Prior to moving here I had been told that as a woman I would be looked at...stared at...leered at. Not all necessarily in bad ways - but because I'm a foreigner that men here would be interested. I can, without hesitation, say this has been absolutely true, however not once have I felt unsafe. I've been walking alone at all hours, going to and from a store or just going on a walk, and I've never had any issues. Of course I'm safe - normally going with a friend, but even on the rare occasion I'm alone, my personal safety has never come into question. Crimes against women are heavily prosecuted and to be honest, it's not worth the punishment. The punishment is swift and severe, so crime on all levels is extremely low. Anyway - my day at the beach can be best described by the following picture.
Ugh - I have to figure out what that spot is on my camera lense. Anyway - look past that and you'll see men lined up against the railing...if you look close enough - just off to the right hand side, you'll see a guy in a long sleeved, white shirt, with a black beret and HE is why they're turned around. The gentleman in white is a security guard, who for probably the 50th time, has blown his whistle and "shoo'ed" them away from the railing. No joke - the men would line up along the railing to "view" the women on the beach. Ok - I get it - it sounds creepy and to be honest, it was a bit creepy to be stared at, but when you know you're safe - you ultimately shrug it off.
What I didn't get was a great pic of the scene in the water....primarily because I wasn't going to take my phone in the water with me. I did take one from our spot on the beach...which sort of shows you what it looked like. Guys would stare at you as you were swimming...and if you talked to them? You made their day. I had one boy - truly he looked 12, but was probably 19, ask me how my day was as I was walking out of the water. I replied, "Fine, thank you - how are you?" He about peed himself...and after I walked off, got the giggles. One of my friends assured me I had just made his day....and all because I spoke to him? It boggles my mind.
The people in the water in the picture above? Men...and maybe a couple of women. When we walked in the water, they would kind of spread out to let us through, then circle back around. It was SO weird being on "display". If you stayed in for a decent period of time, they would kind of forget you were there...but if you moved around a lot, they would notice. The beach was full of security, so if guys got too close (according to the judgement of security) they would blow their whistle and have the guys move away from us. So, despite the "gallery" effect, we never felt unsafe. We literally had our own "security" that made sure we weren't being bothered. Now, I'm sure this comes across like we were the only women on the beach and that's not true - everything I've mentioned applies to all the women on the beach.
Looking down the beach towards where I live. I live just past the tall building on the left and in from the beach about two blocks. :) This beach is where the Red Bull Air Races will be held. I am BEYOND excited for February to roll around!!
Another thing about living here that is 180 degrees different from living in the states has to do with larger women - shall I say voluptuous and curvy women - are celebrated, not mocked. Living here has done wonders for my self-esteem. There is no pressure to be skinny. No pressure to look like VS models - to starve to fit some societal ideal of the perfect woman. I would say the majority of women here are a healthy size 14 or above. Rarely do you see someone who is stick thin skinny or the opposite - morbidly obese. I don't say this for any other reason than to express that living in a society where "thin" is the primary definition of "beautiful" and girls are starving themselves to meet some ungodly and unhealthy number on a scale is more damaging than you imagine. I also don't bring any of this up as an excuse to be unhealthy. I've actually lost weight here...without even trying. To be accepted for who I am physically by society has been liberating. I have enough stress with my job - the last thing I need to worry about is if I'm skinny enough. "These chains are not placed on us from the outside, you know" - is a favorite saying of someone close to me...and I totally agree - most often we place the chains of judgement and pressure on ourselves more than anyone else does. BUT - when it comes to issues of weight - societal expectations in the US are a bi*** and ARE placed on us from the outside. I've already been warned by a couple of friends who have been here for a year, that upon returning to the US next summer, to expect culture shock when it comes to body image. I think that's reasonable, as I certainly am experiencing culture shock here.
I want to iterate this post is not meant to trash skinny girls. I have several friends who have never dieted a day in their lives who are beautifully skinny - but also have their own set of body issues. It's a two way street. This is merely a commentary on the load of crap girls are fed from a young age, living in the US (as it's my only reference point until now), to be skinny...and that to be a larger girl somehow means one is "less than". I've put up with that load of total BS my entire life from people that care about me to complete strangers. Even when I was at my skinniest, I still never fit the "ideal" skinny. It's so nice to finally be able to be my large girl self and not feel bad. The fact that I'm actually losing weight...a bit ironic, don't you think? I won't even try to figure out the psychology behind it. :) (although it's pretty obvious, right?)