• " As a teenager I often refused to swim at all... because I was terrified someone would say something about the way I looked in a swimming costume." (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Matilda Dixon-Smith doesn't usually notice when her weight changes - until a recent heatwave had her longing for the pool.
By
Matilda Dixon-Smith

29 Nov 2017 - 10:20 AM  UPDATED 31 Jan 2020 - 10:11 AM

My body is bigger than it used to be. Like many people – maybe you – my weight “yo-yos”. Flicking back through photos of myself, I can see my body squashing in then stretching out like a concertina.

Over the past six months my body has expanded more than usual. My hips and stomach have rounded out, my thighs have thickened. My face has broadened, cheeks and chin chubbier, my mass pushing out against the borders of my skin.

Mostly, I don’t totally notice if my weight changes a little – or even a lot. Certainly, some things are different. Like, in summer I heat up a little faster and feel a little heavier (and a little less comfortable) in tops without sleeves or skirts that fall above my knees.

And people react to you differently. When I’m bigger, commuters on the tram are more reluctant to sit beside me, and if they do, it’s often with a disgruntled sigh, or an elbow thrown sharply into my side to encourage me to pull my fat body in further to accommodate them.

So I’ve learned to avoid spaces where that response will be compounded or amplified. Like the beach, or the pool. As a teenager I often refused to swim at all, even on beach holidays, even though I loved the water, because I was terrified someone would say something about the way I looked in a swimming costume.

When I’m bigger, commuters on the tram are more reluctant to sit beside me, and if they do, it’s often with a disgruntled sigh.

As an adult I’m a little bolder, but still, it’s tough. Every time you have to steel yourself, ready for people to quietly judge your fat body in its too-tight swimming costume, and to feel the sinking shame of knowing you’re too big for polite society.

But Melbourne has these local suburban pools dotted all over the city, meaning just about anyone can head for the water when the city heats up to an unbearable temperature – as it has these past couple of weeks.

Cooped up in my too-hot apartment, I’ve longed to trudge the 50-odd steps between my house and the North Melbourne pool tucked away in a slice of council reserve between two busy roads. But right now I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, and I’d worried who might notice me dragging my fat body around a public pool, or drying out on my towel on the grass, or taking up space in the leisure lane.

The day it hit 35 degrees I was too hot to care. So I shimmied into my swimmers, pulled on a sun dress, grabbed a towel and marched over the road to the pool.

I found a shady spot away from the larger groups of loud kids and lazing university students. Folding my body away from the pool and the public, I pulled off my sun dress and sat stiffly on my towel. No one said anything; no one even glanced at me.

Bodies dimpled with cellulite, as mine is, powered through the lap lanes, boldly taking up space.

I shook off my thongs and walked to the edge of the pool. Two kids hanging by the ladder bobbed out of the way so I could climb down. I slipped gently into the water, feeling my body disappear into that weird gravity that water has.

Once I let myself breathe, I looked around and noticed that, actually, the pool was full of all kinds of bodies. Tight bodies in neon swimmers lay side by side with older, sagging bodies out on the grass. Bodies dimpled with cellulite, as mine is, powered through the lap lanes, boldly taking up space.

No one seemed worried about anyone else at all. And I felt this exquisite kind of freedom, because no one cared about my fat body, so I was free to use it anyway I wanted.

Now I go to the North Melbourne pool every afternoon at 2.30pm. I slide into the slow lane and do forty-five minutes of soft, lazy breaststroke laps. I nod at the other slow-laners who pass me. I smile at kids who cannonball into the leisure lane and splash everyone in a three-metre radius.

I know I belong at the pool, even in my fat body. And it feels perfect.

Body of work
Fat fitness: the new breed of body positive exercise trainers
In a world where ‘The Biggest Loser’ trainers are lauded for making people suffer and cry, it’s hard to imagine fat people exercising simply because it makes them feel good. That’s all changing, with growing demand for exercise options that don’t shame you for your size.