I think the only place better to people-watch than the Riverbend Festival is the beach. Maybe it can be attributed to the anonymity of being out of town, but people seem to let go of all inhibitions as soon as their toes step in sand.
Case in point: the "retired Victoria's Secret models."
As we head into swimsuit season, I thought their positive self-image was worth considering today.
My beach buddies and I just returned from Panama City, where we shared the beach with literally hundreds of spring breakers who were wearing, in total, maybe 12 yards of fabric.
I'm kidding ... but only slightly. Honestly, there were some of the tiniest bikinis I've seen: basically three triangles held up with dental floss.
All those taut and tan bodies made me feel a little self-conscious, but not one group of self-assured women who were having a girls day at the shore.
These five middle-aged females had staked out a section of the beach by posting a sign stating they were "Retired Victoria's Secret Models."
Like me, they were all fighting gravity and middle-age spread, but that hadn't stopped three of them from wearing their bikinis to the beach. One of them even had a bullhorn, and they were all singing "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
They were totally unself-conscious - and it was early enough in the day that I'm pretty sure that was without the assistance of alcohol.
They were just comfortable with themselves and their body sizes, and I have to admire that. I figure they must all have self-esteem levels off the charts.
That led me to wonder whether positive body image and self-esteem are inseparable.
I asked this of Jamie McDermott, registered dietitian in private practice and a consultant for Solace Clinic, which is a local outpatient clinic that treats eating disorders.
McDermott said she believes body image is a small component of what makes up self-esteem.
"That being said, if someone has a high self-esteem I don't believe it is possible to have a truly negative body image at the same time," she said.
McDermott noted it's normal to be critical of one's self occasionally, but a woman with a positive body image will rationalize reasons for a perceived shortcoming to her inner critic. For example, she said, being a size 2 or having perfect measurements is not normal after having two children.
"Someone who obsesses over their body and loathes themselves because of what they appear like on the outside cannot have a high self-esteem," McDermott said.
We've all heard someone say, "I don't care how I look."
Liar, liar, pants on fire. Yes, you do.
"Self-care is part of a healthy self-esteem," said McDermott. "Taking care of oneself is part of loving oneself."
That's not saying you have to be high-maintenance and spend lots of time and money on personal upkeep, but McDermott said it does require the basics of getting dressed and being presentable on a daily basis.
So is there an antidote to low self-image, I asked. How can we all have "model behavior"?
"For some, going to a third-party counselor or therapist may help. There may be deep-rooted issues of criticism or abuse in a person's past that need to be uncovered or dealt with for that person to begin taking care of themselves again," she said.
She said other folks might find peace through exercise, nature or finding a new hobby at which they feel successful. Some find solace in prayer.
For folks who try to treat themselves with self-help books, Jamie cautions she doesn't believe that will work without input from a therapist trained in cognitive behavior therapy to help interpret their reading.
"We all need to try to let go of perfectionism," she said. "The answer to life's happiness is far from being perfect on the inside or the outside."
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.