I am on a boat in the middle of the ocean, on a deck chair next to Weetabix, who is reading How to Breathe Underwater, which I think is entirely appropriate for an ocean-going vehicle in case of emergencies. Wendy, using her superpowers, keeps spotting things out on the waves: two white drug-smuggling boats on the horizon; a spark of silver in the waves, which is a great white shark wearing a Kaiser helmet, lying in wait with Hitler’s brain in a jar, hoping a stray tourist will tip overboard and provide a fresh new body. We are having a good time, I think. There are certainly worse places to be. In the middle of the ocean, next to Weetabix, filled with drinks that came from pineapples, I am hard-pressed to come up with a better one.
I am having a very lovely time and being with some of the people I care about most in the world has been, unsurprisingly, all kinds of lovely and much of the vacation has been hilarious and awesome and weird and good, but I do not think this is the kind of thing I will do again. Jen Wade said, "This place reminds me of Vegas," and she has nailed it right on the head. It has that same kind of always-indoors, plasticine kind of cheery franticness that can start to make you clench your teeth after 24 hours and wish for some natural kind of place, untouched by man or a theme and maybe without alcohol because it turns out that too much of a good thing remains too much. Which is just crazy.
Also making me clench my teeth: the whole boat is filled with these
people who I want to call frat boys and sorority girls–Porky’s kids,
for those of you of a certain age or familiarity with classic cultural
references–except that they’re slightly older than college age, which
makes it just that much more sad and a little heartbreaking, their rump
shaking and their woo-wooing and their shrieks and the bikinis and
their bottles of Bud Light. It is like living in a beer commercial
every time we go up to the pool, and it is more than a little
depressing, watching adults act like they are on spring break, and the
MTV cameras are trained on them, capturing every nuance of their crazy,
fun-loving good times and just how pretty they are. I have to admit,
most of them are extremely pretty. I have never seen so many perfect
bodies in one place, and so much of those perfect bodies, either.
That is what I thought I’d find depressing, once I spent a couple of
hours out by the pool with my hat on, and my cover-up and my towel over
my legs and my book and my bottle of water which was not Bud Light. I
thought the sight of all these perfect women–the long legs and the tiny
little butts and the flat bellies and the round boobs, all without a
dimple or a stretch mark or any kind of flaw (and really, how is that
possible? It shouldn’t be possible)–would send me into a spiral of
self-doubt and hatred and the cruise would be ruined and I would never
go out of doors without a burqa, not ever again.
But I realized that while I would probably want to avoid a cruise
vacation with a significant other (which I know says something about me
and my reaction to these perfect women), these unblemished bodies feel
distant to me in a way I’ve never experienced. I haven’t been looking
at them and wishing I had those abdominals, or hating them for just
lying in the sun like they deserved to be so beautiful, or even hating
myself and being unable to stop myself from covering up in shame. It
could be all the pineapple drinks, or this sense of being distant from
everything and on vacation and not needing to care about what people I
will never see again think about me and my extraordinarily flawed
thighs and lumpy butt and my skin and the way I am not bronzed or
blonde or extremely excited to, like, totally be here on, like, this
I’m not sure what it is, that I can look at these girls, these women,
and not be filled with longing or loathing, either outwardly or
inwardly directed. I would like to just go ahead and assume that I have
reached a whole new stage of mental and emotional development somewhat
spontaneously and, oddly, on a Royal Caribbean cruise, and then just
relax to my whole new way of looking at the world, and life, and enjoy
a sparklingly happy and jealousy-free existence. But this can’t be
for real. Why can’t it be for real? Why must the sight of someone
else’s body instill rage and fear of imperfection and feelings of
inadequacy? Why do there have to be spirited games of compare and
contrast that only end in tears? Which is kind of like asking "Mommy?
I won’t be a very good mom, and I am also not a very good body
positivity advocate, because I have no idea. All I can do is shake my
fist and make grumbling noises. Point out the weirdness, point out the
sadness, and shrug my shoulders at you. Tell you this boat is not real,
and these women, they can’t be real, and maybe that is the answer.
Maybe you have answers for me. Maybe I will just go back to admiring
the perfectly round bosoms that defy gravity, and hope this lack of
competitiveness, this feeling that I don’t have to look like that to be
happy, just keeps on keeping on after I fling myself off the boat and
back into real life.