Body Stories: Kath

April 16, 2020

Body Stories: Kath

Welcome to D&B Body Stories - a new blog series in which we talk with ten different D&B customers 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. 

If you haven't already, do have a read of the first two blogs in this series featuring Amy and Melanie.

We loved the honest and thought provoking conversations that we had with each of the ten women as part of this series. The conversations were honest, poignant and surprising. We left each one feeling inspired by their story - and hope you do too.

In today's post we introduce you to Brighton seabird Kath.

Tell us a bit about you.

I’m Kath, I’m in my mid-40s and I’m a mother to two teenagers. I’ve always swum. My Godmother was a swimming teacher who taught me to swim and I spent every school holiday with my family in West Sussex at the sea. I started swimming in the sea aged 2 or 3 (there are pictures of me sat in rock pools looking very happy) and I haven’t stopped since. Even when I was working full time in a busy office job I maintained my sea swimming.

When I had children, I wanted them both to learn to swim too. My daughter really took to it and when she was 10 I found a surf lifesaving club in Brighton for her to join. When I had a breakdown, I left my high paid corporate job and begun volunteering at the club too. It kept me going and got me out of the house. I’ve volunteered with them on Saturday mornings for the last 8 years – training the next wave of Brighton lifeguards.

At the club I met Cath and we started swimming in the sea together. We both had personal things we were working through and then, one day, we had a lightbulb moment – we realised how much better swimming in the sea made us feel and we wanted to spread the word and get other women involved. And so we founded the Seabirds – a community of women in Brighton who swim together regularly. There are organised swims every day and we can have up to 100 people joining at any time. My favourite swim of the week is every Monday at 10.45am, we call it Monday Mass – it’s my weekly worship.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Kath - Body Confidence, Body Image, Body Identity

What is the earliest memory you have of your body image?

As a child I was incredibly naturally skinny. I was a fussy eater, I didn’t eat much and I hit puberty very late. I remember being 16 and aware of everyone getting lovely curves and I felt like a boy in comparison. I detested my body as a child because of being so thin and I was teased for it. I didn’t need a bra but I remember wearing bikinis under my school shirt so that I had something to put on. Looking back I can see I had zero body confidence as a child.

Just before sixth form I went on the pill to help my heavy periods and in two years I put on two stone. My body transformed and it made a huge difference. Then at 20 I moved with my husband to France for a year. I was an au pair for a family and, through them, I was introduced to amazing French food – things I had never dreamt of eating. I started experimenting with food, cooking for myself, finding foods I loved and eating more.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Kath - Body Confidence, Body Image, Body Identity

What or who have been some of the biggest influences on your body image and body confidence?

Definitely my mum. I didn’t find body confidence when I gained weight. I think the confidence was always there from my mum - it was just waiting to come out and blossom. My mum has always been incredibly confident in her body. Even now she walks around the house completely naked and I have become that woman too. I will strip off naked in front of anybody - much to my teenage son’s horror! I walk around the house naked all the time and my daughter still does too, even at 18. Swimming helps of course – we are used to coming out of the pool and changing in a communal space or getting out of the sea and changing on the beach. I think all of Brighton has seen my bum!

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Kath - Body Confidence, Body Image, Body Identity

What do you love about your body?

I love that it’s strong. The Seabirds often talk about me as someone who can always get out through the waves and get past them. I hear them describing me as someone who is strong, capable and confident. It’s so interesting when that hasn’t been your own perspective. But I do it without even thinking about it – it might look fierce but actually getting out into the water is as simple as walking down the road for me.

Most of the time I feel strong and fit. I’ve run marathons, I train and swim with people younger than me – on long swims or long paddles or training runs, I keep up. It’s wonderful. But there is something beginning to change as I start to feel slightly older. I wonder: should I be chilling out more? Should I be going slower? I notice I ache more. My body is changing. Sometimes I feel I am an older woman.

Some of this is perimenopause. So many of the women in our swimming group talk about this change and the impact it has on them. On their cognition and their sleep. But also on their confidence – that element is wonderful. You just stop giving a fuck.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Kath - Body Confidence, Body Image, Body Identity

What makes you feel amazing in your body?

Sea swimming. Whatever my body is feeling, if I have an injury or am aching, I can always swim in the sea. And everybody can. For me ‘sea swimming’ is just about getting in the water – whether that’s for a dip or to swim the channel. Even those with severe disabilities can do it – you might need assistance or adaptations. But you always feel better once you’ve been in.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I think it’s a rite of passage to experience that body confidence journey – from infant, through puberty, as a young adult, to an adult and beyond. Your body changes and develops as you get older and you have to let it happen. I feel okay with how I felt about my body as a teenager. It was hard at the time but it passed and I got through it.

I’m body confident even though I’m not always body positive and haven’t always had a good relationship with my body. For example, I am always grateful that I could grow two perfect babies in my body but I have also felt angry with my body because I had two caesareans and I felt robbed of a vaginal birth. I still sometimes feel angry about it now – as though my body let me down. And then I think ‘this is a body that has gone on to run marathons, it swims in the sea every day, it is strong’. I realise you can feel conflicting things about your body at the same time and that at different points in life your body will mean and be different things for you.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Kath - Body Confidence, Body Image, Body Identity