The room is tranquil, humid. Its expanse exaggerates the tiniest of sounds, including the abrupt clack of the door I just opened. The absence of anyone else evokes a sense of foreboding and, oddly, freedom. Like most other days over the past few weeks, I remove my glasses and shoes, walk toward the pool’s edge and deliberately march down the steps into the water. It is cold and pungent. Instantly sobering. I begin the rhythmic process of laps.
Were you to ever before ask if I would consider swimming on a regular basis, I’d have heartily laughed.
Seven months ago, I stopped smoking so I could breathe easier and move (literally) toward a healthier, more active lifestyle. I’m still not smoking. And until recently, I was still not moving either. But a few weeks back, I stopped marinating in myriad excuses, got off my omnipresent ass and finally started moving.
The indoor, year-round pool is a five-minute drive from my house. This exercise is invigorating, easy on the knees and highly aerobic. The strokes are intentional, cyclical and delightfully solitary. It takes only days to rediscover my love of swimming. I am actively moving and happy. This is perfect!
Well, nearly perfect. Swimming comes with one large (pardon the pun) trade-off.
I have to wear a bathing suit. Prior to that, I had buy one.
The last time I shopped for a bathing suit was fifteen years ago when, in the process of struggling to try one on, I lost my balance and banged my head against the dressing-room wall so hard that I momentarily lost consciousness. When I awoke, three strange women were staring down at my half-in-a-bathing-suit-half-out body.
This time, I shopped a la Internet. But having purchased the suit, I now had to regularly wear it.
When you’re not small, bathing suits are cruel things. They are blunt instruments of emotional torture. Mere thoughts of bathing suits make me long for arctic winter mornings when I can camouflage myself in a bulky sweater and turtleneck. In a bathing suit, I am truly (as my company name reminds me) out there. Far more out than in, to be precise…
I needed to get past my self-imposed horror of being in a bathing suit. I needed to get past me.
Geneen Roth writes that, as women, we have an innate tendency to ‘leave’ our body. We don’t like what we see or how it makes us feel, so we avoid inhabiting our body by emotionally vacating it.
But to regularly don a bathing suit forces you to move back in to your body and fully inhabit it.
A bathing suit demands that you pay attention to your body. It requires that you acknowledge how you look in the suit, whether you like it or not. To succeed at this, you need to stop listening to that voice in your head, the one we all hear that so readily spews forth venomous self-judgments and criticisms. You are fat. You have no right to be in a bathing suit. Look at you: you’re embarrassing yourself by wearing this thing. You do not deserve this. Go home before you get laughed at. Run home!
Shut up, shut up, shut up! I am not listening anymore. Screw you! I am wearing a bathing suit. For now, I am giving myself permission to not look good in it. I am swimming: I am moving. I am honoring my promise to myself. This is all that matters. And in time, I will look better as a result. So shut the fuck up!
There is something joyously, deliciously liberating about listening – and not listening – to yourself.
And so I swim.