Swimming is like puppies and popsicles.
It’s one of those things that EVERYONE seems to love because who the heck wouldn’t love swimming and puppies and popsicles?
Except for, well, me.
You see, popsicles are just too cold. They’re also, need I mention it, not ice cream, okay?
And puppies are not kittens.
And swimming. Oh gosh, swimming.
Swimming is being thrown into the murky, green pond in my backyard when I was eight years old by my well-meaning father who was of the Sink or Swim School of Aquatics. I, unfortunately, was a straight A student at the Academy for Dead Weights.
Swimming is being that weird girl at my friend’s neighborhood pool who refused to go in the water until my friend spent one week forcing me to learn how to swim and I spent one week crying.
Swimming is reading articles in YM Magazine when I was fourteen years old telling me what swimsuit I should wear to cover up my “problem areas.” And wondering if all my areas were “problem areas.”
Swimming is my slowly and splutteringly breast-stroking my way down the length of the high school pool much to the chagrin of my classmates who were forced to be on my swim relay team in gym class.
Swimming is a lobster-red sunburn at the beach during my first and only trip to Florida. For months afterward every time I took a hot shower, the outline of the sunburn would appear on my back like The Ghost of Bad Decisions and Not Enough SPF.
Swimming is years of regularly “forgetting” to pack a swimsuit because I’d much rather just sit in a beach chair and read some cheesy magazines than be forced to expose my thighs in public.
Swimming is all of my fears (deep water! jelly fish! riptides! sunburn! lycra! sand in ALL THE PLACES!) and my insecurities (exposed thighs! spluttering!) tied up in a drippy, wet bikini. And not even one of those full-coverage tankinis with the detachable thigh-skirt thingie.
While I’ve gotten over some of my fear of public-leg-exposure, my fear of deep water still runs, well, deep.
When I do go to the beach, I’ll wade into the water until I’m chest-high. While my friends gracefully float on their backs or dive under the water, I stand up straight. My feet on the ground. My toes digging into the sand.
They are mermaids. I am an anchor.
Then last week, I went with my friend, Jessie, to her family’s lake house. My friend loves swimming so much she does it regularly for fun and not just because it’s something that other people are doing.
I knew I could not get away with the whole “forgetting” my swimsuit trick with her. Knowing her, she’d find a swimsuit for me to wear and physically force me into it.
But I was hoping I could get away with going swimming once or twice and then spending the rest of the week hanging out on the pontoon boat drinking adult beverages and eating salty snacks while reading cheesy magazines and watching other people swim.
But then I was introduced to pool noodles and EVERYTHING changed.
I literally spent every single afternoon last week hanging out in the deep end of the lake working on my pool noodle game. And you have to admit, I was KILLING it.
And, the weird thing is, I didn’t once feel scared or insecure like I usually do when I’m in deep water. Maybe it was the pool noodles. Or maybe it was because I was surrounded by people who I knew could save me if something went wrong. People who, I also knew, could care less about the size of my thighs.
There were moments when I would marvel at how my body felt floating in the water. This body which had always felt heavy, ponderous, and “problematic,” was suddenly so light. I’d push my legs down into the water, and they’d bounce back up to the surface as if made of air.
After years spent covering my thighs and keeping my feet firmly planted in the sand, there is liberation in letting go — letting your feet float up, your bare legs face the sky and your toes point at the sun.
I am still not a mermaid. But I am no longer an anchor.
Maybe I am a lily pad — light and floating on the water’s surface.
What’s your relationship with swimming? Love it? Hate it? Just want to sit on the beach and read cheesy magazines and eat salty snacks, already?