Because of the glorious rain yesterday, I took a break from the bay today and swam in the pool. Instead of wracking my brain for something interesting to say about my pool swim, I thought I’d write about bodies.
One of the many things I love about swimming is the way it nurtures a comfort in and with my body. Swimming means baring all of my jiggly, stretched-out, pale, and hairy body parts in public. It involves lots of flesh and communal undressing. In your average crowd of recreational swimmers, a glorious diversity of body types abound and, in the midst of this, my insecurities about my own body melt away.
I thought about this a lot as I watched my kids cycle in and out of swim teams over the years, especially as they got older. The bodies standing poolside at high school swim meets reflect a wild diversity of athleticism and, sometimes, watching them makes my heart bust open. I find them all unspeakably brave—these kids at the peak of adolescent insecurity standing nearly naked next to their teammates, waiting to jump into the water and try their best. All of the blemishes and flaws carefully concealed the rest of the time now boldly on display: the skinny and flabby, the scarred and stretch-marked, the pimpled and acne-scarred, the hairy and hairless, the ones with wispy mustaches, with scars from cutting, with bruises and rashes. The kid who hasn’t hit puberty towered over by the one who looks like a man; the curvy and the sticklike.
Everyone is just there in their bodies, not hiding. I don’t know what secret thoughts accompany them as they stand on the side of the pool cheering on their teammates or quivering on the blocks ready to make that dive, but I hope that shame is far away. I hope that they are simply enjoying the experience of being in their bodies as much as it looks like they are.
For me anyway, this is a gift of swimming. My fifty-year-old body with its rolls and wrinkles, its aches and pains, feels at home here in the world of swimming; in the water, of course, that buoying elixir of life that supports the whole weight of me; but also in the company of other swimmers. As we stand changing together after our swims, buzzing with the rush of the swim, we aren’t thinking about what’s wrong with our bodies, only how good we feel. Experiencing these near-naked moments of camaraderie heals the body shame built into our society, infecting us with the idea that our bodies—these amazing vessels of life, pleasure, adventure, and sustenance, are somehow lacking or are too much.