Water Log

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!

. . .

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.

24 thoughts on “Water Log

  1. You keep challenging your fears like this, knocking them down one by one, you’re gonna run out of challenges! Then what’ll you do? Be bored to tears! ; ) What’s next — bungee jumping? (I had a friend say that the scariest thing about it was that they weighed you twice to make sure you weren’t lying — hee!) Congrats! And I know how you feel by proxy — my childhood friend/neighbor still can’t swim at age 42, b/c my dad’s idea of teaching her to swim when she was a kid was to toss her in the ocean… Parents…oy!

  2. I really admire you facing your fears. I think lots of people have a fear of the water- I’m still terrified of diving.

    My mum can;t swim,she has scars from operations for childhood abnormalities and hated/s Pe and swimming as was very self conscious. Kids can be cruel.

    She still can’t swim, but maybe I’ll teach her one day.
    My dad’s swim teaching method involved pushing me and my brother’s heads under the water! Not helpful. Aged 5 and 6 we screamed and were kicked out of the hotel pool by a lady who’s tiny baby was being disturbed by us- were were putting it off from its happy swimming!!

  3. You are such an inspiration – and the way you write it makes it that much better!

    thanks and good luck! you can do it!

  4. This is nothing like your experience, but in my mid (OK late) thirties, I started running after years of avoiding it. In high school, my grade 7 PE teacher, when I was 13, described me to my mother at a parent-teacher evening as ‘the kid who runs funny’. Not exactly encouragement. Well, when I did the Race for Life in less than 30 minutes, I felt like I had kicked his sorry ass from 3000 miles away. AND when I started following the career of Paula Radcliffe, the world-record-marathon runner, I discovered that she was ridiculed for her ‘funny’ running style, and yet she was a world-beater. That was another ‘Ha!’ to my old teacher. I’m nothing like a Paula Radcliffe in my own sporadic running life, but it just goes to show you that going your own way is often best, and the best thing you can learn is to put two fingers up to those who said you couldn’t or that you were doing it the wrong way. This of course does not include those really good teachers/coaches who help you improve and to avoid injury.

  5. Oh Jeez. I had the same fear about every school physical education thing except swimming! Running. Rounders. Hockey. Obstacle course. Dodgeball. EVERYTHING made me panic and want to hide in a bunker for the rest of my life.

    *hugs* it’s good that you’re facing all of those fears. I still feel the need to point out to my husband that it’s a big freaking deal that I go on hikes with him. He doesn’t quite get it though.

  6. Hey there – I loved this post as I am in the dilemma of “whether to go swimming or not”. Being in the last trimester of my fourth pregnancy in 8 years (and weighing in last week at a lovely 110kg), I am feeling the need to feel weightless. There is nothing like the feeling of being in a pool or deep swimming hole where the buoyance of your fat in water makes you feel like you should feel. All that extra weight floats off of you and you actually feel like a normal person.

    I need to conquer my fear – it was 1994 (12 years ago) that I last wore a pair of togs and got in a pool. I was about 76kg. My panic at the thought I even trying to find togs to fit me is huge. The fact that I am pregnant doesn’t make it easier as, when you are overweight, you can be in the last trimester and still not look like you are pregnant but more like you have had a few too many burgers over winter. I need to face this – I live 100m from a swimming pool, this is my best alternative for getting stress free exercise.

  7. i have to say how blessed i am to have no such shocking experiences. i really can’t imagine what it must be like to dislike yourself so very much and at such a young age.

    in all honesty even at my biggest i never really disliked myself, i didn’t feel as happy or healthy but i have never done the self loathing thing…

    somehow in my warped little mind i’ve always thought i was pretty good regardless of size.

    i often wonder why i’m able to muster such self confidence whilte others around me who have nothing to feel self conscious about struggle with the smallest things… it’s something i have often pondered and then i just think, well it’s because i’m so damn good looking!

    good luck with swimming Shauna. i have this preminition that in a few weeks time you’ll be regailing us all with your tales from swimming lessons and how well you’re doing!


  8. You rock – I so admire you for doing the swimming lessons. I loved swimming right up to high school but even then still went to the pool on weekends and after school, but I’ve never learnt to swim properly. I can’t stand putting my face in the water. I *should* learn but keep putting it off. Can’t wait to hear how your lessons go.

