Thursday, October 1, 2015

Swim Social Blog: "You're so brave to be pictured in a swimsuit"

Blog by Anne Kane: I was out with some friends last week and one of them commented that it is brave of me to be writing articles for Scottish Swimming where I need to be pictured in a swimsuit.  I was about to respond when I noticed another one of my friends nodding.  We talked about it and it turns out my friend hasn’t gone swimming in years because she hates the way she looks in a swimsuit.  

She’s not alone. Last year a government survey found that 37% of women have problems with body image.  The stats are pretty consistent across all age groups apart from women in their 50s - 71% of them are happy with the way they look.   I’m less self-conscious now than I was as a teenager - but the stats show a 45 year old women is just as likely as her 18 year old daughter to be concerned about the way she looks.  

It’s not just recreational swimmers that feel this pressure - double Olympic Gold medalist Rebecca Adlington broke down in tears on national television in 2013 saying she felt very insecure given the pressure to conform to a certain look and body type.

I did my own little unofficial survey when I took my kids to swimming lessons in Stirling recently - I was interested to find out why so many women were choosing not to swim but to sit and read a book or a magazine in the viewing gallery. At the risk of oversimplifying, they can be split into the following categories:   

1.Women who simply wanted thirty minutes of time to zone out and chill

2. Women who would rather swim in their own time rather than have the hassle of getting their kids and themselves dressed at the end of the lesson

3. Women who felt being seen in a swimsuit was something to avoid.  

The latter ones were worried about being judged and being recognised.  Some of them said they struggled to find suitable swim wear - something that covered the areas they had concerns about.  I spoke to shy women and to confident women - there was no way to predict who was going to express body image doubts.    

There was another sub-section - women who had concerns about their body image but felt they didn’t have the time to take care of themselves.  In an ironically vicious circle they wanted to exercise more to try and sort out their body image concerns, but wouldn’t commit to exercise because of their body image concerns.

Perhaps a way out of this can be found in a stat I mentioned earlier.  Women in their 50s are the most comfortable with the way the look.  Maybe this is due to a mix of having more time and money to spend on themselves as their family grow up and maybe it is down to less perceived pressures from society while their bodies are still functioning well. Perhaps we can all learn something from from this age group.

If women realised they are not alone and other women feel the same as them, they'd realise no one is judging the way they look, but mainly worrying about their own appearance.

If you feel people are looking at you, they’re probably thinking well done for making the effort.  If you’re recognised at the pool, it’s maybe not a bad thing.  So your friend has seen you - maybe it will encourage them to put on a swimsuit and join you. After all swimming is not only a great way of keeping fit, it’s a great social activity as well.

(check out the government report below): 

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