Real men wear lycra

I’ve never been able to even tentatively explore a new sport without investing in some sort of expensive equipment I probably  don’t need.

Despite this relentless commitment to the spirit of ‘all the gear, no idea’, as I set out on my new guise as a daily swimmer, I was less keen than usual to attire myself in the sort of apparel usually preserved for the professionals. And it was all down to body confidence.

You see, whereas my previous temporary attempts to be a runner or a footballer have allowed for gear baggy enough to at least partially disguise the fact that I don’t possess the body of an athlete, the attire associated with professional swimming doesn’t allow for any such cover-up.

It was bad enough to have to be topless. For years I’ve been somebody who’s barely been able to cope with being shirtless in my own company, let alone in front of other people. And I was hardly going to compound that by hanging my gut over the waistband of a very tight pair of lycra shorts, was I?


Back in my past life working for Speedo’s PR agency, I remember writing a piece about a new range of women’s swimwear that had been designed in-line with research showing that women felt self-conscious when walking from the locker room to the pool. To combat that feeling, the new collection had a number of contouring features to improve the wearer’s perception of their own body shape.

Writing that piece made me jealous. Not because I have any desire to don a ladies’ swimming cossie, obviously. But the issue of body confidence was all too real a struggle for me… and, sadly, no good solution was forthcoming when it came to men’s swimwear.

Between then and the time I began regular swimming last summer, my issues regarding body confidence had improved somewhat. I’d met my fiancee, Anna in that time, and I suppose the fact that I get dressed in front of her every morning and she doesn’t recoil in horror reassured me that I wasn’t all that repulsive.

But still, my morning routine would see me struggling to get ready at poolside in a way that meant I was topless out of the water for the absolute minimum amount of time, before plunging into the pool wearing a very baggy pair of shorts.

The Epiphany

As I started to enjoy and feel the benefits of my daily swim, my ‘all-the-gear, no idea’ tendencies came to the fore. As I read more around my new specialist subject, one thing that struck me is that anyone who’s actually serious about swimming, be it competitively or purely for fitness, wore tight fitting apparel rather than loose-fitting togs.

What really compounded it, though, was when a lady turned up at the pool one day wearing a pair of leggings beneath her swimming costume, together with a t-shirt on top of it, presumably to mask her larger than average frame. And the pity was, I realised, that her own lack of body confidence had led to a scenario where she had effectively drawn more attention to herself than she may have done had she opted for more conventional attire.

It’s like the comb-over hairstyle. Often, the more you attempt to hide something you don’t like, the more obvious it becomes.

charlton1Noted purveyor of the comb-over, Bobby Charlton

It was at that point that I realised nobody particularly cares about what you’re wearing other than yourself. I went home, fired up the Sports Direct website and ordered the cheapest pair of plain black Speedo jammers I could. “Feck it”, I thought.

A couple of days later, I found myself squeezing myself into them, and trotting to the pool. As I disrobed at poolside, to my eternal surprise, I didn’t feel like a fat lad in lycra, as I’d assumed I would. I felt like a swimmer.

I took the plunge, and suddenly felt sleeker, sharper, shapelier and speedier. Whether it was hydrodynamics or just the placebo effect, I’m not sure, but I immediately felt better for donning my new outfit.

The baggy shorts haven’t been touched since then. Not only that, but I’ve also increased my array of jammers with new additions that feature more elaborate, more eye-catching patterns. I take this alone as evidence that my once significant issues with body confidence have all but dissipated.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m comfortable in my own skin, and it’s a very nice feeling indeed.

Over the last few months, I’ve realised that embarking on a new exercise regime is not so much about how you look, but how you feel. Which is just as well, given I still possess all too many wobbly bits that aren’t generally associated with the stereotypical swimmer’s body.

However, if looking the part can help you feel the part, then it doesn’t hurt to try, does it? Looks like there’s something in the philosophy of ‘all the gear, no idea’ after all…

You know there is. There really is.


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