Swimming Toward a Better Body Image and How You Can Too

Swimming Toward a Better Body Image

By Jocelyn Martin

There are events in our lives that shape us.  We might not know it at the moment they’re happening, but with time and reflection, we can feel and see the impact they have left.  I had the opportunity to reflect on one such event recently.

This past weekend I was talking with a client and friend at my daughter’s swim meet about body image.  We talked about our children, girls, and family members and how their self-esteem is tied to how they feel about their body.  How girls, as they grow, their body image changes and what a shame it is as a society and as females that we do that to each other.  Often placing too high of standards and classifications on our shapes.  Too fat.  Too wrinkly.  Too saggy.  Too jiggly.  Too big.  Too skinny.  The list goes on and on….

Isn’t it our differences that should be celebrated?  The strong legs of a runner and sprinter that carry them through the race.  The lithe body of a dancer to glide gracefully through the air.  Are both not beautiful, even though their bodies are shaped differently?  Are both not strong, athletic, healthy and capable of awe inspiring feats, even though they are shaped differently?  YES!!!!  They are!!!!  So why can we celebrate that fact in professional athletes, but not in the girls and women that surround us on a daily basis?  Its disappointing.

I remember the event from my youth that changed and cemented my vision of my body.  I was about 10 or 11 and was at an end of the school year pool party with my classmates.  I had competed on a swim team for approximately 3 or 4 years at this point and was very comfortable walking around in a bathing suit and swimming.  Everyone got changed and jumped into the pool.  I was one of the first girls ready and was already swimming when most of the other girls came out to the pool side.  It was then that I noticed they were all wearing t-shirts over their swim suits.  I brushed it off thinking they were wearing cover-ups.  Till they jumped into the pool with their t-shirts still on.  I didn’t get it.  Why would you wear a t-shirt into the pool unless you were trying to create drag?  You’ve got to remember I was a competitive swimmer, spending hours a day in a bathing suit, trying to be streamlined and efficient in the water.  The idea of swimming with a bulky shirt on was not something I saw regularly.

I remember immediately feeling embarrassed, different.  I was the only girl who was not wearing a shirt.  At that age, being different is not something you aimed for being.  I was getting out of the pool, to go in search of a t-shirt, when I over-heard my mom talking to one of the other mothers.  They were discussing the same difference, how I was the only one swimming in a suit and the other girls were using the t-shirts to cover up.  My mom explained my swimming committments and the other mother commented as to how she wished her daughter were more comfortable with her body.

I didn’t end up getting the t-shirt and instead jumped back into the pool.  Within a half hour or so, most of the other girls had ditched the t-shirts as they started to weight them down in the pool.  In the end it was a great time had by all of us, but I remember it being a turning point in my life.  I knew at that moment, that I didn’t want to be a girl or woman who was ashamed of her body.  I didn’t want to feel the need to “cover-up”.  And I’ve worked to be that woman all my life.  I thank my 8 years on a swim team for that body confidence.  Seeing all the different body shapes poolside and seeing all the different things they were capable of achieving.  The strong, broad shoulders of those who were the best at butterfly.  The long, lanky bodies of those who were great freestylers.  The toned hips and buns of breaststrokers.  And the different bodies that made up the best backstrokers.  All different types were in their suits, taking the block, letting very little be left to the imagination and at that point it didn’t matter at all.  What mattered was what those differences could help you do in the pool that would get you to the finish first.  Swim Team did that for me and I will forever be thankful!

Now don’t get me wrong, I have areas of my body I’d like to work on.  I have days where I’m not happy with my abs, hips, buns….whatever!  But I don’t let that define me.  I am not my abs, hips or buns.  I can work on those areas, improve them.  I use that feeling of disappointment to cut back on the sweet treats and eat more veggies instead.  Lets be honest, no one has a perfect nutrition or exercise plan 100% of the time.  But I don’t let my insecurities prevent me from enjoying or living the life I’m meant to live.  I still walk around in my bathing suit and short shorts.  I choose clothing I feel comfortable in and if I’m having a “bad” day, I make better choices.

I hope my girls see that confidence.  I hope they see their mom walking around in a bathing suit and not “covering up” as I walk on the pool deck.  I hope my athletic pursuits inspire them to live active, healthy lives, proud of all the things their bodies can accomplish.  Because that’s what it is all about!  Living healthy lives, proud of all the incredible things our bodies can accomplish!  Too much time and energy is wasted wishing for someone else’s ________(insert body part of choice here).  As women we’re capable of doing amazing things with our bodies!  Don’t wish yours away!  Celebrate it!

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