Travel makes you beautiful. I’m living proof.
To tell the truth, I have remarkably low self-esteem. I’m average for midwesterners: I’m short, I have pasty, pale skin (especially after a long winter), and I’m plump–a direct result of a voracious appetite for good food and drink. But in traveling to Thailand, Cambodia and El Salvador, I became beautiful.
If you have seen Thai and Cambodian people, you know they have enviable caramel skin. The women are lithe, with silky, dark hair. They smile freely. They are, in my eyes, gorgeous.
|A young girl sells fruit at a roadside stop on the way to
Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Salvadorans are equally as beautiful. The color of their skin is something North Americans strive to attain through makeup, spray on tans, spa appointments, skin care products, and by sitting in the sun or in a space capsule-like contraption that imparts concentrated UV rays.
But being among people in these cultures shifted the camera for me. I noticed the change slowly–when shopping in local stores in Thailand, where skin care products nearly always focused on their lightening properties: skin-whitening soaps, creams and makeup dominated the shelves. Many of the products were versions of products in the United States that, when sold here, tout their skin bronzing or tanning qualities.
|A “Westernized” model for Coca-Cola, on display in Pai, Thailand.
Notice his skin has been lightened. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
As I took my daily walks in town, Thai mothers would flash their wide smiles, wave, and hold their babies up toward me, as if I were royalty. Once, when walking down an alley with a very pale-skinned friend, a man held her arm and stroked it as if it were a fine jewel.
In El Salvador, when walking down the sidewalk, a Salvadoran woman nudged me and said, “Guapa!” Seeing my confused look, she repeated it three times. Inside, I did not feel beautiful. Inside, I knew I could be pretty if only I tried harder, got highlights in my hair, tanned more, and lost weight.
It took a while for me to realize the deeper implications of these experiences.
Travel does not inspire me to try to become a more beautiful version of myself. Travel inspires me to more clearly see my own inherent beauty. After all, if people in cultures other than my own think that I’m beautiful, if they spend their money on products to get this translucent-blue skin, if they covet my well-fed frame…who am I to change it?
How has travel made you beautiful? How has it changed your perception of yourself?
- Learning to Paint in Paradise, California
- Beggars, Buskers and Bums: To Give, or Not to Give?
- Uluru and Treading Lightly: What Does it Mean to You?