  9. Hey Shauna,

    I have heard of your blog for a very long time but not sure that i’ve visited before.

    I really wish i had visited earlier! I loved this entry, i can relate to so much of it… Pools were always my biggest fear, not to mention POOL PARTIES…. i shudder at the thought. I remember in year 9 at school saying i had my period for a whole month just so i didn’t have to swim… the things we do, hey!

    Anyway, it was great to meet you and i will be back!

    good luck with the lessons!

  10. WOW!!!!!! I haven’t been to visit for a while and now…. you have lost half your original weight!!!! Congratulations…. You go, go ,go girl… What a huge, gutsy effort…
    You should be in the New Years Honours list but it’s only drug addicts and gays and sex addicts that make the list… at least in the UK!!!!
    Hard boring work but you are just about where you want to be….. CRIKEY!!!
    STRUTH and all that…

  11. I just cant put my finger on exactly what it is, but reading this post hurts. I remember those kinds of feelings and I am so sad for the little girl indside who suffered so much.

    I am really glad to see you moving on and working through your fears. It is such a hard thing to do. After I read one of your earlier posts about buying a new swimsuit I forced myself to get out my old one and head to the pool. I loved it, and I plan to make it part of my weekly routine.

    Enjoy the swimming, you have denied yourself the pleasure for too long (as have many of us), I am sure you will love it.


  12. I loved swimming at school and we had a pool at my primary school so we swam daily in summer. I even went for the school holiday openings. I’m not a great swimmer but I love being in the water. It is embarrassing as an adult to take my size 20 swimsuit clad body into the pool but I had no inhibitions when I was a child.
    My horror at school PE was when it was time to do gymnastics! Hopeless doesn’t even cover it. Scared of heights, scared of flying through the air afer bouncing on one of those board things: this body does not fly through the air on it’s own!
    Good on you for doing the swiming lessons. There is no way in hell I’d sign up for a gymnastics class!

  13. Oh my! I haven’t had any real angst about swimming, but after reading this post I think I’ve developed some! That story of being on the dive board and the crisps is a NIGHTMARE. You are brave to face this head-on; I predict you will absolutely love swimming in a very short time.

  14. I think anybody would have had a fear of swimming if they’d had any of your past swim experiences. The nice thing about getting older is that you start not to care whether people look at your body anymore. Have fun with the swim lessons! A triathlon is in your future 🙂

  15. I loved your description of learning to dive, it so brought back childhood memories of swimming lessons with Mum and my swim coach who tied my feet together with a big rubber band so that I’d keep my feet together when I dived… after 4 years of swimming lessons and many many years later I still can’t dive, but I’ve perfected the art of bellyflopping so it doesn’t hurt ;P

    Good luck with your swimming lessons and if you start to feel self conscious I recommend a pair of tinted goggles, they make you feel like you’re in your own little world – or least those plus the fact I’m short-sighted and everything is slightly blurry helps me so I don’t get self conscious. Good luck! You’ll be the next Thorpedo in no time!

  16. Before the body-anxieties kicked in I loved diving. It was the best part of swimming. But I got put off it by an unfortunate incident when I was about 12; I’d just done a lovely dive and surfaced to realise that my swimsuit had come adrift from my shoulders and rolled itself down around my waist…

    Which is why racer-backs are such a good idea.

    I still really enjoy swimming, but don’t go as often as I should.

  17. I was fat, but it was my big boobs at 12 (lovely ‘DD’Cups) that kept me from anyone’s pool party. NO cool ‘tween’ suits come with a bra… I was doomed to wear a Plus size me-maw suits …. I couldn’t bear to go out in public without a knee length T-shirt…

    I love to swim now. Fat floats… I am working on losing it, but if you want to do that TRI thing, you have to swim; and the YMCA prefers that you wear a suit. (It also helps that I had a breast reduction 2 years ago — it was almost as good as getting thin; as far as confidence building goes…) GO FOR A GOOD SWIM!! ENJOY!! YOU’LL DO GREAT!

