Swimsuits – The Ultimate Indicator of Body Satisfaction?

This morning when I was having a peek at the news online, I noticed amongst the ‘recommended reading’ an image of a woman in a swimsuit with the caption ‘I’ve never been happier with my body.’ I was reminded of a recent statement I made to my partner – that if ever I was to do a TEDtalk, I’d do it in a swimsuit, because that seems to be the ultimate indicator to society that I am satisfied with my body. Clearly this statement is also an indicator of how likely I am to be selected to do a TEDtalk.

But it obviously had me thinking – since when did wearing a swimsuit mean something other than the simple fact that you were going for a swim?

When I hit the pool for the first time post-baby, this feeling of obligation hit me during my laps (I was running, I had a lot of thinking time) that I should, at the conclusion of my session, make a triumphant post about not being self-conscious in my swimmers with my post-baby body. I am a ‘body positive’ advocate after all. I then spent the remainder of the what felt like 70,000 laps analysing why I felt this obligation, because truth being told, I didn’t actually care about being in swimmers. Every answer I could come up with kept going back to the same source – society and the media.

You see it every week, someone on the front cover of Woman’s Day or New Idea decked out in a swimsuit celebrating some form of weight transformation with the caption “I’ve lost __ kg and I’ve never been happier” or the like. Proceed to the article and you may have a couple more swimsuit images with captions like ‘(pretend) Mandy says she isn’t ashamed of her body anymore and is happy to flaunt her new beach bod!’  Tip of the cap to you Mandy!

Then there are the ‘nailed it’ attempts at body positivity. Over recent years we have begun to celebrate women who are ‘brave’ enough to wear a swimsuit or bikini at the beach or swimming pool. I’ll say that one again for dramatic effect: Over recent years we have begun to celebrate women who are ‘brave’ enough to wear a swimsuit or bikini at the beach or swimming pool. Images of women in bikinis saying ‘this is how my body looks in swimwear and I don’t care’ are being headlined in the press as “How Refreshing is This?” Well of course it is – she’s going for a swim, which in itself is very refreshing.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not trivialising the anxiety many people experience when it comes to swimwear. In fact, I truly understand it – I have lived it. I am simply asking the question: did we as individuals decide that wearing a swimsuit in public is the ultimate indicator of our body satisfaction, or did someone else decide this for us? Also, what does it say of us who don’t feel anything whilst wearing them?

Nicole Spears Photography
What does my swimsuit apathy say about my body satisfaction? Image by Nicole Spears Photography

Lets look back at my dilemma – why don’t I feel anything or care when I’m wearing swimmers? Do I suffer swimwear and hence body image apathy? Should I care? Why wasn’t I standing at the end of the pool in  body satisfaction triumph?

The truth was that I forgot to care. If I am in swimmers it means one of two extremes: I’m either about to have a fun, relaxing dip, or I’m about to have my rear-end handed to me by whatever swim set my coach has given me. I’m not thinking of whether I feel good or not because I’m too busy sizing up everyone else’s swim speeds in the other lanes. Then I’m busy reminding myself that I’m there to train and not race every other person in the pool. The way I see it, if someone has the time to look at me and think ‘she shouldn’t be wearing those’, then they’re not training hard enough and should get cracking.

It wasn’t always like that, let me tell you. As a teenager I was the ultimate self-conscious larger girl who, if I could find swimmers in my size, certainly wouldn’t be seen dead in them. In fact, I even recall pretending I couldn’t swim just so I didn’t have to do the mandatory 50m competency swim in Year 7. I then developed into the person who would dangle their legs in the pool, fully clothed, saying I wasn’t really hot on a 45 degree (celsius) day just so I didn’t have to actually strip down, get in and potentially enjoy myself. I wore big t-shirts a lot. I cringe at the amount of drag I tolerated in water for all those years just because I was worried about the opinions of other people.

So is my swimsuit apathy in fact the epitome of my now-found body satisfaction? I suppose maybe it could be. But the way I see it, I don’t consider myself ‘brave’ or even ‘body positive’ by wearing swimmers – I consider myself as someone who is simply going for a swim.

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