Two-piece bathing suits
I was never the girl brave enough to undress in public changing rooms.
Some girls, like Annabel would get straight to it, whipping their tops off like they were born naked or something. They shimmied their limbs into sparkly two piece bikinis while still managing to convey with hushed delivery how Harry had confessed to Emma after school yesterday up the tree in Ben Burn park. But what did she say? we whispered through the changing room auditorium.
When I was a gangly, 9 year old amphibian, I loved to be in the water. I had weekly swimming lessons and regularly ran from our car door all the way to the waves. Swimming pools only became terrifying once I noticed the public audience to my limbs, that the boys in your class could see you for what you were, naked and ashamed under chlorinated spandex.
Plastic bands wrung our hair out like flannels as we wobbled a wet line between child and adult, wisps of adolescence jutting out of nylon underwear.
Before one of our regular swimming lessons, Annabel turned to me and Kara as we were juggling between togs undies togs undies togs public decency and whispered
did you know I heard from Sarah who saw Cathy getting dressed by accident that Cathy has hair down there?
By there, she meant pubic region, the scariest neighborhood a girl could live. Annabel was waiting for me to react so I gasped half-heartedly, because she scared the shit out of me and I didn’t want to be the weird kid. Annabel knew all the gossip in the school and wore two piece bikinis, even when the boys could see her. She was a confident ballerina. I was her mouse.
Cathy was the weird kid. Her family had wacko problems like mine and everyone thought she was secretly a lesbian. Fearing the worst, I mumbled real strange and backed into a private changing room, Annabel’s eyes piercing though the wood. I hunched into a plain black bathing suit that hid as much of myself as possible and made sure not to look at anyone’s bodies while I exited.
The first time I remember feeling the divide between what I looked like and what I would grow into was sharing the shower with my mother. She had riverlines across her stomach. I was soft toddler limbs and pink puppy fat. I couldn’t stop noticing her. Puberty was the beanstalk Jack climbed. My thighs thickened to trunks. I filled out and grew higher, higher, higher still. God did not answer my pleas to stop growing, so I turned pliant under hormonal tweezers. My limbs swelled in response to B cups fondled under the pretense of watching movies.
I took my baths fully clothed, a wrong no amount of soap could erase. And then I swum naked.
We were born into buoyancy. Our births were the first great waterpark feature. We were born into cellulite publicity, each wrinkle pored a thousand times over. Before I move, I practice how I might be seen, scrutinise the pores of my laughter. Goggles are my only defence each time I try and swim through public space. We are the movie on display at Waiwera hot pools.
Sunday evenings are my routine swim days. I walk to the Tepid Baths as the sun casts its showcase and leave by day’s ovation. The way I reclaim muscle memory is to swim faster than attention, up and down the lanes. When I am in the water, I am nothing but but a concerted effort to keep moving, my thighs kicking rivers. I am heavy enough to sink. Still, I wade through the swim caps and bobbing lanes. I look steadily forward and save myself from drowning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vanessa Crofskey is an artist and writer interested in bodily architecture and swimming. She has a degree in Sculpture that she mostly spent performing and writing poetry. Vanessa has written for The Pantograph Punch, Dear Journal, Hainamana, Scum Mag and the NZ Herald, and performed at this year’s Auckland Writer’s Festival.