Reimagining beauty: Lucy's body story

July 14, 2022

Reimagining beauty: Lucy's body story

Welcome back to our body stories series where real women talk about their relationship with their bodies. Over the next two months, you’ll hear from a special group of women who swim in sea and marine lake in Clevedon. They’re going to be talking about beauty, what the word beautiful means to them and how swimming outdoors has changed how they feel about their bodies.

We asked Lucy to take part in the Reimagining Beauty campaign because she epitomises the strength, stoicism and serenity of cold-water swimmers. Because swimming outdoors has helped her reconnect with the positive feelings about her body that exercise gave her in her younger years… and also because nobody rocks a bikini like Lucy!

Lucy came to outdoor swimming after having a cochlea implant. Wearing a waterproof hearing aid, she swims throughout the year. She has an extraordinary capacity for the cold, swimming the endurance 450m event at this year’s Scottish Winter Swimming Championships in five-degree water wearing… you guessed it, a bikini.

What does the word beauty mean to you?

There's something about the word beauty that is so divisive. It's awkward to talk about it without emotion. It’s a loaded word and has been for such a long time. You have to be so careful with it, especially with people like ourselves who haven't grown up being told that they're beautiful regardless of whether we might be striking or have a great presence. Or have an aura – that’s an annoying phrase. It’s like saying there’s nothing positive about your physicality, only the air around you.

My friend's mum would always tell her she was pretty, but my mum never said anything like that to me. And I remember asking her once, why don’t you ever say that I'm pretty? And she was like, ‘I don't think you are’. She said, ‘I think you look nice, but the normal description of pretty – I don't think you fit it’. I think she was just being painfully honest, but when you're fourteen, that's not what you want to hear.

My mother used to bang on about me having good, child-bearing hips. I always knew I was big and that wasn’t helped by Mum either because, you’d come down the stairs and she’d go, ‘oh, it’s like a herd of elephants’ and there was always all of this talk about being heavy and being big.

Deakin and Blue Swimcrop Bikini Teal

Do you think that’s a generational thing?

That doesn’t feel like a decent excuse, really. I think it's easy to say that it’s a different generation, whereas actually it was just thoughtlessness. I've been really conscious of never staying stuff to either of my kids, boy or girl, that in any way denigrates what they look like physically.

I remember my daughter coming home, I think it was late junior school when the girls in particular were getting much more aware of what they looked like, and she'd be like, ‘oh I'm big, my thighs are big’. And I’d say, ‘you’re not, your thighs are strong because you climb trees and you’re muscular, which is good.’

They've never been fat and my daughter always hung out with boys – so it's funny that she was still picking up on this stuff. It's a kind of insidious seep when they start being aware of the wider world. It’s these strange little ideas about how you look – not what you’re wearing, but what your body's like underneath. But I think it’s being talked about more now and people are more accepting of different bodies. And if people are spoken to rudely about their bodies, I think that they’re more willing to actually pick people up on it.

There's no way I would ever put up with a friend or anybody I knew body shaming somebody. But when I was my daughter's age, I probably would have just walked away from the conversation. I think my kids now would say something. I think they’re more confident to voice their opinions about it not being appropriate to comment on people's physicality.

So, when did you first become aware of beauty in relation to yourself?

I can remember always feeling too big. I’ve never been hugely overweight but, equally, I’ve never been slim. Looking back at photos, I've been slim enough to look really good, but at the time I didn't have a clue because everybody else seemed to be slimmer and it was that era of tiny supermodels.

There was slim and there was skeletal and we thought skeletal was amazing. Well, we were taught to think it was amazing. I remember really vividly walking home from school with my friend, Susan – we must have been 15 or 16 – and she said, ‘Oh you can tell people who are on the pill and who are slutty, who are sleeping around, because they've got no gap at the top of their thighs.’

And I thought, that’s absolutely wrong. It’s just physical makeup. But it was amazing that this person who I normally really liked was coming out with this stuff, and then I was like, but there's never ever been a gap between top of my thighs, ever! And it made me feel like there was something wrong with me – shocking that people would think that your physicality was affected by your morals, by whether you slept around or whether you were on the pill.

Deakin and Blue Long-Sleeved swimsuit

Did those sorts of comments make you try and make yourself slimmer?

I was really physical when I was younger – horse riding every weekend and canoeing, and then I started climbing – so, I think I was happy with my body because it did what I wanted it to do. I wasn't spending lots of time looking at it and thinking, oh I don't want it to be like that.

It was only really when clothes shopping – I hated shopping for trousers and I think that was only time I was consistently upset about my shape. And that was due to fashion brands not making stuff that actually fitted real bodies – that made me feel like rubbish and it still does.

Did the beauty or fashion industries often make you feel like you had to change?

