Take The Cake: Fat Girl In Jamaica

I arrived in Montego Bay at 10:32 am. After nearly two years of preparation, Babecamp was finally happening in the flesh. I was about to share a week practicing body love with 10 women.

The airport is in the center of a well-watered jungle, surrounded by a ring of fluffy, dark green foliage. There are spots of red hibiscus strewn throughout, like little fiery constellations. Jamaica is traced around all its edges with glittery blue water, visible at almost every turn.

I always forget how humid it is here. You just walk around with little pools of dew gathered at every pore. I used to hate sweating when I was younger, but after living in San Francisco for ten years, it feels like a special treat. I almost can’t believe my body remembers what to do when it’s hot outside. 

In Jamaica, weather is less like a detail you plan around and more like a force that reminds you who’s in charge. 

I’m grateful for the heat. It provides a mandate to prioritize my comfort and the needs of my body, something I frankly wasn’t taught to do as a fat girl. When it’s this hot, every neuron in my reptile brain is shooting up fireworks that collectively spell out “Take off all your clothes. Right now.” Every inch of skin that can experience a breeze is urgently needed in Jamaica. This makes choosing the tank top and short shorts so much easier. It takes the thinking out of wearing very little clothes for me, and being scantily clad is still an exercise in vulnerability. 

Since it tends to be chilly in the Bay, keeping myself warm sometimes gets confused in my own head with covering myself up. As a fat woman (even a politicized feminist fat woman!) I sometimes find myself “covering up” reflexively. It takes effort not to do this. It feels like I am doing this for me, and I kind of am. I do it to make someone else more comfortable so that they won’t then say something about my body that will ruin my day. 

There are other rituals that are foregone here in Jamaica, too. 

In Jamaica I am pushed into my body — I sweat, my clothes stick to my skin, I feel the sun, I feel thirst, I feel intense pleasure when I find cold water or cool shade, the fruit tastes better because of the climate, and I experience the heat of skin on skin more than ever. 

At home, I always flat iron my bangs after I shower. I make sure they’re shiny and easy to sweep to the side. In Jamaica, my curly-wavy hair refuses the discipline of the iron. The sweat from my forehead mixes with the humidity in the air to create a rectangle of frayed steel wool just above my eyebrows. I normally condition my hair as well. I always get the most moisture-y formula I can find. In Jamaica no amount of conditioner can beat the tussling fingers of nature. It’s too hot to wear my hair down anyway. Conditioning is just time wasted.

I throw my hair in a high bun, trying to push as much of my bangs into the rubber band as I can without having a forehead bun. It’s too hot to wear socks. It’s too hot to wear a bra. It’s too hot to wear eye liner. It’s too hot to add tights. It’s too hot to throw a scarf on when I’m feeling self-conscious about my double chin. It’s too hot to add a cardigan to my sleeveless dresses. 

In Jamaica I am pushed into my body — I sweat, my clothes stick to my skin, I feel the sun, I feel thirst, I feel intense pleasure when I find cold water or cool shade, the fruit tastes better because of the climate, and I experience the heat of skin on skin more than ever. 

Some people have the privilege of not knowing what it’s like to be taught to sacrifice your own comfort for the comfort of others. When you’re fat, you have a tacit (sometimes explicit) agreement with the culture around not to expose your body. This mandate creates a reality of discomfort: it is considered the job of the fat person to create comfort for others, even if comes at a cost to themselves.

So we do it. We wear shapewear that makes it hard to breathe, we wear tights that chafe us, we wear pants that are too tight, we wear over-sized clothes when it’s hot out, we put t-shirts on over our bathing suits.

Taking care of myself and feeling embodied are political gestures that are powerful for me as a fat girl. As I walk around the beach in rolled up white cotton shorts and a periwinkle bandeau top, my hair out of my face, 20 minutes of getting-ready time now dedicated to coffee sipping seaside, I revel in the beauty all around me and the body that makes experiencing it possible. 

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