Ask Billie: “I’m going on holiday, but my body has changed and I’m scared of judgment”

Written by Billie Bhatia

Stylist’s columnist Billie Bhatia on how to handle going on holiday with friends when your body has changed throughout the pandemic.

“I’m going on holiday with a group of friends and their partners for the first time in two years. My body has changed a lot during the pandemic; I’ve put on weight, and while I’m desperate for a holiday, I feel like hiding in my room because I’m so anxious. The girls have been detoxing and dieting, and my body is much bigger than it was the last time we went away. I’m scared everyone will judge me or – even worse – I’ll have a shit time because I’ll be worried that everyone is looking at me. Is there a way to get over it, or do I start making a list of excuses?” 

Oof. I hear you on this one loud and clear. In fact, I could fill a black book with the lists of excuses I’ve concocted over the years to try and hide my body from other people’s judgment on holiday. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg: “I’m afraid of open water”, “I’m scared of boats” (those two are truthful at least), “I’m desperate to finish my book so you carry on to the pool”, “I think I’ll go for a stroll” and “I’ll meet you down by the beach soon” (ie never).

Last summer, as restrictions began to lift, I had two major travel plans with friends. One was to Cornwall – an 18-strong group of mostly couples – the other was to Italy for my belated 30th birthday. For a year and a half, I dreamt of the Tuscan villa filled with 30 of my nearest and dearest, but I also dreamt of how I would look when I got there. 

My intentions were to waft out of that villa looking like Adele out of lockdown. I would be a vision. And by vision, I mean I would be the slimmed-down version of the person. The one that was finally holiday-ready. I would prance around the pool sipping cocktails and demanding people play catch with me, unashamed of my body. I wouldn’t hide under swathes of kaftans; I would be there like the rest of the girls in a one-piece – looking phenomenal. My plan faltered. I lost some weight, but when summer rolled around, I realised the radical transformation that I had hoped for was not going to be my reality.

Two weeks before Cornwall, the panic started to set in. My friends seeing me in a swimsuit I could possibly stomach (with the help of a few generous tequila swigs), but their partners too? That was a big ask. My mind whirred: what would they think of me? Would they look at me and be disgusted? Would they whisper about me in bed to my friends at the end of the day? 

I was so nervous that the excuses started to trickle into my mind. Could there be a big work emergency that pulled me out of the trip? Could I use the Covid card if the anxiety of being semi-naked in front of strangers proved too much? What if I just said I was on my period and then wouldn’t have to get into my swimmers at all?

As the voices in my head grew louder, so did the pressure that I had to look a certain way to be able to enjoy a holiday. Because to your point, that’s what we are told, aren’t we? We are told through a series of devastating images that we should be ‘beach body’ ready. That to really enjoy a holiday you must have undergone a transformation – whether that’s a green juice detox, a diet or mentally torturing yourself about how you aren’t good enough just as you are in order to have a break.

As my incessant Instagram posts will attest (sorry about that), I went to Cornwall and I went to Italy. And I had the time of my life. I had it in my head, the same way that you do now, that the sum of all my holiday happiness was in how I looked. That couldn’t have been further from the things that filled me with joy when I finally returned to post-Covid-restricted travel. It was the sunsets, the holiday tomatoes (I’ll send you my recipe), the laughing until I was doubled over with a stitch as my friends threw themselves down a slip and slide (I didn’t have it in me to be quite this fearless); it was the memories made after a time when we’d been deprived of happy memories. And to your point on judgment, I never felt it once. Except towards myself, for not having enough faith in my friends and their partners to see me as nothing more than their friend – the one that just wanted to have a cracking holiday.

A sad fact of being a woman in this world is that I don’t know if there will ever be a day when we don’t criticise our bodies. Yours changed in lockdown. Mine did too. So did almost every other person I know. Whether that was because they were thrown out of their routine or because they fell pregnant in the pandemic baby boom. Or because they sought comfort in food and drink when we thought the world was crumbling (a fair reason, if you ask me) or a whole host of other big or small reasons that are all as valid as the next.

I know how intimidating it is to think you are being judged for the way you look. It makes you impossibly vulnerable, but I promise you this – no one is being more judgemental about your body than you are. People might look at you, but who’s to say it’s not for the megawatt smile that shows how much you’re enjoying your first holiday in two years or for the stellar diving catch you just made in beach volleyball. 

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: inside our heads is one of the most dangerous places we can exist in. It’s dark and mean and twists the truth until we run away from it with a series of excuses. Come out of there and realise you deserve a holiday. A brilliant one at that. A holiday full of fun and laughter and memories to treasure; not because you earned it on a detox or a diet, but because you wanted to live your life regardless of anything else.

Ask Billie anything on Instagram @stylistmagazine 

Photography: Sarah Brick, hair and make-up: Patrizia Lio at S management using Kevin Murphy and Nars

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