the whispers of feet on a scale. Beaches were just beaches, people were just people, the ocean was just the ocean, and I was just a little girl enjoying it all as it went by.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Photo by Esmee Holdijk, via Unsplash

Originally published: May 16, 2017
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