I went to St. Lucia and had a great time (but didn't fall in love with my body)
Can we talk about how fraught travel can be when it comes to body image issues and how sometimes expectations can get the best of us?
Yes, it happens to most of us women (and some men), no matter our size. Travel—and vacation, in particular—seems to magnify whatever body insecurities we have.
I think it’s because we’re doing more people watching—and thus comparing ourselves to others. We’re wearing clothes we don’t always wear (bikinis! ski pants!), and we’re having more photos taken and seeing more photos of ourselves. If we’re still dieting, we’re often allowing ourselves forbidden foods on vacation or even overindulging, which can add to feelings of shame and sometimes even physical discomfort.
(While I’m not exploring this topic, I want to acknowledge that those who live in much larger bodies often encounter discrimination and outright hatred while traveling.)
For those of us who used to diet or perhaps the few of us reading here who still do, travel was and is often a reason for dieting. It used to be that we just wanted to look good on vacation. Now, we need to look good for those vacation photos that effectively get blasted around the world.
For dieters, travel is often one big binging-and-restricting trigger. As soon as the trip is booked, the mental—if not physical—restriction begins. We set a timeline for when we have to start dieting so that we can fit into/look good in whatever item of clothing we’ve set as our target. Then the physical restriction—aka the actual dieting—begins, along with all the self-obsession and body bashing that goes with it. Whether we achieve our goal weight by the time we leave or not, it almost doesn’t matter, because of course we’re going to indulge when we get there (diet thinking tells us we deserve it), which starts the binge, which, of course, then feeds the feelings of guilt and shame. So when we return home, it’s time to start the diet again.
Since transitioning to intuitive eating, I’ve stopped all this nonsense. I don’t diet for trips—or anything else—and I’m happier for it. But I still deal with body image issues, and it seems to always come up for me on vacation. I think it’s because my vacations are so active, and I’m always comparing myself against my former—smaller—self (see posts about Costa Rica, Multnomah Falls, Maui and Yellowstone). This last week in St. Lucia was no exception.
Hubs and I went on what we’re calling our “mini ‘moon” since we didn’t get a honeymoon after our wedding nearly two years ago in Glacier National Park. Our wedding itself was stunning and surrounded by beauty, so I’m not complaining.
We’ve taken several trips since then, but this was to be especially romantic because we booked the heritage suite at the eco-friendly Ladera Resort, situated within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, just outside the town of Soufrière. The resort offers 37 suites, all built along the ridgeline overlooking Gros Piton and Petit Piton. Each suite has its own private pool, no “fourth wall” and stunning views of the Pitons and the adjoining bay.
Not too shabby, right? But here’s where I should confess: I am not really a beach or island person. I much prefer the mountains, but I do love rainforests and hiking and outdoor adventures, and St. Lucia delivers this in spades, so we were planning to do plenty of those on this trip.
What makes St. Lucia distinct from other Caribbean islands are the mountains, especially its celebrated Gros and Petit Pitons. Hubs and I debated whether to do the Piton hikes. While Gros Piton is the higher of the mountains, it’s the less strenuous of the two, but neither of them are easy. Petit Piton is more climb than hike, requiring use of fixed ropes to ascend it. Both take a minimum of four to six hours to complete and aren’t recommended after heavy rainfall, which was an issue at the start of our trip.
A few days before we left, as we were sitting in bed researching hikes and other things to do in St. Lucia on our respective devices, I stumbled upon a Lonely Planet first-person essay about how body positive the island was.
“What does that mean?” Hubs asked.
“There’s an appreciation for all body sizes,” I told him, versus Westernized countries that prize thinness. He continued his own research while I began mentally forming headlines for the post I would write upon my return about how I, too, went to St. Lucia and found a new appreciation for my plus-sized body.
I hoped this trip would differ from some of my others where I’ve struggled with body image, mostly because I’ve been in such a good place with it lately. And when I read this woman’s glowing article I got even more excited. But here’s the reality: St. Lucia is actually less fat than America. Yes, there’s perhaps more of an appreciation for all body sizes, but this country is overall less fat than the States. I saw more people of all body sizes than I did when we stayed in the Kaanapali area of Maui, which was filled with mostly wealthier, younger white families, but I didn’t experience this celebration of larger bodies that the woman in the Lonely Planet article wrote about. I’m not disputing her experience; it just wasn’t mine.
If there was a theme to this trip, it was … steps.
We encountered them everywhere, and joked there wasn’t a standard-sized step to be found anywhere on the island, which meant you had to carefully judge the distance every time you took one.
Hubs and I were surprised by the sheer number of them at our resort alone. I guess this shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that it sits on a ridgeline. But by the end of the first day, just traipsing back and forth from our suite to the top of the stargazer lookout and then to dinner at the on-site Dasheene restaurant, which is considered by some to be the best place to watch sunset on the island, I could already feel the lactic acid in my quads.
Luckily, that didn’t last, and the next day we tackled the shorter “Stairway to Heaven” hike at Tet Paul, a small test of what might await us on Gros Piton, and then did a stunning hike in the rain around the Rabot Estate, home to Hotel Chocolat and the Chocolat Project (where you can learn how chocolate is made).
The Jurassic Trail is on the backside of the Soufriere’s drive-in volcano and mud baths and offered dramatic views of the rainforest from afar and vibrant flora up close. We were soaked to the bone, but the rain added to the beauty.
From our two-story suite, to the restaurants, to the hiking trails, to the 100-step trek from Anse Chastanet Beach up to the Treehouse Restaurant for dinner, to exploring Jade Mountain, to touring the volcano and its boiling mud pots (yes, we slathered mud on each other), there were so many steps! And I gotta say, at the beginning, they really did a number on my self-esteem. With time, I acclimated, and by our last day, I wasn’t huffing and puffing every time I encountered an incline, but whew, there were some challenges!
Yes, this trip radiated romance, and I soaked up every bit of paradise. The hikes, a sunset sail and snorkeling along Sugar Beach were some of the highlights along with a high-intensity ATV tour that saw us navigating steep banks and rocky terrain as we made our way from foothills to a black-sand beach, and through a river to an abandoned sugar mill. Natural beauty was everywhere.
However, it also served as a reminder of how far I still have to go in my personal quest for body acceptance and it reminded me of the challenges travel can bring up around this topic.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. I know I’m not the only one who’s struggled in paradise.