Like so many women, Kerry grew up with negative feelings about her appearance, which she battled using diet and exercise. But, through outdoor swimming, she's learning to cut her body some slack.
In the seventh Body Story from our Love Flows campaign, Kerry talks about the important bonds with her husband, children and best friend Mickey as they explore the outdoors together. She also tells us why books are so important in her life - including her fictional watery heroes.
Content warning: Kerry talks about disordered eating, weight loss, mental health and exercise addiction.
Imagine that you’re standing on the beach in your swimwear about to get into the cold water. How do you feel about your body in that moment?
In that moment, I am trying my absolute best to not think about my body at all. I suppose I am thinking about it in the sense that I'm going to put it in a situation that’s alien to 99% of the rest of my week. But, I’m going to give my body time and space and just an opportunity to be free and in the moment without thinking about my perception and what my brain tells me about my body.
When you’re swimming outdoors, how different is that connection between your perception of your body and your feeling of self-worth?
Totally different. In that moment, I am focused on getting into that water and it feeling amazing. I know that when I get in the water, dependent on the time of year, I’m going to have to focus my mind and control what my body is telling me to do. So, when it's telling me to reject going into that water, it's about focussing on the fact that my body can do this. My mind can do this. I am stronger than what my brain is telling me. And honestly, now I'm saying that out loud, I wish that I was listening to that water brain most of the time during my life; it would be easy to just turn around, put a towel back on and get out. But you know that when you breathe and you take that time for yourself, it feels amazing.
And how does that perception differ from when you’re not in your water brain?
I would love to say that my self-esteem isn't attached to my feelings about my body and the way that I look, but I would be absolutely lying to myself and everybody. I think we, me and my body, are on a journey. Some parts of that journey are easier and some parts feel like they were right and maybe they aren't right anymore. But we're constantly on a journey and it's a battle every day. It's a battle that I hope I win because I owe it to myself to let go of those feelings about my body.
I also think the way I parent and the way I talk to my children about bodies, or quite often not about bodies, is very different to how I was brought up and when it was far more about aesthetics rather than what you could do with your body.
So, when do you think you were first aware of appearance being a thing?
I grew up doing sports. My dad was really sporty and when I was about five or six, I started running. Before school, we'd go and do 10k runs. And then you go to primary school and you're flung in with people who are at different levels, different hormones, and people start to call you fat. When you look back, you weren’t fat, and actually fat isn't a bad thing. But, when my hormones and body shape start changing, so upper primary school, it was seen as something that could be altered through diet and exercise. I could do sports, there was no difference to that, so it was just an aesthetic thing. It was quite toxic.
I think that time had a massive impact on the way that I feel about my body. As a woman in my forties and a parent, when I look back I see that we have a really important job to do to break cycles and break that behaviour because I would never want my children to grow up thinking that their bodies should be a certain way based on what they look like or what they can do.
Did you find that school sport was about achievement rather than enjoyment?
Yeah, absolutely. It was about winning; there was no participation. You didn't feel like you could participate unless you were going to take it really seriously. When I went up to comp and doing athletics it was at that time when everybody suddenly transitioned from wearing shorts and T-shirts to running knickers and crop tops. It was just such a shift change where bodies were almost weaponised. That change was fuelled by everything around me at that time. Magazines started telling us that you must have a full face of makeup you must wear x, y and z if you want to be seen. And yes, we had the whole grunge movement, but it was still very sexualised and charged.
I think that was the real start of this capitalism ideal where things are pushed on you like, you must have this, you must have that. And for women and girls, a lot of that boiled down to clothes, makeup, body tanning products, haircuts and that kind of thing. So, with my Victorian tan, it wouldn't be such a problem if I had been born in a different era. But I think we were at the start of that money-making machine that sold people a lifestyle and a certain body type as a life experience. So, I was thinking well, I've got hips, I’m never going to be that weight and height. But what they were selling was an unachievable dream for, let's be honest, 99% of teenage girls.
So, how did you cope with all that pressure to look a certain way?
I didn't cope. I suffered from social anxiety and depression, which wasn't handled well because people didn’t understand social anxiety and depression. Then, as I went through my teenage years, I grew into my body and looked more mature than my age and with that came unwanted attention.
I did suffer and I still do live with ongoing disordered eating and eating disorders. I remember a period during my teenage years when I thought that brown rice and water were going to be the best thing ever, and I remember having that for weeks and weeks and thinking, yep, this is perfect. And I think again, that was something that was sold to us at that time; if you eat salad, if you try this drink, or this diet, you’ll change your body. I suffered badly with anxiety to the point where I was going to school having stomach aches, not wanting to go and socialise and having real anxiety about going and meeting friends. Boys were on the scene and I thought, well actually I'm not good enough.
