The scales went down a couple of pounds this week. I’m back on track with food and exercise. Hurrah! But I won’t rejoice too much until I am back in the 70s. Bear with me!
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Before I crack on with these swimming lessons, I feel I must explain why I have such Big Issues with the wet stuff. I worry people may be thinking, What’s the big bloody deal? It’s a hole in the ground filled with water. Just get back in there!
So here is some context for my hysteria.
Swimming has always been the personification of Suffering and Humiliation. It’s all my fat girl fears and insecurities tied up in a neat little package. Just the merest whiff of lycra and decades of traumatic memories come flooding back!
It’s hard to avoid the water growing up in Australia. Kids + scorching summers = pools. My problems really began in primary school, where it seemed we did nothing but swim. We had swimming lessons every Monday during February and March, then every day for the last two school weeks of December. So I’d start building up my anxiety around October every year.
I can still remember the feeling of dread as the schoolbus headed for the pool, the smell of zinc cream making me nauseous. It’s not that I was afraid of the water – I loved the actual feeling of being in there. And it’s not that I couldn’t swim – I was extremely slow but I could stay afloat. I just had no confidence. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel hyper-aware of my body and not think that I was fat and hideous. Looking back at old photos, I don’t think I actually was particularly fat or hideous in primary school, but at the time the thought of wrapping my pudgy bod in a swimsuit was a nightmare. I felt so exposed.
My heart would race every minute of the lessons, wondering what they’d make us do next. I didn’t want to jump into the pool because I thought I’d make a bigger splash than my friends. I didn’t want to stand on the blocks because it felt like the eyes of everyone in the pool — even those 50 metres away in the shallow end, even those UNDERWATER — were zoomed in on my freakishness. I was pretty neurotic for a nine-year-old.
Because I was so wound up with fear and self-consciousness, I was a rubbish swimmer. I couldn’t dive for shit, for instance. I remember different teachers trying to teach me and I just couldn’t grasp the concept. I’d bellyflop every time. The worst teaching "method" was when I had to stand on the block and my teacher would wrap his hands around my ankles then sort of fling me in, forcing me into the correct hands-first feet-last position. It was mortifying. Over twenty years later I still can’t stand by the edge of a pool without feeling like there’s a big pair of hands clamped around my ankles.
And then there was the Character Building incident when I joined the local swimming club and had to be fished out of the water by the lifeguard in my freestyle race because I just couldn’t make it.
And then there was that time when my teacher made me jump off the big diving board. I didn’t wanna jump off the big diving board! It wasn’t coz I was scared of heights. Again, it was coz I didn’t want to elevate my fat body to where everyone would stare at me. And it wasn’t my imagination either. Because, when my teacher made me climb that ladder and I stood trembling at the edge of the board, everyone was staring at me. Particularly when I froze there for so long, staring down into the blue abyss, that the pool owner called out over the booming loudspeaker, C’mon Shauna, if you jump off your mum will buy you a packet of chips!
Cue raucous laughter from the crowd.
I distinctly remember glaring down at them and thinking, "Oh great. Now if I jump off everyone’s going to think I only did it FOR THE CHIPS, since I’m such a fatty boombah!"
In the end I jumped. I don’t remember if I got the chips, but I’ve never trod the boards since!
The worst part of that story that my swimming teacher just so happened to be MY MOTHER. She taught at my school at the time. I periodically remind her of this incident and the resulting emotional scars, but I have to say that over twenty years later I am finally letting go and can almost see why everyone else thinks it was so bloody funny.
By the time I got to high school, my hatred of swimming was cemented. I tried to avoid swimming carnivals and pool parties for the next six years, dreaming up all manner of elaborate excuses. I got brave one time after graduation when I was on holiday with my school mates. We were staying a hotel with a rooftop pool and spa. They spent a whole hour trying to persuade me to come for a dip, and I only relented because by that time the sun had set so I’d be less visible!
I remember my size 16 swimsuit, navy and white checks. It was at least two sizes too small, so tight that the squares were stretched and distorted across my enormous butt like chessboard roadkill. But I also remember almost crying from the pure bloody joy of being in the water after so many years. I’d missed that soothing coolness. I momentarily forgot about my fat and my Burning Hatred of Swimming and just relished the moment.
But after that came university, and three busy years of accumulating a size 26 physique.
Finally in 2001 when the Lard Busting began, I made a couple of attempts at returning to the water. The first time was hilarious because I realised I’d forgotten how to swim properly. I couldn’t remember how to do the breathing so I just splashed around for awhile, again surpised at how much I loved being in the water.
We went back a few weeks later, and I’m not sure I ever wrote about it as I was so embarrassed. The pool car park was extremely busy when we arrived. All these kiddies with floaties and noodles and kickboards were streaming out of cars. Tall sporty types with swimming caps strolled purposefully to the entrance. I completely freaked out and told my sister there was no way I going inside, not with this body in these size 24 old lady bathers. I got back in the car and bawled all the way home.
Since then there’s only been the Blue Lagoon and a brief dip at the hotel pool in Lisbon this year. But as I said recently, it’s high time to kiss these old hangups goodbye. I’ll be thirty next year, so it’s sad to still be clinging to the fears of a nine-year-old. I’ve had a good start by conquering my fears of running and cycling, but I know the biggest challenge is the pool.
Thank you if you made it this far! I just had to let it all out and have a good laugh at myself. Next entry I’ll let you how I got on with my first lesson.