The only time I really, unqualifiedly love Americans is at the beach. In particular, a Hawaiian beach. Specifically a beach on my island, the island of Kauai. Most American douches stay away from Kauai because there is “nothing to do” (a golf-playin’ condo-ownin’ whitie on Maui actually told me this once). For the sake of maintaining the relative quietude of this chunk of rock in the middle of the ocean, I will agree.
The people who come to Kauai tend to be just a bit smarter than your typical bloated mainlander looking for a 10-day mai tai-soaked escape from the hideously blah realities of their flyover state lives. This is slowly changing with every ticky-tacky condo that gets built (and don’t get me started on the Superferry), but for now it remains the most earthy and peaceful of the Hawaiian island chain. This, coupled with the fact that when I’m here I am on vacation myself, allows my natural scowliness to lie back a little and I’m able to give people a little slack.
Especially on the beach. Through the haze of a novel, sunglasses, and the warm sun, I let myself see the best in people, particularly women. I see their pain, rather than just their idiocy.
I think it’s because of swimsuits. Oh women, and the endless pain of the swimsuit.
I’ve always loved looking at women. I think it’s because I – like most women I know, to be honest – always think I’m missing out on something that makes “real women” so alluring. I know that I couldn’t (and don’t want to) wear all that nail polish, makeup, pantyhose, shave my legs – all the accoutrements of femininity that are supposed to add up to what constitutes a woman in our culture. I look at these quote unquote real women in disbelief and fascination, like one looks at a car accident. I am consistently amazed at how much time they must spend grooming themselves. Do they get less sleep than I do, or do they just get less done? Don’t their boyfriends and husbands mind that they hog the bathroom? How on earth do their nails come to be so blindingly white?
(In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I dye my hair black once a year or so with henna, but it sucks. First of all, friends keep pointing out that I might be the only person in the world who dyes her hair her own hair color, as no one can tell the difference. I can, though, and I love black hair. I’d love it even more if my hair were black after I dyed it. It comes out very very dark brown (a.k.a. exactly what I started with) with annoying red highlights in the sun. But I keep dying it and pretending it’s black, and that’s my one bit of girly indulgence.)
Looking at women on the beach is even better than looking at women usually, because some of their defenses are stripped away – very few women wear makeup at the beach. I love looking at their swimsuits and deciding why they picked this one and that one.
The mommy suits, the honeymoon suits, the “tan-thru” suits – is anything sadder than a feminist thinking about the state of the American swimwear industry? “Hides your flaws!” is the order of the day. On one end of the spectrum this means women wearing perfectly lovely swimsuits that actually fit, but on the other (much more populated) end we have the phenomenon of the horrifying little attached skirt thing.
I don’t blame the women who wear the horrifying little attached skirt thing.
I, too, do not want to show the entire world my half-naked ass. I wear boy shorts (is that the term for little swimming shorts? They aren’t actually boy’s shorts, although I have a pair of those too), and am amazed that women continue to wear what is pretty much nylon underwear out in the world, especially because said underwear goes right up your ass crack with the tiniest little bit of motion. But I love them for it, too.
I love the women who lack “perfect bodies” but have a self-confidence about them that put everyone else at ease. Women like that call the bluff on the whole swimsuit-anxiety enterprise. Whatever they wear, they own it.
I aspire to be one of those women. Due to a fluke of genetics, I have a slim figure, but this is probably marred in most people’s eyes by my unshaven legs and armpits, messy hair, and probably even my untidy toenails and unruly eyebrows. In addition, I am one of those skinny people who have no muscle tone whatsoever, which all adds up to a weirdly hilarious combination of skinniness and flabbiness that I am secretly fascinated by. I was so painfully skinny growing up that I had scabs on the inside of my knees from them knocking together, and my adult flabby stomach and jiggly thighs are truly interesting to me – look what my body can do! Look how jiggly my thighs are – I must be a real woman (let’s not test that hypothesis)!
On the beach I watch women gingerly taking off their little wraps, arranging their suits, laying down to tan themselves evenly, and my heart goes out to them. I’m always reminded of that Kurt Vonnegut quote, “Life is so hard, how can we be anything less than kind?”*
I’m sure I’ll find a way tomorrow, but today I’m at the beach.
*I’m not completely sure that was his quote – my little book with all my favorite quotes (dork!) is at home.