When we were young my father would bring my sister and I to the beach a few evenings a week during the summer. We would scramble over the rocky shore and run in and out of the waves, shrieking at the cold water. The salt air filled our lungs and covered our tongues with brine as we played and swam. Tired and rejuvenated we would bundle into the car with sandy feet and damp hair, thick jumpers warming us up. Our journey home always involved a detour to Teddy’s in Dun Laoghaire for 99s constructed from thick ice cream and crunchy cones, a stick of chocolate flake perched precariously on the side. We would wash the salty remnants of the ocean from our mouths with creamy sweetness, revelling in the particular joy that only a decadent childhood treat can invoke.
I long for the simplicity of those innocent summer evenings. A time before we knew what a calorie was, before we had been taught to scrutinise our bodies. Before swimsuits came with shame and dread, with turning slowly in the mirror and scrutinising every roll and pocket of flesh, bemoaning any hint of a dimple of cellulite. Before our bodies were resigned to being either objects of desire or derision, to be objectified or judged. Before we learned to spend hours removing every stray hair, shaving and waxing and plucking because women were not meant to display what grows naturally. Before we were taught that we had to fit a certain mould, that there was one acceptable way to ‘be’ and if we didn’t fit it we must either hide away or do everything in our power to transmogrify our beings. That we were to strive to become a projected ideal that exists only in the photo shopped pages of magazines, an impossible task but one that we were expected to embark on all the same.
“We can step into the sea, shrieking with delight and unashamed of our rippling flesh, the bumps of cellulite or scars that adorn our skin.”
I long for the freedom of ‘before’, that blissful obliviousness of what is to come. For when a body was a means to experience the different sensations that come with living, and our only concern was how cold the water would be. When our every action wasn’t shrouded in codes of acceptability. I crave the ability to shed the cloak of insecurity and body policing and to simply revel in the feel of the salt air on my face and the bracing seawater on my skin. To feel the waves, the icy water both a shock and a pleasure, reminding me of the joys of just living. To experience the delight of racing the setting sun as I eagerly lick a melting ice cream, hands sticky and heart full without a voice screaming in my mind ‘you should not be eating that.’
Can we ever fully shed the firmly ingrained belief that our bodies must be a certain way? How do we uninstall the knowledge that our worth is all too often dictated by our appearance? How do we stop this from being the case?
We cannot go back to that idyllic ignorance, but we can reclaim ourselves. We can sit in the sun, basking in its warmth as we devour a 99 with pure unapologetic pleasure. We can step into the sea, shrieking with delight and unashamed of our rippling flesh, the bumps of cellulite or scars that adorn our skin. Let the cool water envelop us, helping us to wash away the layers of insecurity and self-deprecation. Let the smell of the sea air and the sensation of the sand between our toes transport us back to long summer evenings when we were young, joyous, and free.
Amy Clarkin | @amyclarkin
Amy is a 27-year-old writer and film reviewer from Dublin. She can generally be found drinking coffee and reading, writing or watching stories.