As someone eligible for Birthright, and what some might classify as an “Israel-phile,” I was obviously extremely excited when I finally signed up for a trip in my last summer of college. My friends gave me lists of places I just had to eat at, tips to avoid getting ripped off as a tourist, and the best beaches to visit.
It was that last one that got me — the beach. Where I would inevitably have to wear… a swimsuit. Swimsuit: what a terrible name for this thing that barely covers any of your body, exposing your insecurities to the world.
I have always been a big/curvy/thick/fat/overweight/full-figured girl. In the paradoxical land of fast food and super models, being a curvy (my preferred term to refer to my shape) girl in America was definitely difficult. I never looked like the girls I saw on TV or in my Teen Vogue magazine. I cried in dressing rooms because even the biggest sizes didn’t fit over my thick thighs. I felt self-conscious eating in front of people, thinking they would judge me for being fat and eating too much. Boys never liked me.
I didn’t even own a swimsuit. Afraid to show my body to anyone, I had successfully avoided public swimming situations for years. How was self-conscious me supposed to wear one in a land filled with gorgeous, confident women?
As the trip loomed closer I bought two swimsuits — a basic black and a high-waisted American flag bikini — packed them in my bag, and secretly dreaded the day we would inevitably go to the beach.
The first day we had beach time was in Tiberias. It wasn’t a typical beach and we didn’t have a lot of time, so I got away with “not wanting to go swimming” and didn’t even put on a swimsuit. The second time we were in Tel Aviv, and although I did put on my swimsuit underneath my dress, I again claimed that I did not feel like going swimming.
However, hiding my body those two beach days did not make me feel less shameful about my body. Rather, the anxiety caused by trying to convince others that you simply do not want to take a quick dip in the most beautiful body of water on earth, when it is 100 degrees outside, was unreal.
But my fully-clothed beach days were not a total loss.
An avid people watcher, I observed all the beautiful Israeli women enjoying themselves in their natural habitat. And as I watched I noticed something that I’d never seen in California. Every woman (aside from those clearly covered for religious reasons) of every shape and size wore the bathing suit of her choice and enjoyed the sea and sun unabashedly.
Let me repeat: of every shape and size.
I could hear the American voices in my head commenting, “Wow, that woman should not be wearing a bikini,” and I could hear my own voice thinking, “Why not?!” Why shouldn’t all of these women enjoy the beach in whichever way they wanted to? Why should the shape of their bodies dictate their fun and body confidence?
Answer: They shouldn’t.
Did you know that Israel was the first country to adopt the “photoshop law” — legislation that bans the alteration of models’ photos and also requires models to be above a certain BMI? France recently followed suit, adopting a similar law. It’s no secret that the media has a body-diversity problem — namely their lack of it. Laws like these are absolute game-changers.
Countless actresses have been asked to lose weight in order to become successful.
Several of them — like plus-sized model Ashley Graham, Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet, and comedian Mindy Kaling, to name a few — have chosen to remind us that size does not, and should not, dictate success. Young women, like myself, seek out these body-positive role models.
I recently watched a video that spoke directly to my body confidence journey since those Birthright days. The video features the beautiful and bold Noam Shuster-Eliassi. Noam is one of those Israeli women I saw on the beach on my Birthright trip (figuratively speaking).
Watching the video, hearing Noam speak about desperately searching for stores that sold her “unconventional” size, I remember days shopping in the junior’s department as a 4th grader and not fitting into the largest size.
Then, as Noam described the voices in her head telling her she was too big to be beautiful, I remembered the voices in my head that day at the beach. Inspired by the shameless, confident Israeli women, and inspired by Noam, I too decided to listen to only one voice: my own. I decided to own the fact that I am a curvy girl, who is beautiful, sexy, and desirable.
At the end of my 10-day Birthright trip, I ended up extending my stay in Israel for another two months. For one of those months I sublet an apartment in Tel Aviv — and I went to the beach EVERY SINGLE DAY. And I wore my swimsuit EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Obviously I still have hard days — especially those when I’m shopping for pants and they still don’t fit over my big booty. But I try my best to remember that I am the same as every single one of those Israeli women on the beach. And every single one of us — short, tall, big, small, teeny bikini or full-coverage one-piece wearers — are total babes just the way we are.