When you go swimming, unless you are wearing a wetsuit, you are pretty much naked.
Even if you are wearing a wetsuit, at some point immediately before that you were pretty much naked and/or invariably getting changed in a public place.
Regardless, wetsuits don’t really hide your body, they just vacuum pack it into a more pronounced silhouette.
So surely my social conditioning is strong enough that swimming is when I should feel at my most self conscious?
Apparently not… I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume.
In fact, just the idea of asking that question makes me laugh (NB it is of course an eminently sensible question in the context of trying on jeans).
Like a lot of men and women I have gone through different stages of body image love and loathing.
I think we all find our own path through that, but one of the things I love most about the open water is that for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant.
I have noticed a lot of chat on social media recently about the representation of sportswomen: charity calendars featuring glamorous female athletes challenging the stereotypes of their particular sport, pre-surfing dances that have been felt too provocative and apparently tongue in cheek ‘extreme’ sports videos that emphasise the multifaceted ‘assets’ of female athletes, just before they embark on their dare devil adventures.
I know what I like and what I don’t and what inspires me. I switch on or off accordingly. I hope that where things make me feel uncomfortable, the women involved and their audience have fully understood the nuances of power and control that are choreographing their representation and the different messages that can send.
Of course you can be intelligent, feminine, beautiful, funny, sexy, stylish, fit, healthy AND good at sport. And I am well up for celebrating that – Hurrah for fit and healthy bodies rather than emaciated, airbrushed role models!
But it also reminds me of open water swimming’s silence about body image, which for me has become a more powerful voice.
By way of illustration, here’s a non airbrushed picture of me in a swimming costume just before the start of the Lake Zurich Marathon relay, dancing and not caring that I am nearly naked.
It was featured in Women’s Fitness Magazine, so I imagine it means a fair few people have now seen me dancing in a swimming costume and not caring that I am nearly naked.
If someone had asked me a few years ago, ‘would you be happy to have a picture of you in a swimming costume in a magazine?’ I doubt the answer would have been yes. But times change, and for me one of the joys of getting into open water is its innate capacity to be an antidote to modern day pressures about body image.
Long may it continue!
芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises
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At A Lotus Rises we’re building a swimming collective on a mission to increase visibility, access and participation of women in swimming.