30 Women Around The World Tell Us How The Beach Makes Them Feel

Photographed by Heyson Du.
This article was originally published on July 27, 2015.

Anyone who has been near a magazine, TV, or billboard starting the moment the spring thaw sets in knows how this works — the same unrealistic images are trotted out to inspire women to get ready for the beach. And no, we aren't talking about helpful photos of how to pack a picnic basket. Sick of the ever-present pressure to fit some kind of "beach body" standard, we kicked off this summer with a single mission: Take back the beach. There's still a whole month of summer left, but we can't help but feel nostalgic for all that followed.

We visited Bangladesh, Miami, Ghana, Istanbul, China, and, most recently, Cuba, to talk to women about how they view and experience the beach. We followed women into dressing rooms (not in a creepy way) and got real concerning what a terrible process swimsuit shopping can be. We learned that the beach was a major source of body panic for women, even though we know a day at the beach is really about not giving a fuck. We spoke with women who are learning to overcome their insecurities and love their bodies, and that goes back to what we've been saying all this time: It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both.

Click through to see some of our favorite images from our travels, and revisit what powerful things these women had to say about their own beach bodies.

It's your body. It's your beach. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
1 of 30
Photographed by Sarker Protick at VII Photo Agency.
Bangladesh
Ibtida, 22, Student


"I do worry about how I look on the beach a little bit, because people are staring and making odd comments
Advertisement
2 of 30
Photographed by Sarker Protick at VII Photo Agency.
Bangladesh
Mehreen Kabir, 21, Student


"It is a common trend in our culture that a slim figure means beauty, but I don’t think this is the only way to measure or define beauty. Actually, true beauty is inside one’s heart. Yes, other people are judging my body… The pressure for me comes mostly from my family.

"I think we are not perfect in everything and we are born with imperfection, which itself is a beauty."
3 of 30
Photographed by Sarker Protick at VII Photo Agency.
Bangladesh
Zareen Shakila, 21, Student, Dance Teacher, & Part-Time TV Anchor


"I used to judge my own body and myself, and actually thought I had to live my life in a certain way or wear something particular to look good. But I felt it’s better I should do what my heart says. [I'd] rather let my feelings be free.

"Sometimes, in the past, I used to judge other people, but now I don’t. We live in a certain society where people will judge you, but it is up to me if I am thinking like them or living like them."
4 of 30
Photographed by Sarker Protick at VII Photo Agency.
Bangladesh
Fariha Tabasuam, 21, Student


"I have a feeling other people are judging my body. But I don’t do that [to others]. I don’t feel like [judging] others by their structure or body… We all are different, so why should we judge? It’s a bad practice.

"I do think about my dress — which dress I am going to wear? What [will] other people will say about my clothing and me? For these reasons, I like wearing something that no one can say any bad comments about. No one can think badly about me or look at me in a bad way."
5 of 30
Photographed by Sarker Protick at VII Photo Agency.
Bangladesh
Boronika Sharker, 30


"We men and women are all wearing clothes, but men look at us differently. They have a tendency to tease or harass us. And the way they look at us makes me feel ashamed. We women are talking or thinking about equality or equal rights, but we don’t actually get equal rights. We have to face harassment in different situations."
6 of 30
Photographed by Wayne Lawrence.
Miami
Aliyah Vaughan


"I tend to suck in my stomach sometimes. Even though I am small, I still have insecurities about my stomach. I wish my waist was a little bit smaller, but you know…I think everybody is beautiful in their own way. Everybody is here on this Earth [in] different sizes, [for] different reasons."
Advertisement
7 of 30
Photographed by Wayne Lawrence.
Miami
Teneja Griifin


"I am very confident. I wouldn’t pose for a picture I didn’t feel confident posing for! I sometimes feel a little self-conscious because I’m a mom, so along with the whole pregnancy thing comes problem areas like my stomach, of course... I definitely feel like you’re pressured to feel a certain way, and it’s media-based. These celebrities come out, and they’re all super-skinny, with abs and long hair… The media makes you feel like you have to feel a certain way, [but] if you have really high self-confidence and you feel like you look good, it really doesn’t matter what people [think]. It all depends on what you feel."
8 of 30
Photographed by Wayne Lawrence.
Miami
Nyeria Handy & Patrice Lamar


Nyeria: "I work out a lot. Very often… I don’t eat good, but I just work out... I'm scared to get over 130."

