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!

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