Beauty and the beach.

Like a good Floridian, I kicked off Shark Week with a Saturday trip to the beach.

The hot sun and how hard it is to evenly spray yourself with no-rub sunscreen made for some awkward tanlines. I brought a couple of books, but I barely cracked them. The conversations of the other beachgoers were better.

One guy — a New York Italian — stuck his feet in the water with a cell phone stuck to his ear while retelling the story of that one time he told the one guy “why I’m gonna sue your @$$!”

A couple of women, both on the brink of divorces, discussed their marriages: one, feeling like hers might work out, hopes her husband doesn’t find out about the impromptu beer and conversation she had with a male stranger in a hotel lobby on a trip she took last month. The other, whose husband hopes she isn’t telling her friends that she’s going to Al-Anon, isn’t doing squat around the house. If her husband doesn’t quit drinking, he can forget the Betty Crocker she used to be. (Her words, not mine.)

The third conversation I heard was between two girls, no older than 12 or 13. They floated on boogie boards and discovered they wear the same sizes in pants.

Girl 1: I hate shopping with girls who wear a size zero. We should shop together!
Girl 2: I have short legs, so my pants are always crinkled at the bottom. People say things about it all the time!
Girl 1: Once, a friend of mine actually said, “I have to wear a size double zero, but sometimes I have to wear a zero. It means my hips are getting bigger!” But she is so skinny.

It reminded me of the time I lost 40 pounds in high school and one of the skinniest girls in my class seemed super impressed.

“Arleen!” she said. “Your thighs! They’re almost as skinny as mine!”

Thanks?

But isn’t sad that how we look plays a huge role in how we’re received. Have you ever noticed that the first thing women say when they meet up is often about appearance?

“Have you lost weight? You look great!”

“I love your hair. Did you get it cut?”

“That is such a great top! Where’d you get it?”

And it feels good to get a compliment. I give them all the time. But the tendency is indicative of a culture-wide obsession. It’s the same obsession that fuels the health news headline I heard on the local news this morning: “If you’re heading to the beach, make sure you’re toned up before you put on that bathing suit.”

Seriously?

It’s why before the conclusion of back to back Roseanne on a Tuesday night, it’s really easy to feel like your arms are too jiggly, your hair is too frizzy and your teeth aren’t white enough.

So we buy the products we see during the commercials and deny that we do it because advertisers have set up a problem — something often otherwise perfectly natural — and positioned their product as the solution.

And then, long story short, young beachgoers feel inadequate around skinnier girls or girls with longer legs. I know that the woman in the ad has fake lashes on, but I want the mascara anyway. Guys want skinny girls and they don’t know why.

What can we do about it?

Good question.

Hard question.

We can do our best not to buy into what we’re told about beauty. If you need some motivation, I suggest the following:

Permission to feel.

I love Intervention.

It might be sort of sketchy for a TV network to allure an audience with an hour-long docu-drama that mildy exploits people while they hit rock bottom.

It might be sort of sketchy to be that audience.

But I find the show really moving. Last night, I watched an episode about a girl named Jennifer in Arizona. In her childhood, her parents divorced. She stayed with her mom. Her little brother moved in with their dad. In her early teens, she fell in with the wrong kind of crowd. She was all about sex, drugs and alcohol by the time she got to college.

Then, she had an accident. On the way back from an alcohol binge in Mexico with friends, the vehicle rolled. She was ejected. That she lived might be a miracle.

She spent a month in the hospital. The day she got home — or shortly thereafter — she got the shock of her life when her little brother rolled up on a moped. She hadn’t seen him in awhile. They never really got along. The probably 14-year-old boy sat by his sister and hugged her. Their mother almost got the camera.

The siblings hadn’t hugged in years.

The family believed the short visit would be a breakthrough.

Things would change, they thought.

Then, they got a call.

On his way home from visiting Jennifer, a car struck and killed her brother. Two days later, Jennifer started drinking again. She hasn’t stopped since.

Her story is sad and unpleasant but not uncommon.

Bad things happen. To everyone.

We get dumped and fired and terminal illnesses. Friends abandon us. People and pets die. We’re let down and shut out and screwed over.

How does it make us feel?

Empty.
Lonely.
Overwhelmed.
Confused.
Angry.
Anxious.
Depressed.
Rejected.
Humiliated.
Used.
Devastated.
Defeated.
Helpless.
Hopeless.
Ashamed.
Sad.
Heartbroken.

It’s uncomfortable. Let’s be blunt: it frickin’ blows. Most of the time, while you live it, it is the worst thing that could happen. None of us want to feel the way the worst thing that could happen makes us feel. Jennifer certainly didn’t.

Toward the end of last night’s episode, she walked into the conference room where her family waited to start the intervention. She stopped short when she saw them, went to the bathroom and chugged a bottle of vodka. Drunk but stable enough, she sat down to hear her family.

I can’t remember who said what when it happened, but when Jennifer found it hard to keep composed, she looked straight at her father.

“Please,” she said. “Don’t make me cry.”

Jennifer didn’t want to feel bad.

None of us do.

So we shop or eat. Others of us don’t eat. Sometimes, it’s sex or drugs or alcohol. We feel bad so we do something that distracts us from that. When the distraction wears off, we still feel bad, so we distract ourselves again.

Maybe we hope if we ignore how the worst thing that could happen has made us feel, it’ll go away. But it doesn’t. We have to cry. Pray. Hug it out. Journal. See a counselor.

We need to get it off our chests and on the table. We need to acknowledge and express it so it isn’t inside us all our lives.

We need permission to feel.