Patrice: "In this world today, everybody is so judgmental of how they look on the outside instead of what they look inside. But all that matters is what is in the inside, because if you're not good in the inside, then how would you take care of the outside?"
9 of 30
Photographed by Wayne Lawrence.
Miami
Mahogany Monteith


"Before I get to the beach, I want to make sure that I look presentable before I come out and see everybody around. I want to make sure I look nice… I'm pretty sure that people do judge my body as I walk through. And I'm not too judgmental on other female's bodies. I believe everybody is pretty much made the way they are."
10 of 30
Photographed by Wayne Lawrence.
Miami
Jada Rogers


"I just moved to Miami, so it's definitely been a cultural adjustment for me. Everyone is always so exposed, and it's definitely something that I have to get used to. But I don’t really feel too intimidated by the cultural difference here. I feel like I fit in just perfectly because I'm confident no matter where I am.

"Personally, I don’t have the time to judge others. I'm very free-spirited, very down-to-earth, very humble."
11 of 30
Photographed by Nana Kofi Acquah.
Ghana
Tashi Makeda

"I don't think about how I look when I'm at the beach — I just like to be in the water. The body is just a shell, and everybody has a body. We are not supposed to look the same. People might judge me, especially because I have tattoos and an eyebrow piercing, but I just allow it and smile over it. I don’t have any problems with my body."
Advertisement
12 of 30
Photographed by Nana Kofi Acquah.
Ghana
Rosemary Kusi


"I would rate my confidence level at 50%, because I'm not bold enough. But, I don't feel pressure to change my body — I love the way I am. [If anything, I'd want to] gain a little weight in my hips and ass. People love hips and ass, and the more you gain weight on your body, your beauty also increases."
13 of 30
Photographed by Nana Kofi Acquah.
Ghana
Fatima Abdul Karim

"I'm from Mali, visiting relatives here. I feel 100% confident right now. My legs look nice. I don't know what size I am; I just try on clothes and if any of them fit, I buy them."
14 of 30
Photographed by Nana Kofi Acquah.
Ghana
Judith Mensah

"I just went through my things and felt like wearing this to the beach with my family. I feel confident right now, because I am happy. [There are some things] I don't like about the way I look: My face has pimples, and I have stretch marks at my armpit. But, I like my thighs, legs, and stomach — they are beautiful."
15 of 30
Photographed by Nana Kofi Acquah.
Ghana
Christabel Frimpong

"I feel comfortable and cool, and I like the way I am. I'm wearing what [everyone else on the beach] is wearing right now, so why should they judge me?"
16 of 30
Photographed by Holly Pickett.
Istanbul
Almine, 20, Student

"My favorite part of my body is my skin. I have very pale skin. Usually that's not something people like; it's often seen as a downside. I also like being fat. I don't know, I don't really like thin girls. I like chubbiness.

"I don't feel any pressure [to look a certain way] whatsoever. As long as people aren't uncomfortable, that's what's important. My family has always been very relaxed, and they raised me that way.

"Of course, we can't always be happy. Sometimes, we have our issues. [But] generally speaking, you're alive, you have your health, you have the ability to move around, your family is healthy. That's most important."
Advertisement
17 of 30
Photographed by Holly Pickett.
Istanbul
Mathilde

"My favorite parts of my body are my hair and my breasts... I have to admit [that I look at people's bodies]. Totally... Not to compare, but to see.

"The society, and the media, [pressure you to be] skinny and tan. But I don't really care, I don't really read...fashion magazines. It's not my favorite thing. So, I know there is a pressure I think you have to ignore."
18 of 30
Photographed by Holly Pickett.
Istanbul
Sema, 28, Works At A Bartering Firm

"There is a pressure to have a certain type of body. [It's like] you shouldn't have a belly, you need to have thin legs...you shouldn't have small breasts, maybe you can do silicone."

"When you look at the Ottoman times, women were meatier
19 of 30
Photographed by Holly Pickett.
Istanbul
Louise, 20, Economics Student

"I thought I had come to think that I am totally confident, that I can go in a bikini everywhere. But today, I'm actually feeling self-conscious."
20 of 30
Photographed by Holly Pickett.
Istanbul
Emine Okoz

"My favorite thing about my body is my fingers. They are long and I think they're beautiful... Both my fingers and toes, I love them all.

"But I don't really feel self-confident in my bikini. I worry about my belly, and I don't feel so good. I mean, I care what the society thinks.

