As a relatively frequent traveler on vacation and business, I think I know how to behave in most international settings. I can usually be relied upon not to choke on the buns at breakfast and to massage the egos of awkward clients in a suitably progressive, globalist kind of a way.
But I cannot fathom how to maintain my dignity around swimming pools, from high-end business hotels to entry level campsites. And it seems I’m not alone: the internet is full of folks like me saying they feel body-shamed when swimming. According to a recent Mental Health Foundation survey here in the UK, reality TV shoulders a big portion of the blame. It’s having a hugely detrimental effect on people’s body images, with men just as affected as women. Yup, there are lots of folks out there — I include myself — who repulse themselves.
What makes it far, far worse is that arriving at many swimming pools, anywhere in the world, is like walking onto the set of Love Island. They appear to be almost entirely populated by the beautiful, bronzed, lithe, and elegant.
“Come on, don’t be shy,” I tell myself every time. “You love water. Nobody will stare. Just get on with it.”
But stare they do. Why? Because I’m pasty, podgy, middle-aged, and self-conscious. Also, knowing I’m prone to a nasty sun rash, I always sport a UV-protective swimming top. Okay, it covers up a beach-unready body, but also makes me stick out like a plum in a bowl of custard. I might just as well dive into the pool wearing a knitted cardigan.
Actually, getting into the water is an indignity however you do it. The beautiful people slip in, making barely a ripple, before easing into a refined breaststroke. I’m sorry, but I’ve no idea how they do that. However hard I try, I end up wading like a drunkard staggering towards the bar, or launching myself belly first, creating a mini tsunami. Just last week, in Bahrain, I got a very dirty look from one of the beautiful people sipping a cocktail at the far end of the pool, who was greatly unsettled by my entry. Yes, she was sipping her cocktail in the pool. There’s absolutely no way I could do that without getting arrested or drowning.
Beautiful people live by different rules, clearly.
My habit is to wallow, not swim. Usually it’s fine, but occasionally I drift absentmindedly into the path of one of the beauties who’s putting in a few lengths to stay toned. I can tell you that being rammed by a beauty doing a front crawl at full pelt is alarming to say the least, resulting in a messy, thrashing medley of bronzed and pasty limbs. Once, the beauty and I somehow ended up in an involuntary eye-to-eye, full-body hug. It was awful.
Getting out of the pool is no more straightforward. But then comes the big one: drying yourself and getting changed. I’ve thought hard about this, and there’s no easy answer. Do you march towards the changing room, dripping like a dog? Do you wrap yourself in a huge towel, then remove your cossie with a swift wriggle? I tried the latter once. I thought, “If the beauties can do this, so can I.” So I stood by my chaise lounge at the head of the pool, took a deep breath, and tried to feel confident. It was a struggle, but just when I thought it was all over and I was ready to start putting on a pair of dry shorts, my towel snapped open like the doors of an angry elevator. Cue horrified screams.
So, we non-beauties — that rare breed in the world of sunny swimming pools — are challenged and humiliated at every turn. Some of us have accepted that the only safe time to go for a dip is at 3 a.m. Others, like me, persevere in broad daylight, knowing we’ll never get it right.
Perhaps the most sensible course of action is to resign ourselves to defeat and just let the beauties have the place to themselves. I guess that’s what they really want.