Bodies stories: What we learned from you in 2023

December 27, 2023

Bodies stories: What we learned from you in 2023

Our swimwear is shaped by the women who wear them, and your Body Stories bring Deakin & Blue to life. Through the raw, honest, uplifting and moving stories you share, we learn more about what it is to be a woman.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering everything that’s been going in the world, a strong theme emerged in 2023 – our mental health. We started the year on a beach in Wales with founder of Mental Health Swims, Rachel Ashe and we finished with a collab with Mental Health Swims to help raise funds for this amazing organisation through sales of our Vitamin Sea Suit.

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“My mum has always said that ever since I was a little child, my finger would come up in the air, and I'd say, I've got an idea, and then I would go and make it happen,” Rachel told us in her Body Story (Feb 13th). “But I really lost sight of that; I hadn’t had an idea for quite a long time. And then, that year of starting therapy, finally finding the right therapist, and that first dip, that little finger came back… I put a shout out, and from doing stuff about mental health on my Instagram, I advertised to start this group called the Swansea Mental Health Sea Swimmers.”

Rachel explained how her group grew to become an international network of groups that help hundreds and hundreds of people with mental health needs.

“At the first group, nearly 30 people turned up and I was really scared, but it was great. And I think the little ‘I have an idea’ me was awoken again,” she said. “There is no lack of swimming groups, but I think there are lots of people out there who find it hard to join in, which is the purpose of Mental Health Swims. It’s about asking, how do we make it easier to join in? We give reassurance to people that our hosts have done some training, and they get it; they're going to talk to you in a way where they're not going to accidentally stigmatise you.”

Love flowed

Rachel took part in our Love Flows photoshoot in January 2023. In a true celebration of love, we photographed and interviewed the founders of a women’s surf society, two best friends and a mother with her young daughter about the importance of community and friendship around water. The relationships we create through hobbies are truly bonding. Combating isolation and loneliness, these supportive bonds with likeminded people are so important to our mental health.

“When I started cold water swimming, I started feeling like Swansea was my home. I found groups of friends who were almost not friends, who were like family,” said Mickey in her Body Story (March 15th). “With my friend Kerry, I can’t pinpoint the moment it happened, but I just became like her fourth kid. I ended up being part of her family. During Covid, that was huge because I was isolated and I couldn't see my own family. That came hand-in-hand with getting into cold water with them.

“I feel like you have this relationship that is much deeper than being friends because the sea can be super scary and dangerous. I'm not a strong swimmer and this discomfort I'm seeking is because I need to prove to myself that I'm capable, and because Kerry knows that, I feel that she's always looking out for me. I think that my relationships based off that have been huge and I now feel like I have two families.”

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More than swimming

While looking for small groups based around The Gower in South Wales, we came across the Gower Women’s Surf Society. Like Mental Health Swims, this brilliant organisation was set up to help women enjoy the sea. But we discovered that unlike swimming, surfing is a very male-dominated space. Not only does Gower Women’s Surf Society empower women to ride the waves together, but it also creates a safe, fun, joyful space for women, which supports their mental health and self-esteem.

“Looking back to when I started, I was scared of getting in the way, of being judged, of looking silly. A lot of those anxieties came from this idea that male surfers are intimidating. But I think part of that is because there aren't many women in the water,” said Tirion in her Body Story (February 28th). “I’ve never been hassled but I do notice that in general men are much better at exuding this sense of, I belong here.”

“I think that often women need this permission and Gower Women’s is like this big, open permission space that says, come as you are and do what you need to do and we're here to hold your hand or to stand with you,” said co-founder Ebbi (April 1st). “I don't go in the sea to look good; I go surfing because I love surfing. I like the feeling of gliding over the water and hanging out with my friends. I like being in a beautiful place and enjoying nature.”

We made waves

From women who share the love of wild water through building relationships and communities, to those who share their creativity at our Making Waves shoot in July. We went to the beautiful, serene location of Somerset Swim Retreats near Chard in Somerset to photograph seven amazing women around their natural swimming pool – in the torrential rain.

What us women can do, create and nurture will never cease to amaze us. Art work, films, books, campaigns – we achieve so much awareness and change through creative storytelling, and by finding creative ways to tell stories, we also support our own mental health.

“I had a giant mermaid sculpture made of recycled plastic to highlight the plastic pandemic, and I swam the length of the River Thames as a mermaid,” said environmental campaigner Lindsey (July 26th). “Campaigning and protesting is exhausting; investing all your energy to fight for something that you love. Whereas, this is still a worthwhile cause, but I feel like I'm getting into education that’s fun and engaging and kids enjoy it.”

As well as being influenced by water-based issues, our creatives also told us how being in the water inspires them. For example, taking influence from the sea changed Pippa’s perspective on how she treats herself.

“I think there's something about when you get into the water, it clears out all of that chatter. You're just in the sea. You're just in the present moment, and there's space there to connect to your intuition, so those ideas come through. It makes space to re-programme your brain and find a different way to talk to yourself,” said Pippa in her Body Story (August 23rd). “In fact, my whole journey into sea swimming was very consciously about stepping into something new from a basis of self-compassion. It was about being kind to myself, not pushing myself, not having that workaholic hat on, or saying, I'm going to be the best swimmer in the world – this constant pushing energy. It was much softer, like, I'm really going to tune in to how I'm feeling and what feels possible today, so maybe today, I feel like I could just swim to the next wall and back. And maybe the next day I could swim a little bit further or actually, it's a bit rougher, so I'm not going to - and that's fine too. It’s been about really listening to my body and being kind, and motivating myself with kindness instead of anything else.”

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Celebrating women

Ultimately, our Body Stories are about celebrating us all – wonderful women, all of us different, beautiful and unique yet connected. Over the past year, through our Body Stories, we have marvelled at how many different ways there are to communicate our experience of being women. From Nancy Farmer’s funny, touching drawings of real swimming women to Becca Harvey’s moving film about her ice mile, our Body Stories drill down to what it means to be female.

“I watch people and I have an obsession with how they're standing and how they're moving,” said Nancy (October 2023). “I’ve certainly spent a lot of time noticing people, that they have a great many interesting features and look great in ways that are different to the next person. People are all such different shapes. I was really struck by this the first time I did an open water swimming event. Everyone was in wetsuits; overall matt black so you weren't even distracted by swimming costumes. I watched them come out of Lake Windermere one by one and I was just astonished.”

But it was the last Body Story that we published this year that turned the body confidence debate on its head. When Becca told us how she felt when she was congratulated for her athletic achievements as a ‘bigger girl’, it reminded us why we make supportive swimwear in a range of sizes – to help us all go swimming and feel like we belong.

“When we've done The Ice Mile screenings, I always get congratulated for my body and I find it really jarring. I feel like this body is a product of trauma because this is what I've done to survive. It hasn't been a choice. It hasn't been a conscious decision,” said Becca (November 2023). “But it's also that idea that size stops you from doing things. For me, it was this acceptance that this is how my body looks and I need to stop looking at it as a transitional body and just get on with it. That’s how the ice mile came about. I was so gunned on losing weight before we started filming, but it didn’t happen. Life happens and you can't put everything on hold just because of the size you are; you just need to carry on. For me, swimming is also fitness. If I don't swim, then I'm not looking after my body.”

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For all our Body Stories, for the way women share so candidly and openly, for the things we learn from them, we are very grateful. Stories from the women who enjoy our swimwear are the flesh and bones of Deakin & Blue – literally!

As we step into a brand new year, we can’t wait to share more wonderful, inspiring stories.