I put the name Speedo in quotes here to denote the generic way in which this particular brand name has become synonymous with the really tight, itty-bitty racing suit. I in no way am either trying to endorse or bash the brand name product.
We’ve all seen them, mostly at swim meets, but sometimes (unfortunately) on the beach. When worn by a competition swimmer, they seem like an appropriate uniform for the sport, albeit a tiny one. There is nothing quite like trying to squeeze yourself into the smallest possible, tightest possible suit, then trying to move and move FAST. Oh, unless it’s putting yourself up on a starting block two feet above everyone’s head while you’re wearing said suit. Make no mistake, we swimmers have all heard the jokes and comments about how we look and what can be seen through the tightness of the suit. We know that every ounce of excess skin or body fat gets pushed out to the edges of the suit. We know that every defect, every pimple, every hair is visible through the material.
Talk about feeling vulnerable.
There are not many sports where putting on your uniform means taking off your clothes to this extent. There is an overcoming of self-consciousness and an acceptance of emotional nakedness that swimmers must learn to deal with. (Some are better at it than others, and are usually the ones who, as adults, will walk through the locker room naked while the rest of us are wondering what the hell their problem is.)
It is daunting to bare yourself in any sense, to “put yourself out there”, to open yourself to the judgments of others. Most of us avoid doing that at all costs. We clothe ourselves with degrees and job titles and the “right” house and friends in order to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of showing who we really are. What flaws might be seen? What might people think or say?
It is interesting to observe young swimmers move from a complete uninhibited lack of awareness into the extreme self-consciousness of puberty. Some kids will quit the sport because it’s just too uncomfortable to be that exposed and vulnerable, or develop coping strategies like hiding in the locker room or wrapping in a towel. The really interesting part is seeing how they move through the agony of feeling exposed back into a lack of inhibition, as though just the repetition of being “out there” takes away the fear of it.
Choosing to be vulnerable, to put our real selves on display, to brave the eyes and judgments of others. Repeating it until we no longer fear it, until being our true selves is uninhibited habit. A good lesson for all of us, perhaps.