Having started swimming outdoors in her forties, Minreet is a relatively new cold water convert. But her impact has been huge. In a relatively short space of time, Minreet has not only enabled other women in her London-based South Asian community to swim, but she’s also supported them to discover the joyful benefits of facing your fears and learning something new as an adult.
Encouraged by her mother Pritpal (read Pritpal's story), Minreet has found swimming as beneficial for her mind as it is for her body. Here, she talks about being brave and taking the plunge.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
When I look at the mirror, I get annoyed at my stomach for one – I can't seem to shift the belly fat and that's the bit that I find really frustrating. But then I know that nobody really sees it and nor do they see the part of my thighs that I find hardest to tone up.
So, I’ve got the fatty bits and then arms that are quite skinny and not strong. But otherwise, I'm happy with my body. At the end of the day, I work out to try and keep in shape. I know what I want to work on – like, I feel like my arms aren’t strong enough because I don't lift enough weights. But overall, I'd say I'm comfortable with my body. I wasn’t happy a year ago, but now I'm ok and I can work on it now during winter so, hopefully, next summer I'll be in an even better place.
When do you think you became aware of how you looked?
That’s a hard question! Maybe college or university or even when I started working in my first job, so maybe in my twenties. As a child I was actually very skinny - I don't think I could put weight on, so it was later into adulthood that it became quite hard. I put on weight. I could feel it because my clothes weren’t fitting – as you put more weight on you feel it more, you see it more in your face and body and then you feel unhappy because you can't fit into the clothes that you've bought and they don't feel comfortable, and that made me feel more conscious and aware.
I didn’t really do much about it, though. I wasn’t ever a gym member then, and I just did what exercise I could and cut back on eating sweet stuff. I've got more aware though, as I hit my forties. I turned 40 during lockdown, and it's a lot harder to lose weight now – when I was younger it just wasn't as much of a big deal as it is now. When you're younger, you get on with things, and I didn’t really worry about it or notice anyone making comments. But, as you get older, you're more aware of what people are saying, you know, and you’re more body conscious. And I think that's when you feel it more.
How does being active through work and sport affect how you feel about yourself?
If you feel good about where you work and you're in a good environment with great people, you definitely feel much happier. That reflects back to you in your life and the things that you enjoy doing in terms of sports, activities and exercise.
Sport hasn’t always been a part of my life – I've become more conscious as I've got older. So, when I turned 40 in lockdown, I realised that I'd put on a stone and that's when I decided to do more, to get more active. And now, I love it! I run, I go to the gym, I go swimming - that and walking are the main things. I like to walk, to go mountain climbing. Oh, yeah, and I enjoy skipping and hula hooping as well.
It’s important to make exercise fun. When you're exercising in a group of people, like in a class, you get to meet your friends and mentally your head feels much clearer. You feel better in yourself, physically and mentally. It’s almost like your body's calling for it, so you need to exercise. And you feel so much better afterwards – you just feel like you're ready for the day, energised.
I started swimming outdoors earlier this year, so it's quite new to me. I started because there was a lot of stuff around mental health and outdoor swimming. I’d been swimming inside in a swimming pool and I'd become a swimming teacher. I’d been told how good it was to swim outdoors, so I thought I'd give it a go.
So, it's fairly new to me but it's something that I really enjoy. It just makes me feel really refreshed. It's good for your mental health and It's so lovely to be out in nature, to be able to get out of a confined space indoors and into the open air, and the water really helps you to just clear your head.
You’ve been exploring outdoor swim spots around London with your mother, Pritpal. How has your relationship been important to your outdoor swimming?
My mum has always been really active – she’s the one who encouraged me to take up the swimming teaching. And so, she's inspired me. Then, with the outdoor swimming, it was something that my mum really wanted to do. I wasn't so keen on it. I was a bit worried and afraid, but she was very brave and so I think really my mum's probably the leader of it all.
She's one of the oldest in the Asian community and she's taken the plunge to go into outdoor water. She's very brave and not afraid. That fear doesn't even come into it. I think that fearlessness is a really good thing to have. We’ve swum all over London together. We did Canary Wharf recently, which was really good, and we’re looking to get to Hampstead Ponds – we’ve got lots on our list.
Canary Wharf was amazing. If you put your head in the water in certain places – if you have the guts - the staff members will jump in with you and they can tell you where the historic things are. It’s really interesting.
You talk about the barriers to swimming outdoors faced by women in the South Asian community where you live. How are you helping women access swimming?
I’ve just started a new full-time job, so it’s tricky at the moment, but the idea was that I was going to take women to swim outdoors, which I'm still hoping to do next year. I’ve taken my mum and I'm looking to bring the group of ladies who I've been helping to swim at my gym and to organise introducing them to outdoor swimming together next summer.
I think that a lot of women are not really comfortable swimming at all. It's a difficult skill and there's a lot of fear of drowning. So, to then go into outdoor water where there's not really the stability that comes from being in a swimming pool that has a shallow end and a deep end, that fear is even greater.
I think that their body confidence is a barrier as well. Some people are not comfortable wearing swimwear, and they don't really want to be in a male and female environment, they want it to be women only. So, swimming's one thing but outdoor swimming is another big skill for them to learn and I think that stops them from taking the plunge.
I think the way to overcome those barriers is by trying to educate the people in the community about why it's good for you to be able to do something outdoors. While swimming in itself is good for you, it's about being able to understand the basics of how you can stay safe in cold water. It's just such a good skill to have. Swimming is a life skill.
Also, community is very important and I think that it’s nice to swim together with people from the same community because you understand the barriers and the challenges and you're able to help support each other and encourage each other.
What feedback have you had from the women you've supported into swimming?
They felt more confident that they're able to do it. They feel that they've learnt a new skill and it's made them want to do it even more. They don't want to give up. So, it’s something that they feel is good for them to do and they want continue doing it.
I think if you can learn something like swimming, it definitely does pass on to the rest of your life because it's a hard skill to learn. If you can nail that, then you can do anything really in life, can't you? And there's something about being brave and doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone, and that makes you feel better more able to take on other challenges in life.
I definitely think that people who are thinking about learning to swim should try it. Go into shallow water or the shallow end of the pool first and walk in the water with your feet touching the ground. I think just being in the water is very therapeutic. It's so good for your mental health and you shouldn't give up because you're afraid.
By starting in shallow water where your feet are on the ground, and with safety measures like having a lifeguard on duty, you’re really cutting down on the things to be worried about. Maybe the hardest thing for adults is worrying what people think, and the only thing I can say is just, try not to care about what people think. If it’s something you really want to do, you should just got to go out and do it. Life's too short. At the end of the day, I had to do that to become a swimming teacher.
How did it feel to take part in the D&B photoshoot?
My mum and I loved taking part in the photoshoot and really appreciated being a part of this project. I love my D&B. I love the colours and design, and I’ve never had anything like it, so it’s going to be something that’s at the top of my list of swimsuits. And I find that it makes me feel comfortable and warmer. I’m going to enjoy my swim in it – I’m not going to feel that it gets in the way. Honestly, I love it, and it fits lovely.
Minreet wears the X-Back Swimsuit in Zoo and in Scarlet both in size 12 Monroe, and the Swimcrop Bikini in size 12 Monroe
Read other Body Stories in our Diversity Outdoors series:
"I became really body conscious, but it wasn't because of my perception of my body – it was definitely because of the way others perceived my body." Kelly's Body Story
"I think you've got to make time for exercise. You really have to. With me, I leave my housework. It's more important to me to exercise, you know?" Pritpal's Body Story
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