My world was growing smaller as my fear of being body shamed grew larger.
I’m fat, and I wear a swimsuit… in public… all the time.
This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but for me, it’s huge!
My swimsuit phobia started in middle school — that breeding ground of body shame and fear.
One minute, I’m a kid excitedly putting on my pink two-piece and running into the ocean; the next, I’m avoiding any place where people are known to live in their swimsuits and I might be forced to wear one.
On my first day of swim class in 8th grade, I changed as quickly as I could into the ugly, school-issued black one-piece, sprinted through the locker room, and immediately jumped into the pool. I figured if I was fast enough, there wouldn’t be time for anyone to actually notice me.
The thing is, nobody looked good in that suit. The thickness of the fabric emphasized everything you could possibly feel self-conscious about as a pre-teen. If you had any kind of stomach, fleshy thighs, or developing breasts, the suit would highlight and magnify them.
I don’t know if it was specifically the swimsuit or puberty, because when I looked in the mirror I saw myself as fat, even though I wasn’t yet.
I managed to survive Swimming 101, but afterward, all swimsuits and bodies of water were my enemies. I promised myself that I’d never go through the humiliation of being out in public in a bathing suit again. My world was growing smaller as my fear of being body shamed grew larger.
There were incidents where kids were mean — but I was a bigger bully to myself than anyone else could ever be.
Throughout middle school, high school, and college, I declined every pool party, water slide park excursion, and trek from San Jose (where I lived) to Santa Cruz (the closest beach). If there was water involved, I wanted no part of it.
After I moved to Los Angeles as an adult, I never went to the beach, fearing that some kind of weight patrol would arrest me if I dared touch the sand with a sandaled foot and a fleshy body.
When my boyfriend won a free trip to Hawaii, I refused to go.
Luckily, he wouldn’t take no for an answer (besides who in their right mind turns down a free trip to anywhere?) and I was forced to confront my swimsuit phobia head-on.
I bought an aqua-blue swim dress, which is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of a bathing suit and dress. There was a lot more coverage than a bikini, but when I put it on, I felt naked.
You can’t go to Hawaii and not go to the beach. So for the first time in my adult life, I went out in a bathing suit.
I wore a sheer cover-up until I got to the water, then I threw it off and took the plunge into the Pacific Ocean.
I was surprised at how right it felt to be in the warm tropical water and the feeling of well-being continued when I lounging on the sand.
The next victory in the swimsuit wars came about in a way unusual way — I wore one on stage.
I had been doing comedy and improv in Los Angeles for years, and found that I could express many of my fears and challenges through humor.
What better way to make the next step to conquering my aversion to being seen in a swimsuit than to be in one, playing a character in front of an audience?
Trina, my comic creation, was a foul-mouthed, solo synchronized swimmer. In the piece, I walked up on stage in a bathrobe, cursing out everyone in sight, dropped the robe, and proceeded to do a number of warm-ups, including jumping jacks on the stage.
I wasn’t just wearing a swimsuit — I was moving in one. There was nowhere to look except at me, and the audience loved it.
I was starting to feel better about my swimsuit issues.
But there was more work to be done, as I wasn’t at total bathing suit acceptance. When I was a teenager, I injured my knees while jogging, and as I’ve aged, my knees have gotten weaker, and it hurts when I do certain activities like yoga or walking.
I knew I needed to step up my exercise, so I joined a gym specifically to do water exercise.
A year before I joined the gym, a friend had randomly sent me some swimsuits and most surprising, they had all fit. From my gifted suits, I choose a two-piece with boy shorts and a geometric top.
When I put this suit on, I didn’t feel horrible, I felt cute and kind of sporty — a very new feeling for me.
Once again, I had to make the walk through a locker room, out to the pool; only this time, I didn’t rush — I took my time. You could even say I sauntered.
I’ve been going to the pool for over a year, at least three hours a week. I discovered that I’m really good at water aerobics. I’m a beast with moves such as cross country (where you switch your legs back and forth, jumping in between) and rocking horse (one leg in front rocking back and forth). I jump higher than everybody, and when we cool down by doing leg circles at the wall, I imagine I’m a ballet dancer with amazing leg extensions.
My body can do things in the water! I wasn’t sure it could ever do again, athletic activities that take endurance, skill, and strength.
When I put on a swimsuit now, I feel empowered and excited because I know that I’m going to have fun and challenge my body to do new things. My fleshy arms help me to do push-ups against the side of the pool and my strong thighs help me to do 100 frog jumps in a row.
In order to celebrate my body and my bathing suit acceptance, I bought myself a black two-piece swimsuit with fringe. I feel sexy in it.
I won’t wear it in my Aquamotion class, but the next time I have a beach holiday, you can bet I’ll be wearing it with pride.