Today I had an interesting experience while doing my strength training. Let’s face it, I run hot. I think it hit (dare I say it) 50 degrees outside and I was sweating like a stuffed pig within five minutes of starting my back rows. My brow was beading up, a drip ran down the side of my face, I was hot looking for an ice bath. I had my workout clothes on and debated for at least 10 minutes if I should or should not just workout in my sports bra. Everyone there I swam with and had seen me in whole lot less in the pool, but there was something so uncomfortable about being clothed, in pants and working out in a sports bra even though as it was pointed out to me that it covers a whole lot more than my swimsuit.
As I went through the should I or should I nots in my head, I couldn’t help think about it all day afterwards of why was it so uncomfortable? I wouldn’t have thought twice about wearing a swimsuit to the gym, but the social stigma of wearing a sports bra in public is what did it. The perception of body image, what is and is not acceptable for women to wear, what size you “should be” if you’re in a sports bra, and why the heck does this all matter?!?! I’m taking my shirt off, going sports bra and I loved it! I felt free, muuuuccchhhh cooler, I felt like me.
I remember the first time I went from a one-piece to a two-piece suit at Alki. It was during a bonfire in early Spring for a friend’s birthday and two of my other gal friends and I said let’s do it, let’s wear a two-piece workout bikini. We showed up with our suits under our clothes and by gollie it must have taken us at least 20 minutes to take our shirts off and let “the world” see us in a two-piece. You know “the world” of no one else on the beach in a swimsuit in early Spring except the other weirdo winter swimmers who see us in swimsuits all the time. What did we have to worry about, I have no clue. Finally the shirt came off and we were in the water. We felt free, we felt like ourselves and the one-piece at Alki never went on again.
What has open water swimming done for my body image? Everything. It has made me love my body, love how it is built, enjoy food and not worry about what I cannot have. If I’m craving it, I’m going to eat it. It has made me smile as I warm up my flub tub at the fireplace, it has made laugh at some suits being too small because I gained five pounds, it has made me proud to be me because without this body I may not be able to do what I do. I love my sport, I love the cold, the sea, the sand, the sun and sharing it with others. If my body was different, if I was thinner, taller, heavier, shorter, anything then maybe I wouldn’t be swimming the way I am now.
I am 5′ 2″, 172 lbs, am a size 8-12 depending of the clothing manufacturer, have been compared to a “thick slice of maple braised bacon”, have been handed weight loss cards at the gym, asked how I swim fast “carrying all that weight”, and have been recommended to personal trainers, and have been called obese by doctors. This hurts when you really look at all of it together. I may be a different size from what is socially considered “in shape”, but because of the Open Water, I am in the best shape of my life, I am happy, and am loving myself because of that bikini. That bikini that allows me to be free, to be me, that hides nothing allowing me to be seen for who I am.
In the Women’s Panel, we spoke about post-race depression and I truly believe it is different for everyone. People got a chuckle when I said I know I’m depressed if I’m eating a lot of salads, but it is true. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good salad every now and then, but salads aren’t really something I enjoy. I eat healthy, but I also eat my fair share of crap, a cookie a day keep the cold away. The question and the chuckles got me thinking what does salads mean? For me, when I get post-race depression, societal pressures of being a certain body shape or size start creeping back in my mind. The runners on the magazines with “the perfect body” or the try this now diet or exercise video where in a mere 30 days you can get a body “like this”. Uh huh, sure I can, but it gets to me like I think it gets to all women at some point and it’s a faux pas to admit. I start eating salads to cut those calories, to lose those extra few pounds.
You know what, salads make me hungry! They don’t supply me with caloric needs so I end up eating more, feel more badly about myself because I don’t fit the standard image of body shape and size. This isn’t fair and when the salad train comes my way, I know something is up. Luckily a bikini and the open water help to get me over the salad hump and back to my normal self. When I’m in the water, I don’t care about my size because, again, my body was made this way for a reason and in the water I learn to love it again. That pink frosted sprinkle doughnut that gave me that love handle looks mighty tasty after a long day’s swim and darn right I’m going to eat it, in my swimsuit, on the beach, wedgie and all for everyone to see because I don’t care, I love myself.
This is the way I wish each of us women could live every day. I don’t have children, but if I had a daughter I would want her to know that she is wonderful just the way she is and that her body was made for her to do something amazing, whatever size it is and whatever that amazing thing may be. I see children, teens and adults in the locker rooms nervous to be nude, nervous for their imperfections to be seen. This is probably in some way how I felt about being a sports bra at the gym today. Nervous for the cooler my six pack is stored in to be seen, nervous for my imperfections to show because I’m not in my element, the sand, the sun, the sea.
Well, today I think I finally understand and I get it, enough is enough and we should all allow ourselves to love ourselves and be proud of ourselves just the way we are. I think women in sports are under a lot of pressure for the perfect body and I don’t know how to start changing this mentality other than sharing the story of what the open water did for me. If you’re having concerns about your body, unhappy with it, please come swim with us and discover the joy of water and people who accept you for who you are, salads or doughnuts galore.