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by Susan Ingraham

May 14, 2009

Putting on a swimsuit sometimes becomes the hurdle that makes it difficult to get started with a swim program. Some swimmers walk out onto the pool deck with a towel or cover-up. They soon find out that a Masters workout is the most forgiving environment for both men and women to be comfortable in their own skin or suit.

Several ladies were happy to share about themselves, providing insight as to their own body image and about wearing a swimsuit.

"Wow, this has been a HUGE issue for me and one that I had to overcome to ever get started swimming. I didn't start until I was 58. I had been doing water aerobics, which was my introduction to the water (about age 54). However, I wore a T-shirt over the suit to block the sun (yeah, sure). Masters and competition have certainly changed how I feel about myself in a suit. I can tell by the hipline of my suit getting higher and higher. I started with the most conservative suit you can buy and now I am freer. Recently was the first time I didn't have a built-in bra ... and I was okay. I no longer have to have a conservative suit, but the one that does the job."

"I am much more accepting of my body. I like the muscles that swimming has given me. I like the strength I feel in my body. Because of a large amount of weight loss, I am not as toned on my thighs, but it doesn't bother me anymore because I know underneath, the legs are strong. Swimming has changed my self image a great deal. I am grateful to swimming for so many things."
"I've been as heavy as 200 pounds, and back in those days I spent a bit more time picking out a camouflage suit. Then I decided I couldn't hide it, so I'd just decorate it. After I had lost the weight, I was fussing on how I looked, and a teammate said I shouldn't do that because for some, their goal was to get down to my size."
"I have a totally different view of myself at practice and then everywhere else! Being a bigger gal, I stay pretty covered up when I am at the beach and at friends' pools, but for some reason, at swim practice, I walk out in just my suit, no towel wrapped around me, and will casually stand on deck chatting. Maybe because I know I am there to get in a good workout, it doesn't bother me. I definitely feel more comfortable when I am with my Masters group."

"When I was pregnant and my body started to show, I was really quite comfortable and proud. I was doing something good for myself and my baby. After the pregnancy, I would break out into sweat, having to put a suit on. But once again my love for the water overrode my fear of what others think. Now I'm 45 and am happier with my body shape and am looking forward to more improvements."
"At 64 I've made peace with my body. The best thing about the deck area and the pool - no mirrors - so once I leave the locker room, I totally forget how I look. What matters is how I feel inside my body and how well it works. And it works great - strong, healthy, great endurance, happy on the inside."

The ongoing message from all the ladies was that it doesn't matter in the water what you look like. Everyone has a suit, cap and goggles and they're all leaving on the top for the main set. You can be 24 or 74, male or female, there for competition or fitness, 10 pounds too light or 100 pounds too heavy, but you are at the pool, doing something good for yourself and your body.

The sense of accomplishment that they received after making a goal time or finishing out a tough set pushed out any thought of what they think they might look like in their suit. They all agreed they feel better about themselves as swimmers and women because of their participation with Masters.

Susan Ingraham is the Head Coach for Masters of South Texas and received the U.S. Masters Swimming Coach of the Year award in 2008.