M is taking swimming lessons. She takes them at the local rec center, which has a massive, shallow, heated pool for small children with a climbing structure, in addition to slides and a lap pool. Because it’s both heated and indoors, the whole place is basically like a sauna.
Every time I go, I sit and watch a group of women slosh around the pool, arms folded, faces serious, grimly attending to family fun at the pool. They’re trying very hard not to get wet. They are also fully dressed. One of them has swimwear that includes a turtleneck, long sleeves, and a skirt below her knees. Others are in long sleeved shirts and capris. They’re all thin, with nicely coiffed hair and makeup. Personally, I think it’s insane to wear those kind of clothes outside either, in 90 degree heat and humidity, but to each their own.
However, two of them crossed paths in front of me, and I overheard them talking. They made small talk, and the one in the turtleneck rolled her eyes and said, “God, I can’t bear to be seen in a swimsuit since I had kids. It’s so disgusting.”
“Oh,” replied the other, “I know.” She pinched the skin of her thigh through her long shorts and said, “I look like a whale.”
I had mixed feelings. I wanted to roll my eyes at two size 4 women, who I’d kill to look like, complaining about being whales. At the same time, I heard myself. It’s only been in the past summer that I’ve worn shorts, because I didn’t want anyone to see my legs, because they were fat. I endured many hot summers in long pants, sweltering along because I was too worried about what other people thought. Finally, once I moved further north into unbearable heat and humidity, I said to hell with it and put on shorts. As far as I can tell, no one has gone blind from it. It’s sad, though, how many people endure discomfort because they feel so self-conscious. I still do. I wince when I put on shorts or tank tops, but I decided I’d do it, because I need to teach myself not to care. Maybe someday I could even work up to having my picture taken in them.
I did see something else at the pool, though. A gaggle of small children was going down the slide. Laughing, they climbed to the top again and waved someone up. Shortly after, a very large woman appeared. This lady was wearing only a swimsuit, revealing cellulite, varicose veins, wrinkles and all. She had a huge smile that made her eyes crinkle up. She sat down on the slide, the children piled on top, and down they went together, making a huge splash. She hugged them, laughing louder than anyone. Jumping up, she chased them around the pool, sloshing past four frowning, grim women in long sleeved shirts. She was beautiful.