Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Swimming against hope

I swim every day. I take a deep breath, strip down to my old-lady, skirted bathing suit, and dart straight into the water. I spent a year hesitating to take off my clothes to go swimming. I finally decided if the world didn't like seeing me half naked, it could turn away. Then I realized the only one who had a problem with my body in a bathing suit was ME.

So I swim anyway.
I almost drowned as a child. Like so many others my age, I watched my parents inaugurate the Me Generation by focusing completely on themselves. One hot summer afternoon, my mom and dad took their three kids - ages four, five, and six - to a backyard pool party - and then promptly started drinking. No one was watching when my sister and I crept into the pool. We were fine at first; the water was only three-feet deep. We bobbed along - and then in an instant, descended into the deep. Drowning, I stood on my sister's shoulders and desperately thrusted my hand out of the water, holding up one finger, then two, and then three - for all I knew about drowning I'd learned from Bugs Bunny. An eternity later, my father dove in and dragged us out. I've been scared of the water ever since.

But I swim anyway.

Every single day, I swim laps for 30 minutes. Well, that's an overstatement because I really can't swim worth a damn. I dog paddle back and forth across the pool, first on my belly, then on my back, walking, swirling, floating. In my dictionary, any movement underwater is considered swimming. Meanwhile, healthy twentysomethings hurl their tan, supple bodies head first into crystal blue water and move effortlessly from one end of the pool and back again. I sputter by, moving against their tide. I used to be young, but in an instant, became the older lady in the bathing suit swimming against hope.

I swim anyway.

Oh, to be young! To be lovely and fresh and completely without pain. To be burnished gold but as yet undamaged by relentless sun and time. To be visible in a world that honors only youth and beauty. I am invisible. Aren't all women of a certain age? No one ever notices the countless older, graying ladies at the bank, the grocery store, the pool.

But all is not lost. Maturity rewards. We do what we need to do, regardless of age, pain, size, or fear. Deep, murky childhood wounds heal over into jagged pink scars that sometimes ache - but no longer always. We know who we are and we find each other; invisible women congregate to listen, share, strengthen, support - and knit.

And every single day, no matter what, we swim anyway.


  1. Yes, we swim against the tide. Thank goodness for the other older women who have finally gotten past the age of vanity and can be themselves, our friends and supporters. Being past the age of competition in the physical attractiveness department is in it's own way a kind of freedom, one of the rewards (and there aren't many) of growing older and becoming invisible.
    I've been practicing all my life to become an eccentric old woman, and darn it, it's not that bad!
    Bless you, Julie, and keep on swimming!

  2. Oh Julie, so many "good for you!"s gathered into this. Good for you for choosing to do what you want/need to do regardless of your fears (fear of drowning, fear of public dissaproval). Good for you for getting through the dislike of your body in a swimsuit ( a common thread even in the slimmer woman). Good for you for seeing how maturity gives you someting that all the youth in the world can't. Good for you for knowing that you can always learn something new (swimming). And good for you for doing such a healthy thing for your body... swimming is pefect for us larger women as it's so much kinder to the knees and joints than other excercises.
    I am the same with my dislike of going out in public in a revealing suit, but I love to swim. I learned as a tiny child, and was even on the swim team in High School. I need to borrow your courage and go back into the pool.

  3. Good for you! For conquering all your fears. I agree with you. If people don't like the way I look, they can turn away. As long as I don't wind up in a WalMart people joke, I'm ok.

    My mom made sure we had swimming lessons as a kid. She had a scary initiation to swimming, too. She was wrapped up in a blanket at a teen part and thrown in the lake. Obviously, she survived, but she said it took her a long time to go back in the water.

  4. How courageous are you, to fight the fear. That's a lovely piece of writing. We may be invisible to those younger than us but we all notice each other which is wonderful.

  5. Beautiful piece, Julie. True in so many ways. You think of me next time you swim and if I ever get there, I will definitely think of you.

  6. I feel free from the constraints of caring what other people thought about how I look or what I wear. It's up to me and if they don't like it, they can go elsewhere :-)

    Good for you on conquering those childhood fears and swimming towards the sun. It's great exercise, whether it's stylish or not and I always feel better after a swim.


  7. YOU GO GIRL!!!

    Wow, Julie, you brought tears to my eyes. I think us women who are not "perfect" in mainstream's society's viewpoint start to feel invisible. We start naturally comparing ourselves to the nubile 25 year old woman with not a care in the world. We need to start embracing our beauty and power because we do matter and that's why we keep swimming.

    Again I say, YOU GO GIRL!!! I'm so proud of you.

    Chris (chrisg26 on ravelry)

  8. My mom is 80 years old and swims six days a week at the local Y. She is amazing---she is healthier than I am and takes no medication for anything. Keep it up---thirty or forty years from now, you'll really be glad you did.

    Brenda (Brenda0312 on Rav.)

  9. I realized I was invisible about four years ago and spent the next year figuring out how that changed everything, including opening up options I had never before considered. I'm still working on translating my new thinking into actions--for me, it's still baby steps, but still forward movement. You said it so well in your post today. I have recently discovered the novelist Kris Radish, who explores these ideas in her books. She has helped broaden my thinking too. I'm so proud of all of my invisible sisters and how we "swim anyway". Thanks, Julie.

  10. Thanks to all of my fellow swimmers. I'm so glad you're right beside me. Xxxooo

  11. I'm a swimmer too --- and I do water aerobics. In a skirted suit that's too long because my belly droops down almost to my knees. I also go out on the fitness floor and run on the elliptical and I do weight training. I even (gasp!) engage in full body stretching on the floor. NOw that's a sight to see! It has taken me the better part of 40 years to stop worrying about what other people think, and just worry about what I think. I'll be 60 in 3 years, and I'm not ashamed of it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  12. Thank you for sharing your swimming story. My husband & i retired and downsized several years ago. We live in a large apartment complex with a swimming pool. The first summer i didnt go near the place. Last summer i purchased a suit & finally worked up the courage to wear it up there and finally get in the pool. I enjoy it so much.