The Pressure to be Thin: Competitive Swimming

From around ages 6 to 15, I was a competitive swimmer. I did enjoy swimming a lot when I was younger. I had close friends and made wonderful memories at the swim club I belonged to. I was by no means a great swimmer compared to teammates who went on to do swimming in college, with some even moving onto competing in Olympic trials.  However, I enjoyed it and I did alright in my best stroke — freestyle.

My love for the sport started shifting when it became my life. I think I could have continued it, even with how amped up the competitiveness of the sport became as I got older, if I hadn’t experienced the competitiveness of thinness among my teammates.

It seemed that when all the female swimmers became teenagers, there was this additional pressure to look thin. Or fit. Or thin and fit.

One of these pressures was the unspoken, but widely known “wear your sweatpants below where they naturally should lie on your waist”.

It looks like this:

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What reminded me of this specific pressure was after I took a shower today. After I dried off and was putting on clothes, the sensation of just putting on my sweatpants triggered this memory of how I would try to pull off this infamous “swimmer look” and stare at myself in the mirror for hours before swim meets and swim practice, debating whether or not I should walk in with my sweatpants below my natural waistline because “all the other girls are doing it, so I should too”.

As a teenager, I began picking apart every “flaw” I saw in the mirror because I was constantly bullied for being fat (most likely because I wasn’t naturally stick thin like every other girl in my grade). I didn’t completely see a problem with my body until boys in my class started pointing out how “fat” I was, when in reality, I carried a little extra weight. I am fat now, of course. For context though, my younger self wasn’t this incredibly fat kid that bullies made me think I was.

In both my activism and eating disorder recovery, I’ve grown to learn that fat isn’t bad. Fat doesn’t make anyone unworthy and fat shouldn’t make anyone a target.

Looking back, I wish my younger self didn’t feel like she had to look a certain way or wear her clothes a certain way to fit in.

I now despise “the look” that the girls in my swim club adopted as we grew up. While there is no problem with teens wearing whatever attire they want to, there was absolutely no need to purposely wear our sweatpants so low above our high-cut swimsuits. It was unnecessary. It was uncomfortable. It was really just a way to show off our hip bones — to declare our thinness, and therefore, our worthiness and attractiveness.

It frustrates me to look back on these memories because some of my happiest memories were tainted by the external pressure to be skinny. Restricting my food intake, over-exercising and purging were my solutions to the pressure, the bullying, and feeling like I had no sense of control in my life.

While one or two triggering events didn’t cause my eating disorder, these things certainly contributed to me developing a negative body image, which then sent me on an 8 year journey of battling myself.

We absolutely need to take pressures like this seriously. We absolutely need to take bullying seriously. The combined intentional and unintentional pressure to be thin didn’t make me sick; however, it was just another aspect that went on to create the perfect storm of self-destruction for me.


Younger Lexie,

I am so sorry I hurt you. I am so sorry other people hurt you. You are a bright girl with a fun and silly personality.

Even when you are shy, even when you allow people to walk all over you, even when you take all the pain out on yourself, you are resilient.

You survived so many years. One day you will thrive. One day you will unapologetically shine.

Thank you, mini me, for pushing through the hurt and trauma. Thank you for hanging in there.

Love always in all ways,

Your future self

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