fitness

Swimming Gets a Bad Rap, But as Fit Feminists Let’s Swim Anyway!

One of the saddest stories from my younger days is about swimming. I’ve always loved to swim. When I started gras school at MIT in 1988, I swam every single morning before class. 

I got to know the pool guy who gave it the towels. I swam in the same lane or two every time, usually with one or two other people at the same pace. 40 lengths. Daily. 

So far, not sad. In fact, the opposite. It kept me grounded and feeling good at a super-stressful time of life. I’d moved away from home. For the first time in my life I was in the U.S. I had a major case of imposter syndrome, both happy to have gotten into such a great grad program and plagued daily by doubt that I belonged there. And I’d just quit smoking after ten years and was finally getting fitter. 

And those mornings at the pool just felt so incredibly good. 

And then a friend and I started reading Shape Magazine. Not a good choice for impressionable young people in their early twenties with no knowledge of health and fitness, and very susceptible to the cultural pressures on women to be thin.  

Every issue had little news digest thing at the beginning. That’s where they published short paragraphs, maybe 4-5 sentences, of the latest research. Well, one day the latest research said ‘swimmers have more body fat than people who do other forms of cardio.’

That was enough for me. Enter aerobics classes, running (which I hated) and soulless hours on the stair master. Exit my first love: swimming. 

Fast forward over 25 years when I discovered triathlon and rediscovered swimming in a big way. 

And now: reports again about swimming and how it puts you at risk of “packing on the pounds.” You can read about it here and here

The reason cited is that prolonged periods in cold water can make you really hungry. So the thing is that it’s not swimming itself that makes you fat. It’s that it works uo a heftier appetite and swimmers are “at risk” of eating more. 

But it’s not all bad. Swimmers are strong and awesome. Check out this article about growing up in a swimmer’s body. 

And then there are those who would recommend swimming to lose weight! See here

Here’s where I stand on this today. I love swimming. It’s important to do things we love. I would never abandon anything as quickly as I abandoned swimming back then, especially on the basis of a news capsule, and especially because of something as specious as the argument that swimming makes you fat. Really? Gimme a break!! 

Swimming is freeing. As a zero gravity activity, nothing makes me feel as agile and alive as moving through the water. Taking up swimming regardless of what the latest research about it says on the weight gain-weight loss issue is, in my view, a feminist act! 

Let’s go swimming!

10 thoughts on “Swimming Gets a Bad Rap, But as Fit Feminists Let’s Swim Anyway!

  1. Totally with you, Tracy! I also swam every day during my PhD program, at the University of Toronto; I lived two blocks from a wonderful, inexpensive, civic pool (The St Lawrence Community Recreation Centre), and I got to know so many inspiring athletes there, from all different professions and backgrounds. I learned that I was strong, and I became so fit that, at a medical appointment shortly after I completed my degree, the intern taking my BP remarked that I had the pulse of a lifetime athlete. I was so proud, and spurred on by that to continue my fitness journey.

  2. I just love swimming. It melts the tension away from my shoulders and neck like no other activity. I also love that if friends are in the pool you can chat between sets.

  3. So completely agree (like I do with most of the posts on this blog, to be honest). I would rather be fat and do a form of exercise I loved than skinny spending hours a week doing something I don’t love!

  4. I used to swim breaststroke across lakes and ponds, in the ocean, and on a team. I could do it all day. But I quit swimming years ago and have never been able to recapture the joy in swimming that I read in this post. It has nothing to do with fat, it somehow has to do with pool culture: the smell, the irritated skin, the green hair, having to go fast and do front crawl and flip turns and the butterfly stroke. And the subsequent feeling of not being able able to breathe. I wish I could learn to like swimming again.

  5. I used to love swimming. I loved the weightless feeling moving through the water and how amazingly alive my body felt after a swim. That all changed when I started racing Ironman distance triathlons. The swim workouts became gruelling and the swim portion of the race had me in a state of panic before each race.

    I stopped racing triathlons. I stopped swimming. This post has encouraged me to hit the water again and re-discover the love of the water I once had.

  6. I’m another of those teenage competitive swimmers who quit (just about) on going to university. There have been spells when I started swimming again, e.g. when doing a PhD in Perth, Western Australia, I swam almost every weekend in the ocean, often early in the morning at a deserted beach – perhaps not the safest but, hey, I was young, but the trend was more cycling and less swimming as I found it difficult to get relaxed and find the flow. Recently I’ve started taking my main summer holiday with other open-water swimmers to swim in the sea somewhere warm. This has meant pool swimming for a few weeks beforehand, which I don’t particularly enjoy, but it makes the open water swimming easier, especially if there’s a swell or a current, something I do enjoy.

  7. I’m another of those teenage competitive swimmers who quit (just about) on going to university. There have been spells when I started swimming again, e.g. when doing a PhD in Perth, Western Australia, I swam almost every weekend in the ocean, often early in the morning at a deserted beach – perhaps not the safest but, hey, I was young, but the trend was more cycling and less swimming as I found it difficult to get relaxed and find the flow. Recently I’ve started taking my main summer holiday with other open-water swimmers to swim in the sea somewhere warm. This has meant pool swimming for a few weeks beforehand, which I don’t particularly enjoy, but it makes the open water swimming easier, especially if there’s a swell or a current, something I do enjoy.

  8. Swimming is lovely! Let’s do our favorite activities, Shape Magazine be damned 🙂

  9. I loved swimming as a kid but started to dread it when I hit my teens and body hair was sprouting everywhere. I’ve never really got over that. Several years ago I got fed up with hair removal, particularly because my legs are pretty sensitive and that has definitely stopped me.

    My parents have a pool so I swim there and love it, and a couple of years ago I went to Cyprus with some friends and swam in the Mediterranean, which was the best swimming experience I’ve ever had – complete with leg fuzz.

    But back home in the UK I’m just not brave enough. I am stuck in that school mentality, worried about weird looks and whispered comments behind my back. I really ought to just suck it up and go enjoy the water anyway!

    1. Not swimming is such a huge deprivation! I hope you manage to get out of that rut and back to the water. Thanks for your comment!

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