I watched as my personality seemed to shrink in front of the mirror as I stood there, my eyes grey and bemused by my reflection. I slipped on my favourite SARA swimsuit, I loved how I felt in it, secure yet colourful. My eyes caught a glimpse of my inner upper thighs and I shuddered, how did I get this lazy? Once firm taught flesh had become chubby, soft and saggy, I felt far from sexy and tired of feeling so blah.
It was late in the afternoon and Steve and Aidan were playing outside, I could hearing him running about and giggling with our dogs Toby & Charlie. I tried to remember a time when I used to be that carefree, a time when I didn’t wear anything except knickers around the house and backyard. I think I was 8, maybe 10. We lived in the Northern Territory and it was always warm, even when it was cold. My sister and I would spend our afternoons running through the sprinkler or down at the pool. We were always outside, always active.
Embarrassed of my uncared for thighs, I slipped on my black swim dress from TS14+. I love it so much I have it in white too. The way the silky black fabric drapes and falls over my body. A smile creeps over my face, suddenly my drumstick thighs are far out of mind and all I can do is imagine that I’m sunning myself on the deck of a cruise ship, sporting an awesome top knot and looking fabulous. I’ve always been in awe of how fabric, simple threads and fibres, can alter the way I feel about myself.
I stride up to the doors of my YMCA, 2 minutes from my house. I’m confident, enthusiastic and scared shitless. I felt like a failure as I slunk up to the counter. “Hi, I’d like to renew my membership please.” I’d carried my expired membership card around with me for weeks and every time I looked at it shame washed all over me. She smiled, tapped away on the keyboard and I instantly found myself $70 poorer each month then I thanked her.
I sat by the pool, pretending to organise my belongings, fiddling with my hair tie and blushing as I removed my wedding rings for fear of losing them. There were so many people. Mum’s and Dad’s with the heads on the hands waiting for their tired little fish to finish their lessons, bigger kids blowing off steam and pissing off the life guards. Hunky men, mostly trademen, filing in and out of the gym, sweaty and grunting about protein shakes and rubbing their guns.
Their eyes were on me I could feel it, sizing me up, questioning my being here, a place of fitness and health, their church of vanity. I felt like the gluttonous sinner seeking restitution, salvation. I blinked the thought away, I removed my dress exposing my rubbery thighs. I folded the pretty black fabric neatly, taking my time for the dress that made me feel lovely, my armour. I slipped into the pool, ignoring the small ripple that spread across the water which to me felt like a wave.
I dunked my head under the cool, clear water and absorbed the silence. That was always one of the things I loved as a kid, it could be manic and crowded with people but as soon as I went underwater everything was quiet and tranquil. I used to pretend I was a mermaid. Moving my body like a dolphin, in control of every muscle of my body, making it sway and curve through the blue. Underwater I was eternal, ethereal and magical.
I spluttered to the surface, my lung capacity wasn’t as it used to be, I was off to a flying start. Ducking under the lane rope I move towards the slow swim lane, instantly regretting the fact that I didn’t own goggles or a swim cap. Promptly becoming excited about the prospect of more shopping and pinterest searching. I blinked the thoughts away and tried to focus and disconnect all at the same time.
Hands together, head down, I pushed my feet off the wall and felt the force of the water resist my frame, I used to glide so much further. I broke the water with the first proper breaststroke I’d done in years, I stroked the water again but it didn’t feel right, I was too high out of the water, I couldn’t tuck my chin under the way I used to, something was off. Then I remembered the last time I’d swam like this, with purpose, was before I had breasts. Suddenly I felt more like a life raft than a mermaid.
I’d made it one quarter into my first lap, the stupid feeling and awkward sensation swept over me and I had to stop. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, watching me struggle. I cleared my throat, adjusted my straps, put my head under and stroked the water again, I felt like I was in control and my lines were cleaner. Suddenly I got my old momentum back, the dolphin returned and I could feel myself using tummy muscles I thought no longer existed. I was euphoric. I pushed ahead.
I shared a lane with a man I didn’t know. We were both large, uncomfortable and keenly aware of the after-work-swim-stars striding along beside us. At one point we both finished a lap and had to catch our breath. He said “Hi, my arms feel like jelly, how are you doing?”. “Jellyfish swim better than me.” I said, trying to lighten the mood, both of us breathing heavily and barely dressed. He smiled and laughed and I felt calmer, less alone somehow.
He explained he’d been to his reunion a few months ago and all his mates were still fit, trim and played sports but his truck driving job was so fast paced yet so inactive that he forgot to look after himself. He hated what his lifestyle was doing to his family, pointing to three boys at the corner of the pool, all reflections of their father. “I want better for them, for myself.” I wanted to hug him but I was very aware that my wedding ring was in my wallet. He was strong, I wanted to be strong just like him.
He left and I pressed on feeling the cool water shimmer down my unshaven legs, it was ridiculous how much I could feel them. My breaths were becoming laboured and heavy, I was determined to reach my goal and go home with nothing less. The water began to look murky through my chlorine stained eyes but I was focused on the black line repeating over and over on the tiles at the bottom of the pool. I tried to freestyle but my armed caned, they shook and trembled and my shoulder ached.
I’d pushed myself and done ten laps, I knew I’d pay for it. My elbows resting on the edge of the pool, pride filling my chest, I rested my head in my heads as my blood pumped hard through my body. I felt electric and dead all at the same time. I lifted myself out of the pool and plodded over to the bench were my dress lay neatly folded. Suddenly I was no longer in a rush to put it on, I wanted the people to see how proud I was of what my body had done and how good I felt. I dried myself, slipped on my dress, out the door and went home to my boys, the ones who love me even without my armour.