Is it possible to come out of a swimsuit fitting room with your self esteem intact?
Each year, as I scroll through the perfection that is every one else’s Instagram, I chastise myself for not being more faithful to Kayla Itsines
Even my upper arm fat moves me to tears in the harsh glare of fitting room lights.
Surprise, surprise. Despite my arm fat and tummy wobbles I got full marks for the health check and full marks for the fitness test. I must not be as unworthy as the fitting room suggests.
This is nothing short of remarkable. Anyone who, in days of yore, was with me at the Collegiate Schools for Girls will tell you that I was poor on the sports field. I finished the backstroke on the same side I started, barely picked up a hockey stick, tried netball in vain, ducked from any volleyball that came my way and most certainly did not run around a track. I couldn’t even make the 50 m swim across the pool.
So how did I pass a fitness test now?
Despite my misgivings about my body, two years ago I was persuaded to put my bikini on and DO something IN it.
I got on a stand up paddle board. I had never been to back line in False Bay. And when I did I was terrified. As the months went by I got used to the unintended sinus cleanse and managed to catch a few little waves. But I was still scared. In fact, I was so frightened when I paddled out for the first time at Huletts (a benign little right), my legs were visibly shaking. I cried, more than once, at many beaches, out of fear.
That first year I had more X-Rays than I have had in my life. Toes, fingers, face. No fractures, but a dislocated toe, a sprained finger, a very black eye. I saw a shark. Other times I didn’t see the shark but the siren went off. (Which is worse? Seeing the shark or knowing it’s lurking somewhere?)
Despite all that I kept going. I kept paddling out. Why? I am not sure. Maybe I got tired of being the spectator sitting on the beach? Maybe I caught a wave and that was it? The ocean lifted me up, gave me a ride and it was amazing.
This year, I’ve had no X-Rays. Only stoke. And strength. At the beginning of 2017 we started training with Xpression at Zandvlei. Coaches Gary and Tyran teach us paddle techniques, buoy turns, fitness drills, slipstreaming and more. In winter, when we could see our breath in the cold, we were still out on that vlei, paddling hard.
When I surf now, thanks to fitness training, I can paddle out in tougher conditions, I hardly ever cry (except in fitting rooms) and I can sometimes catch a wave when the wind has picked up. My ocean confidence grew as I learned more about sharks, how to read the ocean and understand the forecasts. I learned that there is a place inside me that is stronger than I thought. A logger I know (and mom of four) told me in tough conditions in a contest she growled and roared as she did in labour to make the paddle out. Sometimes in the ocean, as in childbirth, you need to summon up all your strength. You have it in you. And just as childbirth is primal, so is co-existing with the ocean. It gives you the opportunity to see what you have in reserve and when you find that strength, the euphoria is sublime.
I would not be able to testify to that if, on that day two years ago, I had not put that bikini on, despite my body.
This summer, when I contemplate wearing a bikini, I know I won’t look perfect. I am north of forty and I spent the winter nibbling rusks instead of kale.
But I do know that I will be strong. I have muscles that will take me out to the back. I have courage that will make me take off on a set wave. I have stamina that supports me over longer distances.
So, if you are struggling to be faithful to a bikini body program, don’t stress. Keep trying. But put your bikini on anyway. Its not about what you look like in a bikini. It’s about what you can do. Let the ocean empower you, let it lift you up, and give you a ride. The power and strength the ocean effuses will soon become your own.
And until they install dimmer switches in fitting rooms and Instagram filters in the mirrors, no one is going to look perfect in a swimsuit. But when you are riding a wave , you won’t even care.