body image · fitness · Guest Post · stereotypes · swimming

Learning to Swim and Loving My Body in the Process (Guest Post)

Although I never learned to swim, my whole life I’ve had dreams in which I can swim and I love those dreams and the feeling they give me. Recently, I met a new friend, about my age, and when she asked me if I wanted to go to the spa, and the whirlpool, and the pool, I found myself saying yes. Because I did want to go. I’d wanted to go for decades and had only ever gone to a spa one other time, just after I turned 50.

There’s something about your 50s – it’s like you start over. You look at all the baggage you’ve been hauling around since your 20s and ask yourself what it’s for. As it turns out, most of it doesn’t even belong to you, and a lot of it is stuff nobody needs.

Among my baggage was the idea that I needed to avoid pools because I have an unruly body that doesn’t look ‘good’ in a bathing suit. I knew this to be true because I’d had constant reminders that my body was somehow inappropriate.

In all fairness, had JLo or the Kardashians been the beauty standard during my teens, I might have received more positive attention for what became, by 13 or so, my big hips and big butt and small waist, but among my age group I was merely an aberration.

I could hear snickers when I got up to write at the blackboard in class. I lived in mortal fear of gym and of any social activities that might involve sports or a pool because I would have to expose my body in shorts or, my greatest horror, in a bathing suit.

Although by my early 20s I’d developed a way of dressing to pretty much camouflage what I suspected was my aberrant body, there’s nowhere to hide anything in a bathing suit. The very thought of wearing one filled me with anxiety and humiliation.

As I got older, I became the classic example of the woman to whom people would ‘you would be beautiful IF ONLY you lost x number of pounds.” The amounts varied, since my weight varied and, of course, ‘thin’ ideals were changeable. Sometimes it was 20, sometimes 40, sometimes 60 pounds.

I hope the world has changed and that young women don’t go through this anymore and Irealize I should have told every single person who felt free to comment to go fly a kite, and sometimes I did. My aunts said it, even my mom said it. There was me, and then there was beautiful/acceptable and, to get there, I would basically have to alter my body type.

As I struggled to articulate all of this to my new spa friend, she said ‘if you want a bikini body then just put your body in a bikini.’ This sounded suspiciously wise to me – I was certain I was missing something. I put on my bathing suit.

I loved the whirlpool. When I balked a bit at the pool and said I couldn’t swim, she just shrugged and said it didn’t matter – I didn’t have to swim to go in the pool. I’d never thought of it that way. I gave myself permission to go in the pool. After all, I was already in bathing suit, and what could be harder than that?

And then she said maybe I should try to float, still hanging onto the side of course. I immediately said I couldn’t float and that I had scientific proof of this from my many failed childhood attempts. In my particular case, I said emphatically, it was impossible. Sometimes we believe things for so long that we don’t realize they’re ridiculous and sometimes the way you can tell is the way your friend looks at you when you say them.

She said that instead of thinking about the water as something threatening, maybe I could think of it as something that was there to support me. The water would help me – the water wanted me to float. I didn’t really have to do anything. That was interesting to me. It would be particularly helpful, she added, if I didn’t think about it too much. That made me laugh since I’d had a psychiatrist in my 20s who spent a lot of time teaching me that thinking is different from feeling.

The sensation I felt, the first time I full-body floated, still holding onto the side of the pool, is still hard to describe. It was very emotional – suddenly, the body that I felt had betrayed me on so many occasions, the body I spent a lot of my life exasperated with and pointedly ignoring, was both weightless and present. I could feel the water surrounding me and holding me up. I became aware of my arms and legs and hips as wonderful, positive things, floating there in the water. Maybe even beautiful. I had the feeling that I had in my dreams. It was not a thinking feeling, but just feeling. So, for the last month or so, I’ve been working in the water to learn to actually swim – I feel I’m almost there but I’m not in any hurry.

The sensations that come with moving my body in the water are new, and exhilarating, and have started to feel natural. I love every minute of finding my balance, letting go of the ledge, working out how to propel myself, bobbing along in my very elementary way, perfectly quiet and peaceful. Well, not perfectly quiet. Sometimes I giggle. Out loud. I move my arms and my legs and the water responds to me. For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel my body is perfect.

Sally is an art historian, professor, department chair, Italophile, film buff, heavy metal AND country music enthusiast, and fitness newbie.

fitness · swimming

Meet our newest Fit is Feminist Issue regular blogger, Bettina!

Following my first post, I’m excited to return on a monthly regular schedule! Sam asked me to make this post an introductory one, so here goes.