When I look back the reality was that I was absolutely good enough. I looked amazing. But we're so cruel to ourselves. And I think that is something that I've learned from people around me when I was younger. I learned to speak about myself in negative ways and that’s an ongoing battle. My negative self-talk is off the chain some days. It's terrible. And if I heard anyone else talk about themselves in the way that I talk about myself at that time, or now, I would just hug them and say, you're not this person, please be kind to yourself.
How did that play out when you left school and got older?
So, I thought that leaving comprehensive school and not being around teachers and the people I was with would be better, so I went to college. But you just get thrown in with even fewer people who look out for you in college. And then, along with feeling not great about yourself and dealing with depression and social anxiety, you have to navigate trying to make new friendship groups. I look back on that time and honestly, I was just a shambles of a human. I did my A-levels, went to university and completed two years and then decided, do you know what, this isn't for me and I came home.
But disordered eating has always been this thing. So, when I left university, I came home I got a job and I put on loads of weight. Then, I got with my husband and I had the contraceptive implant and I put on five or six stone. It was ridiculous. I got into this terrible cycle of feeling like, I'm sad so I'm going to eat. I'm going to go to work, I'm going to go home, I'm going keep eating, and my weight just grew and grew until I was in my late 20s.
At the age of 28, and I wouldn't recommend this ever again, I went to Rosemary Connelly and I lost ten-and-a-half stone. So, then we go into the next cycle, which is when I became addicted to doing exercise. I became an aerobics instructor and then became a Crossfit coach. With Rosemary Connelly, you're supported to lose weight but you're not supported to stop losing weight or maintain your weight. And I got really small, like, I was like a size four to six. I won Rosemary Connelly’s Slimmer of the Year and did an aerobics video, which was filmed in Gatecrasher in Birmingham for three days. For a while, I felt great, but then I realised that even after losing all this weight, I still had the same unresolved feelings about my body. I still thought I didn’t look good.
If losing so much weight didn’t make you feel better about your body, what did help?
In a way, CrossFit was a turning point because that was a period when I felt really positive about my body. I just loved what my body could do. I realised how much I needed to lift weights and move in a way that wasn't to Rihanna because I was still teaching aerobics at that point. And that when I was lifting weights, in the same way as I feel when I’m in cold water, it was concentrating on the correct technique, using my body to its maximum and not worrying about the way that I looked. It was focused on output, as opposed to that internalised thinking. Also, my husband joined and I think it was a really great bonding experience between us, but also something that we were both starting at the same time. He'd always been super active – he’s one of those people who pick something up and can just do it, whereas I'm not that person.
It was about mental strength as well. Some of the exercises we did back when I started were horrendous. I look back now, because I don't go anymore, and, honestly, 50 minutes of just doing burpees and picking up weights; it was ridiculous but all you're focused on is, I'm going to get through 50 minutes of doing this, there’s not enough time to think if one of my bum cheeks is bigger than the other, I'm not concerned about that.
So that was a really positive experience for me. I also loved the way that my body changed. I loved being more muscular. But, more than anything, I just loved that it was my body that was able to do those exercises. It just had strength. When I had my children, I was still weightlifting. I was still doing CrossFit at 42 weeks with my eldest, Dottie, trying to get her out of my womb! So, I've got really fond memories of that time because it coincided with what my body could do from a strength perspective, but also what my body could do in growing a baby, giving birth and nurturing that baby, and it was all me. I learned that my body is so much more than just something for me to be mean about and for other people to look at or judge me on. It is actually magic. And I can say this. I say it to everyone, and I need to remember that kindness. I need to remember it about myself. So, I think that while there were negative parts, overall, it was a positive time when my life was changing immeasurably because I was becoming a mother.
Talking about how motherhood changed you, was that a transformative time in how you felt about your body?
It was in that I have become far more relaxed about my body. I think you have to compromise when you have children. To a certain extent you have to give yourself some flexibility, some credit, some slack, because it's huge. My eldest is only 10 and my youngest is five, so my body has been through such a massive physical growth three times in a decade. You find that you use your body in a different way when you're a mother. You hold them, you carry them. I am far more positive about my body and what it can do. And I speak about it with kindness to my children. Mentally, I still have that struggle and, as my children get older, I think I will vocalise that in a positive way. But right now I want them to grow up thinking how amazing they are, how strong they are, how physically able they are, especially for my eldest daughter who's definitely starting to change – hormonal and body shape changes.
