Body Stories: Amy

April 14, 2020

Body Stories: Amy

At Deakin and Blue, body image, body confidence and authentic storytelling has always been at the heart of what we do. In a world where we are often shown just one vision of what it means to be beautiful or strong or body confident, we are always looking for new ways to challenge these stereotypes and assumptions, and to celebrate and showcase women who, for whatever reason - be it age, race, height, weight, ability or something else - don't fit these "norms". 

In this new D&B blog series, Body Stories, we talk with ten D&B customers from a range of different walks of life about their relationship with their body and body image. We ask them how their relationship with their body has evolved over time, what has influenced and informed their feelings about their body, and what they love about it today.

It was a privilege to have such candid conversations with these ten women - each of whom were so honest and open about their experiences and the complicated tensions many of us still live with every day. A common theme we heard was "I'm body confident but I don't always love my body and I'm not always kind about it". The conversations were thought provoking and surprising. We left each one feeling inspired by their story - and hope you do too.

First up: Amy.  

Amy, tell us a bit about you. 

I’m Amy, I’m 27 and I studied physics at university before becoming an aerospace engineer. I spend my days designing and building display parts for jets and planes – it’s a largely desk based role in front of a computer, so when I’m not working I love being active. I run, I play competitive water polo and of course I’m an open water swimmer. I regularly swim marathon distances (10k), I’ve completed one 19k swim and I’m currently training to swim from Jersey to France later this year and then across the channel next year!

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Amy - Channel Swimmer, Water Polo, Body Image, Body Confidence

It sounds like you work in a relatively male dominated environment. Does that have an impact on how you think about your body image on a day to day basis?

Yes – it’s a hugely male dominated field: I’m currently one of two women in a team of 30. And as well as being heavily male, a large proportion of the workforce are also significantly older, our industry has quite a problem with an ageing workforce - so I’m not just a female in that environment, I’m a young female. I’ve always been confident and extroverted; I back myself – if I have a good idea then I speak up! However, in this environment, I've found this can be very threatening coming from a young woman.

In previous roles I’ve been told I am “too bossy”, “too loud”, “too stubborn”, “too shrill”, that I need to “listen more” – which has upset me. These criticisms (which are often about the manner in which I do something, rather than what I do) have merged with my own insecurities about being a tall woman (I’m six foot) and, in the past, I have used my body and my body language to try and address those concerns. For example, if I was chairing a meeting, I used to make sure I was sat down to be less threatening. I realise, looking back, I’ve tried to be smaller, quieter, to literally take up less space.

Has that behaviour changed now or is it still something you wrestle with?

Whilst the environment is still very male dominated I now work for an organisation where I have incredible female mentors who are more senior in the business. I talk to them whenever I have concerns like this and they are hugely supportive – and great at highlighting unreasonable behaviour. So I definitely feel more confident now, and I no longer feel the need to change the way I am perceived – physically or intellectually – at work.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Amy - Channel Swimmer, Water Polo, Body Image, Body Confidence

Do you have a first memory of your body image? Of feeling critical, or perhaps complimentary, about your own body?

I have a really clear memory of not being happy with how I looked when I was about 13 or 14. My sister and I used to ride horses and I remember being sat on my horse one day and asking myself “is this a good use of my time?” I remember thinking about how much I loved riding, how much I loved my horse and being with my horse, but I was aware that simply sitting on the horse (whilst fun) wasn’t “proper exercise”, that it wouldn’t make me any thinner. I remember wondering if it would be better to take the horse for a walk (like a dog) so that I would at least be exercising alongside the horse.

Even at that young age, did you feel that exercise was an activity that was designed to change or improve your body shape or size? (As opposed to offering other benefits, not least enjoyment).

I think it has always been a pendulum for me. But yes, from the age of 13 until I was about 18 I was really serious about playing water polo (I was part of the GB youth squad) and I was always training for something, so exercise was very much bound up with being stronger or fitter. However when I look back now at the sort of exercises I was doing and the fuel I was giving my body at the time, it was never really about being strong or fit, it was about losing weight, being leaner.

Only at university did my relationship with exercise start to change as I realised that exercise could be about leisure and pleasure, and of course for my mental health too. I always feel so much calmer and more productive once I’ve exercised. Today I swim because it makes me happy and actually, it’s fascinating now, during this lockdown period, that I can feel how tense and anxious I am because of being out of the water.

It’s interesting training to swim the channel next year and the implications this has for my body. I’ve been told by my coach that I need to put on weight to help prepare for the swim – to help keep me warm and to aid my buoyancy. (It will be about 16 degrees in the water and I’ll just be in a swimsuit). Even now, I still find I hesitate before committing to putting on weight. It’s mad – I’m the strongest, fittest and fastest I’ve ever been, eating well, cooking good food every night. But every now and then I look at myself in the mirror and see a woman who is slightly more curvy, more cuddly than the one I am used to, and I have to talk myself into sense: that this is the body of an athlete, training for a goal, that I am preparing my body in the best possible way to achieve that.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Amy - Channel Swimmer, Water Polo, Body Image, Body Confidence

What are some of the things or people that have influenced your body image and your body confidence?

Swimming has been a huge influence for me. When you’re a swimmer you socialise with other swimmers – whether that’s heading to the seaside or meeting friends at the pool to train together and so you become very used to seeing people of different shapes and sizes in just a swimsuit. I’ve found that women I have really admired and considered to be “absolutely perfect” physically have looked just like me once in a swimsuit. They’re normal, they have the same body issues or characteristics – the cellulite, the back rolls, whatever it might be. Swimming has really encouraged me to feel much more confident in my own body.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Amy - Channel Swimmer, Water Polo, Body Image, Body Confidence

And what do you love about your own body today?

I absolutely love my shoulders! They are big and muscular and strong. Whilst I’ve been in lockdown I’ve been doing lots of rowing on a rowing machine, shoulder workouts and even handstands to try and keep them strong for swimming and I just love how powerful they are. Handstands are a fun and hilarious challenge for me - getting six foot of legs and body in the air is no mean feat!

Is there something you do that helps you to feel amazing in your body?

Since January I’ve been doing a burlesque dance course for beginners which makes me feel incredible. I attend with a number of other women, many of whom are a bit older than me but all of whom are incredibly beautiful. When we get to the parts of the dance where we disrobe, you realise that these stunning women have slightly looser skin on their arms or tummies but I still look at them and think of their bodies as completely beautiful – and I feel so amazing amongst them. Every time I see a beautiful, natural woman whose body features look like mine, it makes me feel more amazing in my own body. These women are all incredible, wonderful, inspiring. And they look like me, so I must be too!

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Amy - Channel Swimmer, Water Polo, Body Image, Body Confidence

If you could go back and speak to that 13 year old girl on the horse, what might you say to her? 

A quote I repeatedly go back to now is one from Ross Edgley who swam the circumference of the UK last year. He said “your body needs to become an instrument not an ornament” and I think that is the advice I would give to a younger me. I don’t think anything else would have landed. Re-framing how to value my body in that way – to think about what it can do: that I could ride out a one tonne horse, that I could throw hay bales, muck out a stable, that I was tall, I could run – that thanks to my body I could do whatever I wanted and that this was its value. That my body was there to do something, not to be seen in a certain way or to be decorative. That message really motivates me today and I’m sure it would have motivated me then too.

Thank you so much Amy. Good luck for the channel swim!

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Amy - Channel Swimmer, Water Polo, Body Image, Body Confidence