My name is Bettina, I’m 33 and from Germany. I live in Heidelberg, a university town south of Frankfurt, with my scientist husband, who is originally from the Basque Country. I always joke that we’re here because of him, not because of me, and it’s true – I would’ve happily stayed abroad after finishing university. As it turned out, I ended up earning my PhD in Political Science back in Germany, having spent the last two years of high school and most of my undergraduate years in the UK, plus a year in Spain.

While working towards my PhD, I realised I didn’t want to pursue a traditional academic career. Slowly but surely, I moved into research management. Three jobs later, I am Senior Project Coordinator at a European research funding and enabling organization in a field that has nothing to do with my own – the life sciences – and loving it.

Fitness has always been a part of my life, but not to the degree it is now. When I was in primary school, my mother got worried about my bad posture and put me in the local swimming club. With short interruptions, I’ve been swimming regularly ever since. It’s my meditation, my favourite way of clearing my head after a long day. I love doing laps in the pool. Lots of people find it boring, I find my zen in the back-and-forth.

I’ve tried lots of other sports, many of them water-related. I love surfing and kayaking, but since there are no large enough bodies of water close to home, these are currently not often on the sports menu (sigh). Being outside is always good, so hiking is another favourite. I’ve done lots of yoga, which nowadays happens mostly at home, right after getting up in the morning, with Youtube tutorials.

Fitness has taken on another dimension for me over the past year though: a year ago to the day, I was diagnosed with Auto-Immune Haemolytic Anemia (AIHA), a condition where your immune system breaks down your red blood cells. Many things can trigger AIHA; in my case it was probably the flu. It’s pretty serious but treatable, and I’m in remission now.

But while I was in treatment, exercise became a way of feeling like I had some control over what was happening to me, full of all sorts of medicine and shocked as I was by this experience that was entirely outside both my control and my comfort zone. Incidentally, exercise is also a pretty good barometer for a relapse, which can happen at any time (or not – there’s a large suspense factor with this condition): one of the first things to go is your stamina, which was also how I started noticing I was sick in the first place when I could no longer keep up with my swim mates.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve started running much more regularly in addition to swimming twice a week if I can. Having been a rather reluctant and irregular runner before, I’ve done a 10k and an 8k since last September. I’ve also taken up a new sport, bouldering, which is different from anything I’d ever done, and which I love for its community spirit (Lynette recently wrote about it here and here). And it’s so empowering when you’ve figured out a tough route!

Empowerment is also where fitness and feminism intersect for me. Both are, in a way, about feeling strong and being entitled to that, no matter who you are or what gender you identify as.

There’s still a lot to fight for in terms of feminist fitness. Athletes who are not straight males continue to be on the receiving end of everything ranging from condescending advice to discrimination and hatred. We’re overlooked, spoken over, not taken seriously, judged for our looks rather than our athletic achievements, objectified, and ridiculed.

Feminism in fitness, to me, is about considering how a feminist lens can change our thinking about fitness and what a “fit woman” looks like. It’s about what the needs of women practicing sports are and how they’re different from those of male athletes. It’s about what we can do to make women of all ages, shapes, and abilities feel welcome in the world of sports and encourage them to discover it.

Bettina, looking distinctly wet but happy, in hiking gear at the summit of Skiddaw in the Lake District, UK
Bettina, looking distinctly wet but happy, in hiking gear at the summit of Skiddaw in the Lake District, UK
aging · body image · fashion · fitness · swimming

Guess which body shaming phrase Sam doesn’t ever want to hear again?

As you are likely sick of hearing by now, I’m on a cruise ship in French Polynesia. We’re currently anchored just off Bora Bora. I think it’s trademarked as the most beautiful island in the world but it’s also the most developed and touristy of the places we’ve visited. It’s known as the honeymoon capital of Polynesia. That might be a reason to pick another island to visit if you’re not honeymooning though we weren’t inundated with honeymooners at our end of the island.

It’s a big deal for me, this holiday. I don’t usually do big vacations. I think this is the longest holiday of my life. It’s certainly the most luxurious. (Thanks best sister-in-law in the world, thanks again.)

One of the things I really like about this cruise ship experience is that it’s not just North Americans onboard. There are loads of Australians, Canadians, also a lot of Europeans. There are a lot of different languages being spoken over breakfast.

But that makes for some interesting cultural differences across a range of areas including bathing suit choices. Some of the older American women are wearing what look like cute beach dresses. I’ve written about these before when I considered buying one but decided not to in the end. I’ve stuck with my standard issue athletic bikini through the years.