I think that when you have children, a lot of people forget that a big part of it is slowly giving them away to the world. And a big part of that growth and magic is about them developing and their bodies changing, but also accepting those changes. I think for me, I didn't ever get the positive message that actually, it's impossible to be straight up and straight down if that's not what your body is meant to do. You know, we need to embrace that change from child to woman, from woman to menopausal woman. We need to normalise that in society. And I think that's what's gone wrong: We are always striving to be the perfect form of someone that we're not; we're only ever going to be able to fit into our body and use our body in the way that we want to. And if that means that I am now a size 12 to 14, that is fine. I need to say that out loud more often: I'm fine. You know, I'm good. I've got a husband who adores me. I've got amazing children, and I hope that they take some of what I'm trying to do with them. And I hope that they don't have the same experience that I did. I want them to be able to just live and be happy.
Being active outdoors together is something that you experience as a family. How has that been important?
My children are like different people outside; they come alive; they are magic. And I think that is the magic of water and the outdoors. They're all smart, but you sit them down and you try to get them to do homework in a traditional way, it's a struggle because their brains aren't made for that. But when we go outside, the stuff that they come out with is extraordinary. Everything about the outdoors leads to us eventually living a healthier mental lifestyle. The children come alive and I come alive too. Even when I don't want to go outside, when I'm there, I'm just a different person. I'm carefree. I'm not thinking about all the other stuff because nature has been there before us. And it will be there after us. And trees aren't looking at what shoes you've got on or if you've given yourself a regency hairstyle by accident!
When did you discover outdoor swimming?
Actually, it started with the gym to a certain extent. So, they started doing winter dips and I went to a few of those. Then I got pregnant and that always coincided with Christmas – at 38 weeks pregnant, you don't want to be getting in the freezing cold. So, for many years, I was just a spectator. I'd go along and watch and honestly, the energy wasn't there for me because it was a lot of macho men, which is fine. So, it wasn't that it wasn’t a joyful experience because I was there among people I loved, but it wasn't for me.
Then, after I’d had my third baby, Beau, I was like, I need to go and have space for myself. And then I realised that getting in cold water was something that I was really good at, and it grew from there. When I started, my husband would go with me to the beach or jump in a river. And it was at the time where it was getting more popular, and I was like, oh, I'd like to go there or I'd like to go and see that. So, it started as a solo mission because I am an anxious badger and it's not that I don't want to, it's just that I'm scared of human beings. And then Michaela came into my life a couple of years ago and she's probably the person that I swim with the most apart from my eldest daughter who has now got the bug and I just think that is lush.
So, it's about five years for me off and on. We live in an amazing place, which we take for granted, so we do have so many opportunities. But, I prefer being in still water over the sea. So, I love a lake or a river and Scotland is my absolute favourite. I love getting in a loch any time of the year, apart from when there are midgies.
So, being in the water helps you be more mindful, getting in your body rather than in your head. What does swimming with Dottie or Mickey add to that?
it's just sheer joy. And it's a connection. Dottie is a different little human when she's in that water. But also, it's such a peaceful, private moment where you can have a conversation in the sea, and it just seems so different to anything that you have on land. You can talk about things that are bothering you. And because you're in the sea and you're in that moment, it doesn't seem as big. Because the sea is bigger.
It's also the funny moments that I think of the most, where you have that banter. It just feels like such a gorgeous connection. It's a very special experience and I feel humbled to be able to take part in it because I know that it’s not an experience that everybody has, and can have. So, when I'm in the water, I don't take it for granted. I really try and focus and take every piece of joy that I can from that. Even the cold vagina!
We also need to talk books. How did that become a thing?
So, I have always loved books from a early age. Thinking about books that I loved when I was a kid that I still think about now – they’re probably not ok language-wise anymore, but stuff like The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler always stays with me. I think I've read that about 4000 times. It was crap when you think back to it. I mean, it was the 80s so there wasn't a lot of thought about scruffy kids living in a house on their own without their parents, someone go and help them. But at the time, I loved it.
Then, I did English literature. I love classics, even though it’s pretentious, but I loved Shakespeareand Dickens. A book that stayed for me forever was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Then I got a job at Borders after Our Priceclosed. And that is where it ignited an absolute passion – a staff discount will do that for you. Then, three years after I started working in a bookshop, I got a job as a librarian. I've now worked in public libraries for 17 years.