"I do look at other people that way... I don't think about it when I'm doing it. I criticize without thinking. But after that, when I experience the same situation, when it's me who is criticized, I feel that I shouldn't do it. But I don't think about it when I criticize."
21 of 30
Photographed by Heyson Du.
China
Wang Hong, 55, Retired


"I come here to swim every morning at 5:30. Swimming is kind of a very cool sport! I love to look bold and wild on the beach. This is actually my first day wearing facekini, I heard it can block sunshine and jellyfish. My favorite part of myself is my face, that’s why I wear facekini. I don't want to get sunburn. I'm very confident now. "
Advertisement
22 of 30
Photographed by Heyson Du.
China
Li Lizhen, 58, Factory manager


"I wear facekini from March to October when I swim, every year for five years. I'm quite used to wearing it, and I don't care any judgment. I love the mountains around the sea, here the scenes are beautiful. I'm pretty confident with my look today."
23 of 30
Photographed by Heyson Du.
China
Wang Guilan, 57, Retired


"I love the waves of the sea. I'm proud that I have muscles in my arms. Me and my friends, we don't judge each other, instead we appreciate and say good things to each other. I'm very confident with my look today."
24 of 30
Photographed by Heyson Du.
China
Sui Li, 47, General Manager of bicycle company


"I'm confident with my look on the beach. I love the scenes around me. My skin color is lighter than most of the others, I like it. I don't care too much about the judgment because I don't take it seriously."
25 of 30
Photographed by Heyson Du.
China
Li Lizhen, 58, Factory manager


"I wear facekini from March to October when I swim, every year for five years. I'm quite used to wearing it, and I don't care any judgment. I love the mountains around the sea, here the scenes are beautiful. I'm pretty confident with my look today."
26 of 30
Photographed by Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images.
Cuba
Camila Anido Beltran, 29, Seamstress

“I’m not that comfortable with my body at the moment because I’m slightly over my ideal weight. I work Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., so I have no time to go to the gym, as I’d like to. It’s not something that keeps me up at night —it’s not like I think I’m ugly, but I’d like to change that about me.

“I love the beach. For me, these trips start the night before, when I start getting ready: I choose what I’m going to wear, I wax… It involves a lot of preparation because you want to look good. And I never leave my sunglasses behind! These are welded to my face because the sun is very intense these days.”
Advertisement
27 of 30
Cuba
Emilsi Castillo Castañeda, 28, Chemistry Teacher


“I’m very comfortable with my body. I enjoy working out, which I do almost every day, except on Sundays.

“I love my hair. It’s tied now because it’s uncomfortable to wear it down with all the wind and the sand here, but I always let it down when I´m not at the beach. I’m very proud of it; this is my natural color; I don’t die it.

“I don’t get along well with the sand or the sun. That´s why I wear shorts and this top, so I don´t get sand everywhere. I only wear bikinis to swimming pools.”
28 of 30
Photographed by Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images.
Cuba
Liannet Sanchez Reyes, 25, Former Taekwondo Junior Athlete


“I used to wear bikinis all the time to come to the beach, but now I’m a little ashamed of the stretch marks my pregnancy left on my belly. I put on more clothes on top of the bikini, to disguise that. I either wear a knit wrap or any other kind of beach wrap.

“In general, I’m content with my body. I would have liked to be taller, but that’s no big deal.

“A good thing about the beach is that when you look around, you see people that are in worse shape than you are, and they don't seem to care. That has an encouraging effect on me.”
29 of 30
Photographed by Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images.
Cuba
Ana Luisa Cepero Crespo, 21, Cabaret Dancer

“I like my body. My least favorite thing about it is that my belly tends to bump out a little. I try not to eat too much, so I can keep it to a minimum.

“I do look at other women on the street, mainly at those who are a little overweight. But it’s not that I think less of them, it’s more about me, and how I wouldn’t like to look like that.

“The most attractive thing about me is the way I walk. As a dancer, I know how to move with style — how to walk rhythmically. I think I’m hot and I like to show off.”
30 of 30
Photographed by Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images.
Cuba
Yamilca Martinez Torres, 41

“I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy. I’ve been wanting to start exercising ever since I gave birth, but I haven’t had the time, especially not after I went back to work.

“Right now my big belly is a concern for me. I look fat. I didn’t know what to wear for this trip to the beach today, for example. I argued with myself: ‘Should I wear shorts instead of a bathing suit?’ I ended up buying this one. Normally, I wear clothes and accessories that help push in my stomach.

“I’d like to look different –and soon I’ll be taking care of that by going back to the gym. But it’s not something that has affected the way I live my life; I continue to go out and do everything normally.”
Advertisement