Recently a friend posted an article from Sports Illustrated about our local hockey team on Facebook. I read it. And then I looked at the SI.com header and saw the categories listed, things like soccer and golf and NFL. One of the categories was “swim,” and so I clicked on it.
When I see the word “swim” on a sports website, I expect to find coverage of the sport of swimming. I’m crazy like that. But if you know anything about Sports Illustrated or their annual swimsuit edition, you can guess what I found: photos of models in bikinis, sitting on beaches and lounging in meadows and perching in groups on convertibles, but none of them actually swimming.
A person can find many disturbing things on the internet, and heavily photoshopped photos of almost naked women are low on the list. But I am resentful of the way Sports Illustrated has co-opted the word “swim” to mean “photos of almost naked women here to be ogled.” Swimming is not about putting your body on display. It’s about using your body to move through the water. It’s about power and motion and efficiency and joy. It’s mostly about joy.
The whole matter wouldn’t be worth mentioning except that I know people — many people — who tell me that they don’t swim or that they feel uncomfortable swimming because they don’t want to be looked at.
It makes me very sad. I love swimming. I would like other people to love swimming. But these people don’t swim. And they are not unusual; Body Positive Athletes reports, “93% of people have identified a fear of judgement about their size, shape, or level of fitness as a barrier to starting physical activity.”
Swimming is a great sport for people who are returning to exercise — people who are overweight, ill, injured — and yet those are sometimes the people who most fear exposing their bodies to others, people who have been ridiculed for the way their bodies look.
I don’t know how to make uncomfortable people feel comfortable about putting on a swimsuit, how to combat our obsession about how we look and how other people look. All I can say is that I’ve swum in a lot of places, and I have seen a lot of people in swimsuits, and none of them have bodies like you see in the so-called “swim” section of SI.com. Human bodies are squishy and lumpy. They have fat and moles and hair. They sag. Speaking only about my own body, I am so pale I make beluga whales look tan. But swimmers don’t go to the pool to look at other people’s bodies — or to be looked at. We go to swim.
So, if you can, as best you can, forget about “swimming” as defined by Sports Illustrated, and think about swimming as it really is: power, motion, efficiency, joy. Do you love swimming? Swim.
I love swimming, and I love this commercial. Make me one with the female equivalent of this man in it, and I’ll buy whatever it is you’re selling.