Last year, I was off work for quite a while because I was really poorly with Covid, and I was on my own an awful lot. I started eating books! Just reading and reading and reading. Then, I thought, I've worked with books for 20 years, why am I not telling people about them? It's tied with body image and self-esteem, isn't it? It's like, who wants to listen to me talk about books? This is not what I should be doing. But actually, I have got a platform, I have got people who want to hear and I've got a small following. But, most of all, I've made some of the most amazing friends from book TikTok and Bookstagram who I speak to every day and who live all over the world, and I love it.
Have you got any watery and swimming recommendations for us?
I am actually reading a sci-fi book at the moment called The Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller. It's a Young Adult book, but it's about a strong, red-headed pirate queen. One of my favourite series is Fable by Adrienne Young, which is based on Norse mythology and the Little Mermaid. Another of my favourite books at the moment is called Wild by Amy Jeffs, which is about early mediaeval folklore. It is absolutely one of my favourite books at the moment. It’s about that connection that people have always had with nature, which we lost, and about how we weave it back in.
Now that we’ve heard your story, we can appreciate that the Love Flowsshoot was a huge thing for you. What made you agree to take part?
It felt like something that I needed to do to show other people who may have had a similar story that actually this is who we are. This is who I am right now. It was terrifying, I'm not going to lie, but it was lovely. Everyone was so kind and put us at ease. I'm awkward as, and they were so patient. They were fantastic and so generous with their time and generous with their hearts. And so it was a really lovely experience.
Mickey was so moved when she saw you in that Plunge Swimsuit. How did it make you feel?
You know what? I think that I spend so much time trying to hide and working against my body in some respects. Whereas I picked that swimsuit, which I wouldn't normally have picked, and when I put it on, my husband was like, oh my gosh. And I was like, oh my gosh, I feel amazing. I went down a size because the temptation for women who feel a certain way is to hide, and actually, we shouldn't make ourselves small. We need to take up space. And if that space is wearing that amazing Plunge Swimsuit on a beach in Rotherslade, then I'm there for it!
It made me feel I felt like a Hollywood siren. I wear a swimming costume. But sometimes it's a zip-up all in one. I went into the shoot thinking I would go for the Long Sleeve – I love the Long Sleeve, but I have other long-sleeved costumes. So, I figured if I was going to do something that was challenging every single one of my comfort zones, I should do it in something that is not in my comfort zone. And that's why I went for the plunge and the bikini. They just made me feel great. They’re amazing quality. They feel like a second skin. They're beautiful.
Kerry wears The Plunge Swimsuit in Black and The Swimcrop Bikini in Beach Meadow, both in size 12 Monroe.
If you're inspired and uplifted by this post about love of water, the sea, your swimming or surfing sisterhood and your body, why not read more from our Love Flows campaign?
"Like, it's not good for us to just gaze at one another. You have your friends, they have their friends and you have your shared friends, but then you have your shared thing that you gaze upon together... For us, it's the sea. The sea is the thing that we gaze upon together, that we appreciate together." Read Rachel's story
"There are all those dynamics of sisters in the family sense, and then you have that in a friendship as well. I think the thing that has been really nice is this idea of sisterhood and how it transcends blood relations... In a way, we’re all sisters. It’s why we have stickers with sisterhood on it. We want to spread that feeling of unconditional love and comradery." Read Tirion's story
"I think there are so many things that come with going in the sea, like this whole feeling being empowered and those tiny acts of rebellion, so if you feel like you look incredible at the same time, you just unleash a whole superpower that you never knew you had. It's a scary combination for everyone outside of you!" ReadMickey's story
“There's often a bit of a juggle so actually having that one-on-one time with each of my children is a special thing. For me and Indi to go down and have a swim, and then what comes after – getting dressed without exposing ourselves, having a nice warm drink and chatting all wrapped up – it’s very special.” ReadHelen’s story
“I had all this stuff in my head when I was pregnant and post-baby saying, you can't do this because you've got a baby and you might hurt yourself and baby needs you. And that limiting mindset stays with you for ages… But this is the time for you – like, it was time for you ages ago, but now you have the capacity to for this mental and physical challenge.” Read Ebbi’s story
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|BRA CUP SIZE||AA - B||C - E||F - HH|
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|BIKINI TOP SIZING||Cup Size|
Band Size (inches)
|26-28||8 Hepburn||8 Monroe||8 Hendricks|
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|30-32||12 Hepburn||12 Monroe||12 Hendricks|
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