A funny thing happened about a week into our trip along the Gibb River Road in the northwest of Australia. After hours of bouncing along dusty, corrugated dirt roads with no air conditioning I would emerge from the car covered in a thick layer of dirt, sweating dripping from my fragrant armpits, set up camp, grab a beer, and relax with Kane. Then we’d go for a gorge swim to cool off or maybe I’d write for a bit while Kane finished his five hundredth novel. We’d talk, laugh, and gaze at starry night after starry night. There was nothing to distract me from the joy of being in the way of beauty with my love.
I did many wonderful things on the Gibb, but what I never did was think about how I looked. I never once thought about how I was drinking away calories I wasn’t running off, instead I enjoyed the pleasant chill of the bottle in my hand and my partner at my side. I never once thought about how my hair would look in photos, instead I crammed it under my trusty sweat-stained pink running hat and kept on living. I didn’t have a mirror, so I never worried about the acne that has plagued me since my middle school years. I never picked at my face, poked at my stomach, or entertained a single negative thought about my body.
When I realized just how much I had forgotten to be a neurotic, stress-ball on the Gibb I was amazed. I have tried for years to be kind to myself, and often failed miserably. Like any type A overachiever, I have constantly strived for perfection in every aspect of my life, my body included, and it has been the bane of my mental health struggle. It has driven me to pick at my poor, abused face; my fingers constantly roaming, attempting to ferret out any intruding pimple and forcibly squeeze it out of my skin. It has caused me to confront the beginnings of an eating disorder, to deal with the fact that no matter how healthy I am, in my mind it will never be good enough; there will always be someone prettier, thinner, or smarter.
So, imagine my surprise when I’m sitting on the bank of the Pentecost River, watching for crocs while Kane fishes for barramundi, and it dawns on me that I have loved my body for two whole weeks. I have reveled in its ability to hike for hours in the blazing Australian sun, to dive into stunning gorges, and to consume more than its fair share of damper (a truly awesome Australian bread made in a campfire). I have been kind to my face, protecting it with sunscreen, washing it gently, and, finally, freeing it from the daily assault of angry fingers. Maybe it was a mix of everything I’ve done to learn to love myself, maybe it was being away from the constant barrage of advertisements selling their products by undermining your self-confidence, maybe it was just the outback air.
Whatever, it was I am so thankful that I could, for at least two weeks, be truly happy with who I am. I know it will be harder to stay confident and to continue to love my body back in the grasp of a social media society, but now I know I am capable of being at peace with myself. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that many, many women (and men) out there share this daily struggle to find body love, to find peace; but maybe, just maybe, if we all took a break from the world, put down our phones, turned off our televisions, and went outside we would all be happier. There is no judgement in the natural world, only life.