Body Stories: Emma

September 17, 2021

Body Stories: Emma

Welcome back to our new series of Body Stories. In this series we speak with D&B customers from around the UK who tell us about their relationships with their bodies.

This week we caught up with Emma, a year-round sea swimmer who lives on the South Coast. 

Tell us a bit about you

I’m Emma, I’m 38 and live in Bournemouth with my husband and three children. I have a background in brand strategy, and kids and family research. I ran my own international agency for 11 years and I’ve just begun a new phase of my career and life. As part of this new chapter I’m seeking to pursue things I feel passionate about, reclaim some time and work more smartly. I’m an expert in ‘play’ and run an Instagram community called Playful Den where I encourage grownups to play. I’m really interested in the relationship between play and mental health; I particularly enjoy encouraging parents to play – both with their children and independently of them.

I am a swimmer and have a long history of swimming. I did swim training and galas all through my early childhood and teens and have continued swimming all my life. I would say I am more attracted to water than swimming – although they go hand in hand of course. But I love the water: I’ll get in any water, any temperature, any time. I live by the coast and last year swam year-round for the first time without a wetsuit. I loved it and I’m going to do it again this year.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

Image credit: The Adventurous Mum

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

I remember my brother calling me fat when I was about 9. We were riffing, trying to outdo each other with each insult and calling each other various names but I remember when he said the word ‘fat’ I was really upset. I can remember crying. It felt more real, more loaded, in a way. It was different to being taunted for wearing glasses or being short. If you were ‘fat’ it was a problem you needed to fix and it was your fault. Almost like you had a responsibility for being that word. I wasn’t fat, but I always thought I was.

Did you have a healthy relationship with your body through your teen years?

On reflection, no. I very much grew up in that 90s diet culture; for lots of women, and mums in particular, being on a diet was part of your identity. I have so many memories of my mum constantly trying to lose weight: that’s just what you did, as a woman. When I was about 11 I went to weight watchers with a friend. I didn’t even need to lose weight, and now, as a mother, it seems crazy to me that I attended something like that as a child. But I suppose as a kid you start to role play being a woman and that’s what being a woman appeared to involve.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

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

For me, social media has actually had quite a positive impact. I’m strict with what I consume and I really protect the inputs coming into my headspace. I’ve always followed accounts that I know have a healthy impact on my relationship with my body. I grew up in the Kate Moss, size zero era; the time of the wonder bra and diet culture, so social media, and Instagram in particular, was the first place I’d seen women of different body shapes and sizes having that sort of pride and power. For me social media has been a real force for good but I’m aware that this is only because of the relationship I have with it, and how I have curated it.

Living down here in Bournemouth there is also a really big outdoor swimming scene. Most of the people that get involved in cold water swimming, or at least the ones who seem most visible, are older women with all sorts of body shapes. When you look at them you realise they are having the most fun – it is so joyful to watch them! They’re laughing, messing about, happy, being silly. It’s quite inspiring actually. I just know I don’t want to wait until I get to retirement age to have that ‘give no shits’ feeling: I want it now.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

Image credit: The Adventurous Mum

What do you love about your body today?

I love that it works. And that it’s been with me through my whole life. I think your relationship with your body does change when you have children: for me, that has been a little bit up and down. I’m at a place now where I feel like I have a bit more wisdom and perspective when it comes to my body. I’m able to be in awe of what it has achieved.

Recently I’ve been reading up on the idea of Impermanence. This is a cornerstone of Buddhist thinking which embraces the fact that everything is changing all the time. Time itself, the seasons and we are too – our literal selves in our bodies are constantly changing. As a result of this reading I’ve stopped looking back at photos of me in my 20s and feeling like that’s a place I can or should return to. Instead I’m acknowledging the change and realising that this is the right body for right now, and that that was the body for then. It’s quite a nice way of thinking; an understanding that we are constantly moving forwards. It stops me from clinging to what’s gone, and instead allows me to focus on what’s on the table now. It’s really had an impact on me.

I suppose I’ve also been thinking about it in relationship to my work. I’ve been thinking about when I started my agency; the work me in those first three or four years worked at a pace that, looking back, I don’t even know how I did it. Starting this new chapter I’ve been wondering ‘how do I do that again?’ But actually this new thinking around Impermanence helps me to realise that it’s not about doing that again. These days I know how to work without having a mental break down – I didn’t back then! So we don’t need to constantly return to our old selves; this is where we’re at now, there is change and there is lots of good as a result of that change.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

Do you think ‘playing’ can affect how we feel in our bodies?

