I recently went on vacation to Orange Beach, Alabama. If you’re not familiar with this part of the U.S., honestly, you should be. I’ll never forget how shocked I was the first time Marty took me there; I’m pretty sure my jaw actually dropped. It’s all powdery, white sand beaches and dolphins in the water – yes, seriously. And the best part is that it’s really reasonable to travel there, stay, and frolic without feeling like you just depleted your entire life savings.
That reasonableness attracts a lot of folks from all over. Folks who couldn’t necessarily afford to make their way to the expensive coasts of Southern Florida or California or the Caribbean. Working class folks who give this 100-or-so-miles of coastline from Gulf Shores, Mississippi, all the way over to Panama City Beach, Florida, its beloved nickname: the Redneck Riviera.
(Now, I’ll be quite clear in saying I understand how problematic that description might be for some. I also know that it’s an affectionate, not derogatory, nickname. We rednecks know we’re rednecks.)
The beauty of the FL/AL coast goes way beyond its blessed beaches, state parks, warm waters, and fresh seafood. The beauty of this little slice of the country is truly in its mess of people. If you’re into people watching, hoooooo mama, this is the place.
There are families, extended families. Young families. Couples. College kids. Retired folks. Fishermen and women. Partiers. Crabbers. So many children.
And all of them half-naked all day long.
As someone who’s been in the business of bodies for the better part of a decade now, I always notice them. But what I notice now more than ever is how other people notice bodies – their own, and others’. And what better place to observe than a beach!? Specifically, a beach full of people having a good time and basically nothing else.
What sets the Redneck Riviera apart from any other beach I’ve ever been to, especially in the U.S., is the fact that not more than four people GAF about what they look like. This is unique. Seriously, it is so exceeding and increasingly rare to come across that many people, the majority of the crowd, wearing whatever swimsuit they want and just lazing out on the sand. Not letting insecurities and nitpicks about their bodies or parts steal away their good times. And it is SO refreshing. (The only other place I’ve seen the same is on cruises, which are typically made up of mostly international travelers, who tend to look at bodies completely differently than most Americans.)
I will say that this doesn’t seem quite as rare for men everywhere, but it’s definitely something noticeable among women. So, while you often find big, fat men with big, fat bellies wearing whatever they want anywhere, you don’t see big, fat women doing the same nearly as much, or with as much confidence. But honestly? When I see it, I’m so into it.
Because there was just no air of judgment – for self or others. No side-eyes on me or anyone else. Rolls and stretch marks were on full display. Jiggles. Cellulite. Wrinkles. Crepey skin. None of it was covered up for any woman of any size or age.
But you know what else was on display? Laughter. Relaxation. Chill. Happiness. Fun. Joy. Inner children. Disconnection from all the world’s bullshit and reconnection to the people and experiences who clearly matter most.
Damn, it was fun to watch.
Interestingly, it stuck out like a sore thumb when I did observe a woman who was clearly uncomfortable being in a swimsuit. Even more interestingly, and you may have already guessed this – it was typically a woman who would be considered to have a “fit” or thin body. That’s something I’ve noticed back in regular non-beach life too, for the record. Half-naked or not, on vacation or in daily life, sometimes, some of the women closest to the “ideal” body type the media portrays seem to struggle the most.
But outside of those few people, I just saw a lot of cute suits on a lot of different bodies and a lot of happy people frolicking in the sun and sand. Koozies and red cups and boogies boards and hugs and kites – most of the time, grown folks flying those kites! It was everything I wish we could see always.
And why can’t we, why don’t we see that more often? You know, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t have that answer. I know I have my suspicions and observations. And I know a lot of it has to do with money and status and wealth and perception, of self and others. Which is why this particular part of the country seems to present differently than any other.
There may be some wealth, but more so, there’s wealth in a rich life. It was easy to see.
I currently live in an area where there’s more blatant display of financial wealth. And there’s an undercurrent of that wealth being more devoid of the richness I saw on the beach. In some cases, that causes certain masking symptoms, one of them being a constant, rampant obsession with bodies. If we’re feeling discontented in one area, we’ll seek to control and find gratification and approval in another. It’s just a really interesting commentary to consider through a lens of class, life experience, and environment:
We can talk all day about what matters most to us, but how do we really show up for that in real life? Are we letting trivial things get in the way?
And it’s totally not to say that all working-class folks are happy and fulfilled and all rich ones are miserable and smug. The dichotomy does not work that way. But in a large sample of people I’m quite sure skewed toward the former, it was indeed clear that they could set aside some of the trappings of societal expectations a little easier and enjoy life as they were able. The reasons for that might be layered and complicated, but there it is.
The thing is – of course I don’t actually know how any of those women were feeling. I don’t know if they were self-conscious about their bodies, their parts, their people’s opinions. All I know is that they appeared to set all of that aside, if only for the briefest time. They did not let choice of swimwear, or eating off plan, or missing workouts, or what someone else would say about them, or that damn five pounds hold them back or take precedence over enjoying their beach vacation.
They acted like life mattered most. Because it does.
And maybe, it’s that these days in the sun and sand bring out a different part of people. Let’s call it your Orange Beach Body – the body that feels great and doesn’t even get a thought, let alone a negative one. Maybe, those women do go home and worry about what they wear or that their tummy pooch is too flabby.
But maybe they don’t. And maybe you don’t have to.
Maybe this is something you’ve experienced yourself. The weird juxtaposition of feeling freer in your body in a different environment, only to shrink right back when you return home. Listen, I know the beach body concept is still a struggle, because magazines tell us it is. But it has always been the truth, and still remains that if you have a body, it’s a body fit for the beach. That’s only one part of the story though.
Because what is also true is that if you have an Orange Beach Body, that body is the same one you carry every day, regardless of your environment or whether you’re half-naked.
And what matters on the beach, what matters when you’re with your loved ones having fun, what matters when you’re relaxed and on vacation – doesn’t change. So why change the focus for the other 51 weeks of the year?
No matter where you are, how much money you have or don’t have, you know what’s most important to you. And withering away the precious moments of your life on the stuff that’s not is only going to take away from your experience. I’m not saying it’s easy to find peace every single day with your body. I understand that’s tough, and it’s a process. I won’t deny that vacation life is different than everyday life. But if what most of us are working toward is this life that we don’t have to take a vacation from, I wonder:
What if you let your Orange Beach Body come out to play more often?
What if you allowed her to frolic at home too? What would happen if you embodied that part of yourself regularly, and not just on special occasions?