I'm not sure anyone is completely immune from body issues. Luckily, I have a sports background, and I think that saved me from the worst of it. As a child, it taught me to love my body for what it could do more than for what it looked like. Becoming a fitness instructor and yoga teacher reinforced this.
Quite unexpectedly, traveling changed my perspective on my body more than all the running, lifting, yoga, and volleyball ever did. I can't say all that airbrushed magazine brilliance always flies right over my head, but nowadays, far more often than not, I deeply appreciate what I have to work with.
Here are some of the reasons and ways traveling taught me to fall head over heels in love with this body.
I'm exposed to a variety of definitions of beauty.
I see beautiful people who are tall, short, fat, thin. Beautiful people with big butts and small ones, long necks and short ones, great hair and no hair. In each place I go, beauty is qualified a little bit differently. And these beautiful people I admire have often found me beautiful in ways I never could have imagined.
I challenge my body to new activities.
It was while outside my home country that I came face-to-face with Bikram yoga, CrossFit, beach volleyball, ballet, and rumba. Sure, those things were available to me in the United States, but for whatever reason I never sought them out.
My friend in Chile was a Bikram instructor. My upstairs neighbor in Colombia went to CrossFit. A woman, most randomly, opened a ballet studio in a tiny town in Panama. All these things became accessible, and I was pushed to try them via influences I wouldn't have had back home. Each time, my body impressed me.
I am challenged in ways that make me forget my body.
Being questioned—in Polish—on a train, losing my bags, losing myself: small travel annoyances and large unexpected setbacks keep me focused on using my personality and ideas to solve problems. After I completed my first solo trip abroad, I was so impressed with myself and so in love with life. In moments like those, I find my body already fitting in perfectly.
I dress differently.
A suitcase limits your wardrobe options. I got good at choosing clothing that is simple and tasteful no matter the cultural surroundings and enables me to walk for ages (and, in former travels before I met my boyfriend, still confidently accept a date from a handsome stranger with an accent if I had to).
I don't travel with shoes that are hard to walk in or jeans that are too tight. I wear a lot of skirts and dresses. They make me feel instantly elegant. Instantly beautiful.
I eat joyfully.
So much anxiety about our bodies comes from the guilt we feel about the food we eat. When I started traveling, I finally understood what it meant to enjoy food, and that started with waiters who don't bring you the check until you ask for it, allowing you to linger and talk and eat as long as you'd like.
I've never felt guilty about it. In some cases, these are once-in-a-lifetime tastes and dining experiences, and passing them up would be ridiculous. I can get back to my salads and smoothies tomorrow. So I eat. And I love it. And my body does, too.