Swim England waded into a Twitter storm yesterday after its guidance on choosing women’s swimwear was criticised for being sexist and focussing on appearance rather than athletic performance.
An online article on the national governing body’s website gave advice on how female swimmers could choose costumes to minimise “jiggly belly”, “enhance your cleavage” and “add curves to your hips.” “Plus size” women were advised to choose costumes with a “minimising effect.” The article, which had been online since 2010, was later removed. An article on men’s swimwear was also taken down.
Simone Webb, a PhD student in gender studies, discovered the article while researching swimming costumes as she wanted to take up swimming again. She highlighted the content on Twitter: “This is material that @Swim_England is publishing on their website designed to encourage people to take up and enjoy swimming. Material which very explicitly tells women that their bodies ought to look a certain way and that that's the primary aim of a swimming costume.”
The article was removed after Webb tweeted the organisation. A Swim England spokesperson said: “This was an old web page from 2010 that does not represent the views of Swim England. As soon as it was brought to our attention we removed the page and are in the process of replacing it with more appropriate information. Swimming is one of the most accessible activities for people of all ages and abilities. We want everyone to feel comfortable in the water and apologise for any offence this old information may have caused.”
Body consciousness can affect everyone, regardless of how they identify. At an event last summer a woman came over to the Outdoor Swimmer Magazine stand; she was a non-swimmer and what the Swim England article would have termed as “plus size”. Her first comment was that she could never swim outdoors because she wasn’t athletic and would feel too self-conscious, but after flicking through a copy of the magazine she was genuinely shocked and delighted at the range of shapes and sizes of the swimmers on its pages. She left the stand promising that she would give open water swimming a go. I hope she did.
As open water swimmers I think we are lucky to participate in an activity that is generally very accepting of all body shapes. Every issue of Outdoor Swimmer is full of photos of swimmers of all sizes, and we have been very proud of the feedback we have had on our policy of only featuring real swimmers not models on our covers. When you’re half-naked and shivering in a car park trying to get into your warm clothes, who cares whether you have moobs, a jiggly belly or your cleavage needs enhancing. In fact, as a skinnier swimmer, I would quite like an extra layer of bioprene to help me stay in the water longer! We all have bits of our bodies that we would like to change, but whether you are a skinnydipper or a neoprene warrior, let’s celebrate our bodies and the amazing and wonderful swimming feats they allow us to do.