Every body is a swimmers body
It is a fact universally known that wild swimmers have no shame. Or at least that’s what I’ve seen in pictures and on social media!
This was one of the main worries I had about outdoor swimming. So many of the places that look beautiful to swim in are in the wild, and there will be no places to get changed. Not only that, but once I was changed I would have to be wearing a swimming costume in front of strangers and the general public. As someone who has struggled with body image since I was about nine years old, this was a terrifying idea to me.
I originally was on the look out for a wetsuit, especially as I wanted to go surfing as well at some point (something that is still on my to do list!). However after lots of looking around, and speaking to specialists, I was unable to find one in my size (I’m a size 18-20UK) as you should go for one a size bigger than you are, and I’ve got big boobs. I felt really disheartened by this and almost let it stop me. I had used a search engine to look for outside swimming groups near me and came across the Tynemouth Outdoor Swimmers page on Facebook. I had a look through their pictures and was very happy to see the wonderous variety of people in the group, in swimming costumes. I also came across the amazing Ella Foote (@ellachloeswims on Instagram) who is a champion of outdoor swimming (go follow her, she’s awesome).
So, channelling my inner swim champ, the week after my 36th birthday, I drove to Tynemouth Longsands, and very nervously said hello to the woolly hatted people staring out to sea. The Tynemouth Outdoor Swimmers, more commonly known as the TOSers (apparently giving outdoor swimming groups hilarious acronyms is a thing, who knew!) who immediately made me feel welcome.
The people that go wild swimming are so varied in looks and age, it's the ultimate inclusive activity. The second that I joined the group I looked around and no one was bothered about how old I was or how big I was, and talking to them afterwards nothing like that ever came up. I'm a fat girl and very unfit, so I was worried that they would take one look at me and say I shouldn't go in. However it was the total opposite. Everyone was very encouraging. I had considered just watching them go in to see what it was all about, but they almost frogmarched me down to the sea! “It's great, you'll love it”, “come and have some fun”, “come and join us!” their enthusiasm is contagious, and it really helps you overcome any body fears you may have.
I absolutely promise that you will eventually lose all inhibitions. It’s all part of the fun, and you’re so exhilarated by the swim that you don’t really pay attention to getting dressed surrounded by strangers, wind flapping your towel.
Getting changed after the swim is rather challenging! I would recommend getting a long towelling poncho to change under. It makes it so much easier. I didn’t have one to begin with and it was a real struggle getting my t-shirt on whilst trying to keep up a towel! My big belly was popping out of my high waisted bikini bottoms, my stretch marks and cellulite ridden thighs were on display to the world! I've flashed people a nipple here, a bum cheek there, probably some (a lot) side boob. Nobody cares what you look like. Really, they don't. The general public that see you are more concerned with the fact that you are going swimming in the scary cold sea, and the other swimmers are just excitedly chatting about the swim, and trying to get dry themselves.
I mentioned my thoughts on this to a fellow swimmer just last week while we were getting changed by the back of her car. “It’s funny how quickly you get used to being semi naked in front of strangers in car parks, isn’t it?” I said. She just laughed and said “Yes, I suppose it is. Would you like some coffee cake?”
Darn tooting I want some coffee cake.
Hints & tips:
1. Get a poncho (you can get cheap ones for £15, or fork out for special ‘proper’ one for £100)
2. Wear clothes that are easy to take off and put back on. I swear by leggings, vest top, t-shirt and jumper. Layers are your friend.
3. Every body is a swimming body. You ever seen a Sea lion? Or a Needle fish? Totally different, both amazing swimmers.
4. Have faith in humans. Wild swimmers don’t care what you look like, they just want to swim, and share the swim love with you.