I went to the gym today. I did Bodyvyve which is a like an old-school aerobics class. It’s very popular with the blue rinse set, but I don’t care. I like it because I can push myself extra hard instead of trying desperately to keep up. And maybe I like being the fittest in the class for once – who cares if everyone else is decades older than me?
The exercise studio overlooks the toddler pool in the aquatic centre downstairs, and sometimes before the class has started, I just stand and people watch. Mostly it’s mums with pre-schoolers. Lots of skin on display. And lots of post-baby bodies. It’s a combination not so often seen, certainly not in the media.
I have never liked wearing bathers. Well, at least since my early twenties. Prior to puberty and the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of the young adult, I had a skinny little body, but I never appreciated the absence of body fat because I was too busy lamenting the absence of boobs.
By the time I had kids, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d worn a swimsuit in the five years prior so taking Luca to the pool for the first time was very…confronting. I was pale as a cloud and kind of fluffy like one, too. I bought a tankini to cover my stomach and just hoped no-one would spot the cellulite on my bum. My breastfeeding tits were epic though, and I counted on them to divert attention away from the rest of me.
What I recall most about that first swim with Luca is that a/ he was so frightened he left claw marks in my shoulder and b/ I was so self-conscious the entire time that I didn’t enjoy the experience at all.
But looking down at the toddler pool today, I was surprised at the lack of self-consciousness. Or maybe we’ve all become experts at hiding our discomfort. Either way, there are women who didn’t take their kids to the pool today because they hate their bodies so much – that means every mum who did put bathers on today despite their body hang-ups should consider it a win. My kids beg to go swimming ALL THE TIME and I always promise it will happen soon. The elusive soon. That time when I don’t hate my body. And also, when it’s not a total shitfight to deal with three wet kids – because the pool is kind of annoying before body loathing even enters the equation.
So I’m looking at these bodies below, splashing with the tiny people they once grew inside of their bellies and it’s beautiful, y’know? It’s beautiful. There are women with wide, wide hips and wide bottoms to match. They swing their children up onto those wide hips, little arms hug around rounded bellies, and these are not the bodies we are sold in the magazines. These are real bodies. Soft and round but strong and capable. Some women have soft bellies but long, athletic legs. There are big boobs and small ones, flat bellies (how???), broad shoulders, narrow waists, flat bums and sticky-out ones, curves and angles, and it’s all gorgeous. I suppose there is cellulite, but I can’t see it from where I stand. And I’m not looking for it. I’m looking at mums (and some dads) playing with their kids, and everyone is smiling. Watching their little ones splash delightedly in the shallow water is enough distraction to make them forget, just for a minute, how disgusting they thought they looked as they put their bathers on at home.
Today I saw four pregnant women. Four! Pregnant bodies are the best. They were all different. Each of them was strong enough to carry a baby in their bellies and a kid in their arms.
But when I finish admiring the many and varied bodies of the women below, I turn towards the studio mirror and the admiration falls away. Every time. I can appreciate the softness and roundness of other women’s bodies, women sometimes far bigger than me, but I find it impossible to cast an eye over my own body with the same loving acceptance.
I think I should work on that.