I was very conscious of what the beauty industry was trying to do. And I was quite pragmatic about it if it was not something I wanted to do. I didn't mind being the person who didn't wear makeup and didn't wear fashionable clothes.
So, I was quite lucky. I think that I could look at it from the outside. Look at fashion magazines and what other friends were doing and think, why do you bother? You know, I'm not going to spend my pocket money or whatever I've earned on paying for stuff just because everybody else wants to look like that.

I think that probably came from the physical stuff that I grew up doing and seeing people wearing practical clothes and not giving a toss what other people thought about it. I think I just had confidence in myself because, similar to outdoor swimming, you get that confidence from being a person who can do stuff – there’s a kind of underlying confidence that comes from that. I think that's what a lot of people would say that they get from outdoor swimming.


So, did outdoor swimming affect your confidence?

Yeah, I think it's something I've come back to with swimming. At uni, I went climbing so was still relatively happy with being somebody who did stuff, who was strong. But after that I didn't really do that much exercise other than walking. We didn't have the money to pay for horse riding, and didn't have anybody else who wanted to go climbing with me. So, I really dropped off from doing stuff that made me feel physical.

Then, I started running but just kept getting injured. And after getting my cochlear implant I realised that I could get a waterproof kit for it, so could swim. I think I'd always wanted to swim outside, but it's really difficult to feel confident when you can't hear anything when you're in the water.

It was bad enough in a pool because you just worry that people are trying to talk to you or the lifeguards are trying to get your attention. So, on you're on constant alert, kind of head on a swivel – you think the fire alarm could go off and you literally wouldn't know.

So, I think that knowing that I could hear when I was outdoor swimming made a big difference, and that was what made me go. If there were people there, I knew I could actually talk to them and that made a huge difference too. And then from the swimming and from just being on the side of the lake with everybody, stripping off and nobody giving a toss what anybody else looked like…

You spend the first six months being quite self-conscious actually. But there wasn’t a particular moment when it went away - I think it just kind of seeps away from you and you just realise that nobody else cares, but if I go back into a swimming pool environment it comes back again, that feeling of being judged on your size and shape.

Deakin and Blue Swimcrop Bikini and X-back Swimsuits

You rock the bikini – is that a new found confidence?

I feel paunchy in a swimming costume that covers my tummy and I don't in a bikini. That’s mad, isn’t it? I specifically look for bikinis that have got support rather than just being a triangle and some string. That makes a difference.

I guess the one thing about my body I've always loved is my boobs. I think have great boobs! I really like them, you know, and they’re really in proportion with the rest of my body. I think I'd be a lot less happy about my body if I didn't feel like it was in proportion.

What would you say to someone who body shames themselves?

I think that flat-out denying stuff isn't helpful. So, if somebody says, I'm too fat then it's really subjective – your version of too fat is not their version of too fat. So just saying, no you're not is really dismissive and not helpful at all because then you've just shut them up and they won’t be happy to talk about it.

So, I suppose, if somebody said, I'm too fat, I’d probably ask, in comparison to what? That's not how I see you. Why do you feel like you're too fat?

It's not often what I look like that makes me feel good or bad about my body, it’s how it feels like it's working. Has it been used and do I feel fit, do I feel capable? And if I feel fit and capable, I kind of look better in my eyes. I think that I stand up straighter when I'm feeling accomplished like when I’ve swum a cold kilometre.

Deakin and Blue Swimcrop bikini in Teal

Lucy wears the Swimcrop High Waist Bikini in Teal in size 18 bottoms and size 16 Hendricks top. She wears the Long Sleeve Swimsuit in Plum in size 18 Hendricks.

Read the other Body Stories in our Reimaging Beauty series:

"At 72 I can do most things. I can still dance; I can still have fun and that's really all that matters. Everybody can do something – it doesn't matter what your limitations are, what you have to look at is what you can do." Read Lindsay's story

"Just as some people are hard-wired to think they’re not beautiful, I think that I am and no one's ever going to persuade me that I'm not." Read Ellie's story

"I don't see beauty as being traditional beauty. I think that's because I live with a quite obvious physical difference, so I don't conform to any of the so-called normal beauty standards." Read Mary's story

"It makes me really angry and sad that we live in this culture where we’re told that fat equals unhealthy to the point that people don't want to do the things that will make them healthy because they think they have no place there." Read Rowan's story

“We, as grown-ups, have a responsibility to young people today… to show them that beautiful isn’t what they see on a curated, filtered phone screen. Beautiful is a lust for life. Beautiful is freedom from the shackles of media driven expectation. Beautiful is taking up the space you deserve. Beautiful is running into the sea in your pants.” Read Vix’s story

"I know that overcoming mental health is not to be sniffed at, as it were, but it's quite hard to quantify how difficult a struggle it is. You can't see it." Read Hannah's Story