Studying abroad for a summer in Spain is the time for sun-kissed skin. It walks down boardwalks wiggling and jiggling in bikinis and speedos. It’s pressed together on metros and buses on 95-degree afternoons. It’s tanned and smooth and all of it is beautiful.

However, I didn’t always see it that way. I've struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I had an athletic build that allowed me to play soccer up to my freshman year of college — but I always saw myself as bigger than I really was. 

Before I went to college, I knew I wanted to study abroad and see the world. It was something that I prioritized as being part of my college experience.

Amanda Evertz

This past fall, I studied in Madrid, Spain for four months while living under the roof of a host mom. As excited as I was for this opportunity, I was also nervous. But not because I would be away from my family, or that my Spanish wasn’t strong, or that I had to learn to navigate Europe — I was afraid to gain the "abroad 10."

risotto, shellfish, shrimp, vegetable, prawn, rice, meat, seafood, paella
Sarah Strong

In American culture, food and imperfect bodies are shamed. We’re fed the latest diet fad like a moral imperative. Thin is worthy, sexy, and pretty. Not thin (whatever your definition) is abnormal, lazy, unworthy.

Our bodies and how we feed them are tied to our standing as members of society, and these standards teach us we can’t disconnect our food intakes from our personal and self worth. But we are so much more than what we put in our mouths. We are so much bigger than our pant sizes.

Madeleine Stein

Walking to and from school every day whether it was 9 am or 5 pm, Spaniards were always out eating and drinking and enjoying company. Women walked the streets as if they were stepping onto a runway, secure in their own skin—regardless of their size. Everyone from my beautiful model neighbor to my voluptuous Spanish professor enjoyed sitting down to the table with their families and friends to eat and drink.

Strolling along the salty Barcelona beaches and boardwalks, I walked past a beach soccer game, men and women of all shapes, ages and sizes. Of course, some looked amazingly fit but others jiggled with soft bellies and large, even lumpy, thighs – everyone laughing, moving, having fun.

water, beer, wine
Amanda Evertz

In San Sebastian, women freely and confidently roamed the beaches topless sunbathing, embracing their bodies. In Italy, families crowded around restaurant tables to enjoy three-hour dinners and company. In Ireland, friends flocked to pubs to enjoy a pint of beer and savor a homemade beef potato stew.

People were enjoying food, friends, and life. They put value on experiences and relationships, rather than appearances and having a gym membership.

Amanda Evertz

Cultures outside of America do not emphasize appearance and physical looks as much as they do abilities or togetherness with friends and families. Going abroad is about pushing your boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone.

That can mean figuring out the city transportation system rather than calling an Uber, traveling with new friends rather than familiar ones, and trying new foods you never knew existed. But no matter what, it had nothing to do with the size and shape of your body, and everything to do with the actual experience.

#SpoonTip: Remember, everything in moderation and be sure to prioritize your own health — but don't deny yourself the opportunity to eat some of the best food in the world.