Body Stories: Standing proud in swimwear

June 05, 2024

Body Stories: Standing proud in swimwear

“I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me”
Keala Settle and The Greatest Showman Ensemble

Imagine that you’re on a beach. It’s your favourite beach and you’re relaxed and happy. You stand up, take off your beach dress and walk towards to sea wearing nothing but your swimwear. How do you feel in that moment?

Too many women feel some level of self-consciousness, embarrassment or even shame. A lifetime of being told how we should look means that our perceived flaws bother us – sometimes to the extent that we would never walk down that beach in our swimwear.

It’s the reason Rosie founded Deakin & Blue in 2017. Her research found that more than half a million women in the UK didn’t swim because of how they feel they look in swimwear. Research published in January 2024 found that self-consciousness about our appearances stopped us taking part in or enjoying physical activity.

But, through our Body Stories, we’ve met women who turn that narrative on its head. Asserting that their body tells their story, finding confidence through being brave, bold, rebellious and playful, they have learned to walk the walk with confidence.

Deakin & Blue Mastectomy Swimwear

I am brave

For many of us, that transition between sitting on the beach in a cover up to jumping through the breakers in swimwear takes a huge amount of bravery. Once you’re in, it’s great – you never regret a swim. But that first step can feel like a giant leap.

“Most of the time I wore leggings and baggy t-shirts: shapeless clothes to hide my body. Even in my RAF uniform which has a waist belt I always felt I looked like a man. I’ve never really felt beautiful or feminine,” says Wendy. “We used to go on holiday to Southsea every year. The kids would go in the sea with my husband and I would always find an excuse to cover myself up. Every year I would sit on the beach to ‘watch the bags’.”

We might downplay the reasons swimwear makes us feel exposed, dismiss them as body hang-ups or issues. But the fact that the problem is so far-reaching tells us that it’s a societal rather than individual issue.

But once women take that first step, changing into their swimsuits and walking towards the water, their perspectives change. Women like Wendy join groups like The Bluetits with other women who have similar stories. When they do, they realise that it’s our society that has issues with women’s bodies and not individual women.

“I joined the Bluetits in Pembrokeshire in 2018. I remember seeing these women who were smiling so much that it radiated through everything else: all you could see was their joy. I wanted to play their game,” she says. “When we came back on holiday in 2019, I stripped to my swimsuit and got in without thinking. My husband was gobsmacked and the kids were delighted as I was able to splash around and play with them for the first time! Since joining the Bluetits I’ve realised that people aren’t thinking ‘she’s too fat for that cossie’ - they’re thinking ‘wow, she’s brave. I wish I could join her’.

Signature Swimsuit CobaltI am bruised

Reading our Body Stories, it feels like swimming outdoors helps us rethink our so-called imperfections. Rather than seeing differences as flaws, it helps us see them as variety and individuality.

Speaking to women with visible differences like Vix who has alopecia and Mary, who lost her leg and has a large scar because of cancer, or Lindsay who wears a Libre blood sugar monitor for diabetes and Ali who had a mastectomy, we hear how prancing around in swimwear helped them not only reframe physical differences, but also manage how they dealt with health challenges.

“Wild swimming is such a personal experience and everybody is there on their own mission. Mostly people are thinking about how cold it will be! I noticed that passers-by would stop and talk to us, ask how cold it was and so on,” says Ali. “They didn’t see me as a woman with one boob, they saw me as a woman that was getting into cold water, doing this amazing thing – getting out there and swimming… I feel proud of my mastectomy scar, my battle scar.”

The same is true of women whose battle scars are not visible. Women like Rachel and Becca who live with mental illness, or Lindsey with neurodivergence and Fran who suffered childhood trauma.

“You can become confident and strong, fun and fabulous. I am who I am, my past is part of who I am today, and I’m okay. I can almost say ‘I’m magnificent’,” says Fran. “I found that when I’m in the water it embraces me to a point that I feel totally immersed and accepted. This doesn’t happen in a swimming pool – it’s about being a part of nature. Losing yourself, letting go of your thoughts and just being in the water. And I think open water swimming brings together like-minded women. I don’t feel judged for my hairy legs or anything else. We are all here together to be embraced by the water.”

Deakin & Blue Essential Swimsuit

This is me

Often, putting on your swimsuit and heading to the water feels too big, too difficult. But, drawing strength from other women – and wearing a swimsuit that makes you feel confident – can give you the helping hand you need.

Listening to our Body Stories, it feels like once you take that bold step down the beach of your dreams, a whole world opens up. Slowly but surely, everything changes and you start to feel less self-conscious. And, as the self-consciousness shrinks away, the benefits of being joyfully active are yours.

And so is body confidence. If you don’t learn to love your body, you do at least start to see its ‘flaws’ as its story or battle scars and you become more accepting of it.

“It’s crazy how much swimming has improved my body confidence – I didn’t set out for that to happen but it’s been an added bonus of learning this new skill,” says Rabiah. “It took me ages to feel comfortable in a swimming costume and now I’d happily always wear one.”

Deakin & Blue Plunge Swimsuit Black