I’d be lying if I said that I hated summer, because I really don’t. There was a time, in fact, when I longed for those few months of soaking in the sun on the Jersey Shore. Fishing, exploring, walking the boardwalk: It was, plainly and simply, fun.
But as I grew older, and as my body grew wider, it felt as though every drop of fun was being squeezed out of the season. Summer went from a time of pleasure to a minefield of triggers.
Triggers are different for everyone. For me, being in a situation where my body is exposed is emotionally and mentally harming. I’m unable to feel any sort of enjoyment in these situations as I’m constantly concerned, anxious, and terrified of what my mind deems to be the worst possible situation: showing my skin.
I’ve struggled with my weight practically since birth. Not because I have a health condition that caused me to do so, but because I grew up in a typical Italian household and loved, loved, loved food. Pre-puberty, the extra fat didn’t hold me back. I was never afraid of doing anything I desired, whether that be swimming (with my shirt off) or lounging by the pool like Sharpay Evans in High School Musical 2 (sans lifeguards imported from Spain, unfortunately).
But when puberty hit, it brought along a new sense of body image that worked like a distorted mirror, showing my body plumped up with love handles and stretch marks galore. I not only became ashamed of my body, but terrified of the possibility that someone else could see it. Instead of changing for gym class in the open locker room, I hid myself and my insecurities in the locked bathroom stall, waiting for everyone to leave before stripping off my clothes to reveal the scars that were quickly attacking my mind.
Thankfully, as I’ve gotten more into fashion, fall, winter, and spring are times when I can easily cover up any blemish. From extra layers to my trusty waist trainer, these three seasons are safe. Summer, on the other hand, is when it all comes crashing down.
Because in summer, there’s no layering, no waist-training, and no hiding. There’s only a thin wall of fabric and each one of my insecurities out for all to see.
Many don’t realize, or don’t try to understand, how detrimental summer can be for plus-size people like me. Afraid to show my skin, I’m unable to do so many things I wish I could. Beach excursions turn into hours of sitting under an umbrella, fully clothed, longing to be as proud and confident as those around me with the tightest and tannest bodies I’ve ever seen. Pool parties become a tease as I only feel comfortable submerging my feet and, on a good day, all the way up to my thighs. My self-esteem becomes almost nonexistent as I’m surrounded by the types of bodies I’ve always wanted.
I wish this could be a love letter to my body, an essay on how I overcame my fears and fought my insecurities. But unfortunately, it’s not. Summer, for me, is incredibly triggering. Each step outside during these months of heat and horror is a step toward a possible harming situation. My mind is constantly running, worrying about whether or not people are judging me and my extra pounds. Though I’m well aware that those close to me have no problem with my size, my struggle is internal — and, therefore, a whole lot harder to resolve. The problem isn’t magically fixed by telling myself to “accept my fatness.”
The challenging part is that I know my size doesn’t matter. So many people have stretch marks and, nowadays, with the body positivity movement at full force, it’s celebrated to show your “tiger stripes.” Unfortunately, my mind and my heart haven’t synced on that front quite yet.
But I’m getting there. This summer, my swimsuits have gotten shorter and my layers have gotten lighter. Am I ready to burst onto the beach, body out for all to see, 100 percent proud of the vessel I’ve been given? No. Will I get there soon? I sure hope so.
With each day that I push myself toward accepting my weight, my self-esteem and my happiness grow. It may take years before I’m fully confident in my own skin, but if I can get through people trying to convince me to remove my shirt at the beach (and yes, this happens way too often), then I can get through a few more summers of walking carefully through the minefield that is my mind.
Gianluca Russo is a New York-based freelance writer whose words have been published in Playbill, Paste Magazine, BroadwayWorld, the Albany Times Union, and more. Visit GianlucaRusso.webs.com for more of his work and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @G_Russo1.