Totally. When we play we are doing something for intrinsic reasons – just for ourselves, because we want to. There is no other objective when we play, it is just for fun – that is the very definition of ‘play’. If you can get into that flow state then you forget about other things outside of that moment and start to realise that it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s just about enjoying this moment.
However, I think being self-conscious about your body can be a barrier to play. You can’t really play and be worrying about your body – if you are, you’re not really at play. You might be going through the motions but you’re not in the mindset of play. Everyone is entitled to the high level joy that comes with playing but to play you have to let go, lose control, be a bit silly.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

Image credit: The Adventurous Mum

How can someone start playing if it’s not something they do today?

Go back to what you did as a kid that brought you joy. Return to that thing, investigate it and ask yourself ‘is it possible to do that again or to a do a version of that?’ For example, perhaps you really liked climbing trees and that was your thing. You were a thrill seeker, adventurous. But now, you’re older and you live in a fixed mindset, you never take risks, you don’t even let your kids climb trees. Ask yourself: why has that happened? And is that play style still available to you? Could you go to a climbing wall and see how that makes you feel? Or maybe get around the trees at your local park? Try and use a log as a balance beam to reconnect yourself with that type of environment. A great starting point is revisiting what brought you joy as a kid and then finding a new version of that

But also it’s good to be aware of joy and when you feel joy today. If you’re out and about for a walk and you always find joy when you go past a particular part of a garden or flower, take a photo, acknowledge it, try to understand. And then, can you extend it further? Maybe you can plant one of those flowers in your garden or research getting involved with that particular garden community. Find the clues that are giving you moments of joy already – you might find them in music, in particular ways of moving, in other people – these are little breadcrumbs of joy which you can lean further into.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

Why do you think so many of us get so much joy from being in water? Is that a sort of playing, do you think?

Yes, it really is. Swimming is a highly sensory experience. It stimulates all of your senses at one: touch – the feel of the water on your skin; sound – the very unique experience when you go underwater; sight – when we are looking around underwater, and even taste – whether you’re in the sea enjoying a salty kick or in the pool getting a little bit of chlorine. It is a full sensory experience.
What I think is even more brilliant about swimming right now is that it is one of the few things you can do where you cannot take your phone with you. You see people in the gym: still on their phones; half time at a football match – you check your phone. But the unplugging that comes with swimming is very unique – it’s a really meditative time for me. And I think the combination of the sensory stimulation and the unplugging can create an incredibly flow-like experience.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

What do you like about Deakin and Blue?

I just love the fit and I love that you can order by cup size. I don’t think of myself as thin or fat, although the mainstream fashion world sometimes makes me feel like a fat person because of how things fit me. But like many women I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m quite athletic; I work out a lot and I have long slim legs. But I’ve had three kids: I have big hips and a belly and massive boobs. I’m curvy and I want to feel that I am dressed for my shape: and that’s exactly what I get from D&B products.

I’ve been swimming all my life and so I consider myself an expert analyst of swimwear for big-boobed swimmers! And I think D&B are brilliant – both my D&B swimsuit and bikini are so supportive but have a cut that still feels very feminine to me. And also they’re not flimsy. I like diving down and touching the shells and sitting on the bottom of the sea. I can’t bear a swimsuit that is going to go threadbare after a handful of uses – I want it to be robust.

Deakin and Blue - Body Stories - Emma - The Playful Den - Play - Mental Health - Body Image - Wild Swimming - Body Confidence - Sustainable Swimwear

What advice would you give to your younger self to help her have a better relationship with her body?

I wish I could have known how incredible my body was. If I could impart anything to my children I’d love them to grow up loving their bodies. It’s been exhausting waiting until I was nearly 40 to appreciate what I’ve got. Particularly in my 20s when I had a lot of dysmorphia with my size. I wish I could have just gone back and changed the mirror. I think it’s about owning what you’ve got and having a more mature relationship with comparison. It’s such wasted energy. If instead you could put all that energy into leveraging what you have got: wow, I feel like I would have accelerated through life even faster.

--

Emma wears the X-Back in Cobalt and the Swimcrop Bikini in Beach Meadow - both in a size 16 Monroe.



Also in Swimspiration

Body Stories: George
Body Stories: George

October 06, 2021

Body Stories: Charlotte
Body Stories: Charlotte

September 24, 2021

Body Stories: Laura
Body Stories: Laura

September 09, 2021