  18. Oh Shauna, you are the best! I had a good laugh – even if your story reminded me why I hatehatehate swimming. I am equally traumatized by mandatory swimming at school. My swimming teacher had a wooden stick with a “hanging knot” which he put around your neck, and you were supposed to swim across the pool while other kids were watching. I was so frozen that I never learnt to swim properly so they luckily never made me climb to diving board /shivers/ I am 31 yrs old and never got rid of my fear of pools – you are my hero!

  19. I really identify with you in this. I am a fat girl. I have always been a fat girl. I just bought a pair of size 24 jeans and I want to die. I always try to “eat healthy” but people sabotage me. If my mother notices me eating healthier, she’ll bake cakes and cookies and leave them where I see them.

    I too have some issues about being fat. For instance, I absolutely will not eat infront of someone unless I absolutely have to. I just think that people are going to think “oh my god, she’s so fat, why is she eating?”. I can’t manage to just eat a normal healthy diet because all I think is “Im trying to lose weight, why am I eating?”. I end up starving myself and binging 3 days later. I’ve been in therapy for two years and it’s not working.

    I hate the way I look in the mirror. All I see is stretch marks and cellulite. I hate the way guys look at me. I hate comments from friends and family about how if I lost weight, I would be so pretty. Why aren’t I pretty now? It makes me hate people.

    My worst memory was in grade 7. Gym class. We were having a race and I quit because I just couldn’t do it anymore. The teacher lectured me in front of the whole class. I wanted to cry.

    My mother criticizes me and my body asking “why are you eating THAT?” when she’s fatter than me. We get treats at work and I always refuse. I think my boss thinks I have an eating disorder and thinks Im vegitarian…I only eat green salad at work. Yet, when Im home alone I will order and eat a large pizza to drown my feelings in it. I really do not understand myself.

    Part of me is really scared about losing weight because I know if I ever get thin, guys will ask me out and I will always wonder why they didn’t ask me out when I was a fatty? Why do they deserve me now if they obviously wouldn’t want me when Im fat.

    Im sorry for the ranting but this is almost everything I have carried around inside of me for my 24 years and I felt like this was a safe place to let it all out.

    I really respect you for losing your weight. I don’t know how you do it.

  20. One bag of chips? Only ONE?!?!?! Dangnabit, girl! You shoulda held out for more than that. A whole box, at the very least. And some good chocolate, too!

    Yeah, I know. I so do know about this. Both of my parents grew up in Hawaii. Enough said. Both my siblings had no trouble with learning to swim in pools. (We were no where near the ocean where we grew up, so pools were it.) Me? I loved the water until age seven when mother decided I should take proper lessons from some Red Cross class. Which was okay with me, but that pool had more chlorine dumped into it every day the was strictly necessary. Dear gawd did it burn my baby blues! (Goggles? What were they?) So I avoided putting my head in the water whenever possible. None of the adults around were at all understanding. Mother told me how she was soooo ashamed of me. Somehow I’d brought devastating shame down on the whole family. (Right. Like anyone who knew us actually cared.)

    From then on what should have been a thing of joy became one more chore. One more thing I had to do for no other reason than i would otherwise cause my family to be ashamed of me.

    Dear Christ!

    I’m over it now. Have been for years. Got stubborn about it. Love the ocean. Decided that if people don’t like the way I look in bathers, then they should look elsewhere! But i still avoid pools. Chlorine still burns my eyes like anything and goggles don’t help all that much. And I’m pretty much self-taught swimming. I can float for hours on my back. Can’t tread water for nothing (I always go straight to the bottom.) Will be last in every race. But hey! Who cares?

  21. I never had any swimming angst at school, since I had the very plausible excuse to get out of swimming – I didn’t know how o_0

    My Mum then had to enrol me in swimming lessons and I got stuck in classes with all the little kids and felt very out of place, especially when it came to changing and stretch marks. Yeeeh!

  22. DG, I know it can be hard to overcome lingering traumas from years past, but just keep this in mind: you are not that girl anymore! Here is your opportunity to leave that girl behind and be the girl who is confident in the water and in a bathing suit. The power is within you.

  23. Good luck in the pool! I detest the pool slide in much the same manner you detest the diving board. It was my father urging me to slide down…no chips were involved, but if I do remember correctly, there was some blood. Congrats on WANTING to conquer your fear. That is more than half the battle.

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