63. Swimming Toward Confidence

63. Swimming Toward Confidence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Swimming Toward Confidence

To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini — put it on and stay strong.

~Jennifer Love Hewitt

“Good for you,” said the lean, middle-aged woman in the two-piece swimsuit as I walked by. “I see you out here swimming laps practically every day.” I smiled politely and thanked her, then quickly made my way to the changing room.

It was mid-August and she was probably the fifth or sixth person that summer to make this type of comment to me. I was one of a handful of people who went to the lake almost every day to swim laps and I’d never heard anyone compliment the other swimmers on their dedication. If I had to guess, I would say that if I had weighed 120 pounds no one would have commented. But as someone who weighed more than twice that, I’m sure I stood out.

More than likely these people were well meaning, but whenever someone would say “Good for you” or “Way to go” I would hear: “Wow . . . you’re pretty active for a ‘fat’ girl!”

A few summers before, these types of comments would have bothered me a lot more. Actually, a few summers before I wouldn’t even have considered swimming at that lake.

Not that I wouldn’t have loved to. Ever since I was old enough to walk, the water was my favorite place. When I was young and my parents would take me to the lake, I got annoyed when other kids wanted me to play in the sand or on the playground. We had this huge body of water to play in. Why would we want to be on the shore?

At that age, I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen in a swimsuit. I was a chubby kid, but there were other chubby kids. It didn’t seem to matter.

As a teen I was more self-conscious. I would still enjoy a swim, but I was quick to reach for a cover-up or a towel to wrap around myself as soon as I emerged from the water.

Even in regular clothes, I sometimes felt self-conscious—like everyone was looking at how big I was and silently judging me.

By the time I reached adulthood, being seen in public in a swimsuit was out of the question. Even in regular clothes, I sometimes felt self-conscious — like everyone was looking at how big I was and silently judging me. They may not have been, but perception is reality. Wearing a swimsuit in public would leave me way too exposed.

It was a little easier when I was around people I trusted. My friend, Dirk, had a pool in his back yard and he could occasionally convince me to stop over and take a dip. One hot summer day, when I was thrilled at the thought of spending some time in the water, my heart sank as I pulled into Dirk’s driveway. His sweet but stunningly gorgeous (and thin) sister, Casey, was there.

“Hurry up and get changed, Em,” Dirk called out. “We’re ready to get in the pool.”

“You guys go ahead. I’m not really feeling it today,” I said.

Dirk, always the straight shooter, rolled his eyes and looked at his sister.

“She doesn’t want to be in front of you in her swimsuit,” he told her.

“Are you serious?” Casey said as she walked over to me. “That is stupid. Get changed and let’s go.”

I reluctantly did as she said. I wasn’t comfortable with it, but it was a blazing hot day and I hated to miss out. As we splashed around in the cool water that afternoon, it hit me — I was constantly missing out. For years I had been avoiding one of my favorite activities because I was afraid of the way other people would look at me.

A few weeks later I worked up the nerve to go to the lake. I stood on the shore and took a deep breath before pulling off my clothes and darting into the water as quickly as I could. I felt a little strange and on display just bobbing around in the water so I headed to the area roped off for lap swimmers.

The muscles in my arms and shoulders ached that evening, but it was a good kind of pain. I went back a few days later and before I knew it, I was swimming almost daily.

Not only was I thrilled to be back in the water again, but I loved the way the exercise made me feel.

I may never be 120 pounds, but I’m mostly okay with that. To say I never feel self-conscious would be a lie, but learning all of the things my body can do, I find I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin.

A couple of months after my brief conversation with the woman at the lake, I switched to swimming in the indoor pool at the local YMCA.

“Wow, you’ve been at it for almost an hour,” said the man in the next lane. “You are really an inspiration.”

“Thanks,” I said with more confidence than I ever would have had years ago. “You seem to be working really hard, too. Great job.”

~Emily Canning-Dean

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