Taking swim lessons means getting undressed in a locker room, getting into a swimsuit – seeing my wrinkles and weird little bumps and saggy places and yes, some fat – and being seen. Even writing this makes me sweat. I wonder how many people won’t take a lesson because of swimsuit fear?
Since beginning swimming lessons, I realize that I have been angry with my body for several years now – I felt my body had betrayed me. It is not what it was 10 years ago, though healthier than it was four years ago when I suffered months of serious illness and stronger than it was last year after a dog attack left me with two broken bones. I used to be a good runner. I ran 30 marathons, 50-60 miles every week, and five marathons a year for a long time. While running, I felt like I could fly – I loved my ropy muscles, my flat belly, being strong, being in my body. Being a runner was my identity.
Runners are mostly some version of slim. In the pool there are all kinds of bodies.
Beth constantly reminds me to feel the swimming motions, the breathing — in my body, not just my brain.
I’m not the only self-conscious one – other women change in the bathroom stalls. This is my body at 55. I want to look in the mirror and think good things about my body and banish the self-conscious, critical voice. No more comparisons between myself, and those who can swim, no more comparisons to my younger body – this is the body I live in, it is a gift and precious.
Beth is an excellent role model for accepting and celebrating the body I live in now and being grateful — she has endured her own struggles with a changing body. And it’s not just Beth; I see people who due to age or disability struggle to get in and out of the pool, a teenager who slips off her cast before lowering herself into the water, a child with a guide dog (the dog naps alongside the pool) taking lessons. I see men and women of all shapes, ages, and sizes get into the pool. I get into the pool.
My hips and belly are bigger than they once were — but in the water nothing bounces like it does on land. And amazingly, after a few lessons and hours of practice, my body is changing. Muscles are developing in my upper arms, my chest, and back for the first time in my life. And I find that nothing banishes hot flashes quicker or with more pleasure than the pool.
I’m not going to let my embarrassment stop me from achieving my goal. I’m doing this for me! This is the body I will love now, in water and out. And be grateful for it.
Dear Shoney: I understand exactly what you are describing. I had always been the person who could eat whatever she wanted and still lose weight easily – until I had a major accident. After that, I became the person who continued to gain weight no matter how much I exercised or how little I ate because my body had changed in a dramatic way. I would look in the mirror and feel confused. I no longer recognized my own body. Finally, I realized that the only thing to do was to love and accept my body, and believe that in time I would feel at home in it again. ~Beth