Blue sky with some clouds, lush tropical forest and a beach. Also, Sam in a blue and black two piece bathing suit.

The Australians, older Australians anyway, are not so modest. Ditto the French and the Germans. There are much older men and women of all shapes and sizes wearing fairly minimal swimwear. String bikinis and speedos all round. Who cares right? Exactly. Personally, I think it’s great.

Now we could each all do our own thing without comment. You do you! Nice beach dress! Cute string bikini! That’s my preference. But no. There’s always one person who uses my most hated body shaming phrase, “we don’t need to see that.” See here for my last blog post about it!

Often the phrase is accompanied by further editorial comment meant to make it clear that it’s not that no one could ever wear such a bathing suit, you know, it would be okay if they were younger, thinner, more fit, whatever.

I’m not a person who argues with other people I don’t know on small boats. But I kept thinking of replies. My mother’s reply: Don’t like it, then don’t look. Simple. Or my own thought, I don’t think she’s dressing for you. Or how about just, that’s bullshit.

Now this year, this time, I don’t think they were talking about me and my bikini. I’m hoping I can maintain my “that’s bullshit” attitude when it is. Because I plan to keep wearing a bikini into my 60s, 70s, and beyond. See you at the beach!

fitness · holidays · swimming

Sam sings a new song about swimming

Sam floating happily in the south pacific ocean. 

Two things have been making me rethink my cool attitude towards swimming as a fitness activity.

First, and most obvious, is my knee. No more running for me ever. That’s it. I’m done. My life as a runner is over.

Second, more positively, I’m in the South Pacific, in French Polynesia to be more specific, and I’m loving the water. Yes, there’s beautiful fish and stingrays and sharks and dolphins. But even aside all the beautiful marine life I love the feeling of being in the ocean.

I love love love swimming in the warm ocean. I think I’d love swimming a lot more if I could do it outside. I’m basically an outdoors person and I associate swimming with pools. But the water here is warm and super clear.

So I should move to the South Pacific or try to learn to like the pool or learn to enjoy cold water swimming outdoors in Ontario summers?

Are you an outdoors person who loves swimming? What do you do?

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Sam, definitely relaxing and not swimming, floating on her back, basking in the warmth of the south pacific ocean,

 

cycling · holiday fitness · holidays · swimming

Sam bikes on an atoll, sees a shark, and stays active on a cruise ship, part 1

Three photos of Susan and me in the sun and wind

As Tracy blogged earlier today not all travel is alike when comes to fitness opportunities.

This week thanks to the world’s best sister in law I’m in the South Pacific on a cruise. Specifically we’re on this boat cruising around French Polynesia. We’re having a wonderful time.

Here’s the view from our balcony as I write this:

One of my goals for this holiday, since it’s long and it’s warm, is to stay active. I’m also itching to get moving now I’m no longer in constant knee pain. On day 1 that just meant carrying suitcases, flying 14 hours, and doing physio for my knee once we’re ensconced in our cabin.

Day 2 had us anchored off the atoll of Fakarava. What’s an atoll? Don’t worry. I had to look this up too. An atoll is “a ring-shaped reef, island, or chain of islands formed of coral.”

Fakarava is known to be one of the best diving destinations in the world. We weren’t there to dive though and we only had an afternoon to spend on the island. If you have more time here is a handy guide. It’s a fun read.

So what did we do instead? We rented bikes and biked along the paved road the runs along the windward side of the atoll. The bikes were basic cruiser style bikes with baskets. But that didn’t matter. The bikes fit the mood of the place.

We went out with the wind behind us and turned about after about 10 km.

Most people just stuck to the beach-y side of the island but the bikes allowed us to explore a bit more. The two sides of the island looked pretty different.

I was also very excited since this was my first time on a bike since before I knew about my knee injury. I stopped riding outside early this year. Needless to say, there was a very big smile on my face.

Image description: Bike rental shed though even rented from a competitor.

After our bike ride we went for a swim. The water was bright blue and 80 degrees. Just gorgeous.

Image description: Sam lying on her back in the blue Pacific ocean.

Oh, and after we were out of the water two Germans came running over to point out a shark swimming through the coral. My first shark sighting ever.

Today, we’re at sea so I’ll probably hit the boat’s fitness center.

Thanks Susan F for the beautiful photos!

equality · fitness · Martha's Musings · swimming · weight lifting

On making and taking space

Female figure alone in an infinity pool looks towards the ocean in the distance
Female figure alone in an infinity pool looks towards the ocean in the distance

By MarthaFitat55

I started swimming because I wanted to do something different that would complement my current fitness routine (weight training twice a week and trail walking once a week) along with walking and stairclimbing through the day.

