When I was little, I used to love swimming. I would go to swimming classes and spend hours at the beach. As I got older, I became more self-conscious. I did not even feel comfortable with my top off when I was alone, let alone being in public in a just a pair of shorts. Even though I have recovered from an eating disorder, I still found it intimidating to go to the pool or to the beach, swim and just have fun.
Over the years, I have challenged my fear of being at the beach or pool and I thought I would share some of the steps I have taken that have helped me reconnect with my early childhood passion for swimming.
I used to go with a friend who also experienced negative body image and we would go to the pool together. We found going just before work was helpful because there was very few people and no one would pay attention to anyone else because they were too busy doing laps or hydro therapy. We would do laps together, but we did not count how many laps we did, nor how fast we could go. Sometimes we would just wade in the pool and just talk. It really helped me to just take that baby step and get used to being in bathers in public.
One day, we decided to go when it was a very hot day after work. The pool was crowded and many people were laying in the sun. This was a challenge for me because I compared my body to others and I would believe everyone was judging me. I confided in my friend how I was feeling and she said that she was feeling the same. We decided to distract ourselves with conversation and went out for dinner afterwards as a positive thing to end the day.
Another time, we decided to go with a group of friends to a beach on the Great Ocean Road. It was harder because I was in a larger group of friends and was comparing my body to my friends. I was also having issues with bloating due to my IBS and was more conscious on my stomach. I made a pact to myself that I would sit with the discomfort of not having my t-shirt on, just sit, and chat with everyone. I eventually became more comfortable and thought less about my body. Being open about how I am feeling also helps because most of the time, others can relate to that experience.
Through these small steps, I have been able to gradually be more comfortable in the water and not listen to the voice in my head that says I should cover up and ‘everyone is judging you’. It is still a challenge, but I know it is worth it because I want to be able to just relax and have fun with my friends and not be afraid of the basic pleasures in life. I have been able to find the joy again in eating; I knew I could find the joy in swimming again.
Contributed by Stefan