I quickly found swimming served as a form of meditation. I like doing laps even though I am not an especially fast or strong swimmer. Since August, I have been going at least twice a week, and sometimes I have managed even three or four times.

In many respects, swimming is my reset button.

The last swim of 2017 was interesting. The pool’s fast lane had been taken over by a swim team, leaving the triathalon trainees no choice but to take over the leisure swim area. We all (athletes and leisure swimmers alike) ended up staggering our departures from the shallow end, although it quickly became apparent why I am a leisure swimmer and not a tri candidate.

My first clue came from the waves generated by so many swimmers in one place. I haven’t seen waves like that since the last time I went pond swimming close to 30 years ago. My second clue was realizing they were lapping me easily. They were like Energizer bunnies, one after the other after the other, cleaving the pool with their arms and legs pumping rapidly like pistons.

By the time I started my third lap, I was feeling more frazzled instead of my usually relaxed state. In fact, I rather felt like a cat whose owner was rubbing its fur the wrong way.

As I made my way through the waves, I thought about leaving the leisure side and going to the therapy pool. I was feeling overwhelmed by the volume and the quality of swimmers, and more than a little uncomfortable, but I stayed and completed my usual set of laps. It wasn’t my best time and I was not in my usual state of zen post swim, but I did it.

I stayed because I knew I had the same right to access as anyone else. I might have been the slowest person in the pool, and I definitely had the weakest form, but I had made a promise to myself to go swimming and I wanted to keep it. So I made space for myself, and like the wonderful Dory from Finding Nemo, I just kept swimming.

I didn’t always think this way. I was one of those people who would join a gym in January and slink away in February or March. As I mix up right and left on a regular basis, aerobics classes (later replaced by zumba) were usually mortifying experiences requiring multiple apologies to participants for bumping into them. As a result, I was pretty self conscious about anything I did in a gym where there were other people.

After four years of weight training, I have not only built muscles, I have also increased my confidence. Weight training is all about competing with yourself as opposed to others. It’s also about recognizing everyone has a place in the gym and you learn to accomodate and respect where people are.

While I may be slow in the pool, just as I am on the running trail, it is good to remember I am always steady and persistent. Rather than get stressed out by what others are doing, or trying to guess what they are thinking about me in that shared space, I know that what really matters is setting and meeting my own pace every time I hit the gym or the pool. It didn’t feel like it initially, but on reflection, it was a good way to kick off the new year.

 

— Martha is looking forward to 2018 and making good on her big goals.

 

aging · body image · fitness · Martha's Musings · meditation · swimming

Getting our fit on at all ages

Readers may remember I got back in the pool in late August. I’ve really been enjoying it. After three months, I’ve gotten to know the regulars and it’s been very interesting to see the range of ages and abilities.

There’s me of course, doggedly putting in my laps of the breast stroke and frog kick. I’m more about the meditative aspect of swimming than the speed but since my trainer and physiotherapist have seen the difference swimming makes to my mobility, I’ll keep on keeping on.

I haven’t seen the group since September but it is possible they are going at a different time. The group consisted of four or five women who hung out in the deep end chatting and doing their exercises. It got crowded from time to time but it was good to see friends work out together.

There are a couple of other women I see from times to time. One does laps like me; we nod politely as we pass. She likes to keep her head in the water whereas I don’t. I don’t see well without my glasses and filling my ears with water when I go under doesn’t help.

The other woman is probably 20 years older than I am and she is totally focused on her routine. Each day, she gathers her gear and arranges it at one end of the pool. She works through a series of strokes as she does her laps, some with her swimming tools and some without. She can go quite quickly and as I go through my laps, I sometimes think about how I can add speed to my swim.

But it doesn’t really matter how fast I go, or how slow, as the leisure/lane swim can accommodate my skill level just as it accommodated those of the other swimmers.

During the week, it’s adults in the pool in the early morning but on the weekend, there’s lots of small children, some taking lessons and some just getting comfortable in the water with their parents. I like the fact the kids will see all kinds of shapes, sizes, skills, and ages in the pool, especially women.

I’ve been thinking about taking lessons to vary my strokes so I can work different muscles and different parts of my body. For now though, it’s enough to show up. It is getting colder in the mornings and it’s not the brightest at 7 am but still we show up. We nod and smile; sometimes we chat idly about the weather. Almost always, we say “see you next time.” And we will, because we have found a place where we can get our fit on, without any judgement. If you want to just do it, our pool is the place to make that happen.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant who uses swimming to bring calm and powerlifting to build strength.