As a girl I was hyperactive, to say the least. I was in ballet class and I took piano lessons, but it was quite obvious that with my energies and my size this did not work (I grew to be 180 cm in height (5.11 feet) and, believe me, it's not easy to sync all parts of such a long body… ;). So at the age of five I started swimming lessons, just like everyone else. I have to admit that it wasn't love at first sight, but then one year later at the age of six I finally learned how to swim. Suddenly everything worked out – my size, the long legs (and my parents' desire to channel my energy and burn it in a positive way so I would be more relaxed back at home). It suddenly all synced.
During first grade in school I found myself in an afternoon swimming class. First only once a week but gradually it became my main hobby. Actually it started consuming so much of my free time that my whole family adapted to this new and very special relationship of mine. Dad driving me to the pool for the early morning training sessions and mom driving me to the evening sessions. Friends? Well, only if there was no training scheduled and on weekends only if there were no competitions the next morning. Even the family holidays adjusted to my tight schedule of training camps and competitions. Just like anyone else involved in competitive sports I had to give up a lot but got so much in return. Friends for life, experiences that others never gained during all their lives, such as coping with stress situations. It built my personality and strengthened my character, gave me the self-confidence to know that I will be able to do it, that I can do it and that I will succeed in the end.
At some point during junior high school the hormones started going crazy with everyone at that age and I suddenly became aware that my sport activities make me stand out physically. My back and my shoulders were as broad as of most boys and on top of that I also was as tall as most of them. I was not in the top list of the most wanted girls of my age group. Suddenly swimming and all my accomplishments, everything that I was so proud of, became also a reason for embarrassment. If a salesperson in some shop would say to me while I tried some clothes: "You're doing sports? You're a swimmer, aren't you?" I knew exactly which kind of clothes would emphasize my shoulders and which ones wont. I knew which angle is the best to take pictures of me, so that "I could hide my wide back". For my understanding then a female athlete could never look feminine and attractive. Luckily this pain of mine transformed into incredible energy which guided me to improve more and to swim even better, breaking records, representing Israel in international competitions and being granted the "outstanding athlete" status by the Israel Defense Forces during my compulsory army service. For different reasons which every athlete is confronted with – and I do not wish to get into detail here –I decided in the end to leave competitive swimming after my army service (I will leave my thoughts about the culture of sports in Israel and the assistance or lack of assistance athletes are provided here for a different post).
Suddenly this special relationship of mine had ended and the only thing that still connects me to water are the swimming lessons I give for children. It has been almost 10 years now that I teach swimming besides all the other things I do. With these kids and their excitement in the water (esp. this very moment when a child experiences that she/he just made it and swam all on her/his own is so exciting!)
I have learned to appreciate sports and especially swimming and its benefits.
Today I smile with pride if someone remarks that one can see that I am doing sports. Today I deeply admire a strong feminine athletic body and I love those show window dummies in shops like Nike with six-pack abs, strong thighs and wide shoulders. This really makes me happy.
The internet is a powerful tool -
So if I am already exposing myself here then it should be for a good reason and in order to transfer an important message across the internet:
A few days ago the mother of a girl of 9 years whom I am teaching swimming since she is about 5 approached me and told me that her daughter wants to stop the swimming lessons. I was very surprised hearing this since this girl is a natural talent and I knew how extremely happy she is when feeling her power in the water and succeeding where even her brother does not manage. My intuition told me that there is something else here which I need to inquire so I approached the girl carefully and asked her what has happened. She told me that during a break at school some of the boys competed in arm-wrestling and she had wanted to join in because she knew she has strong arms. When she won against the boy she competed with, the boys in her class started laughing at her and told her that she looks like a boy and girls with muscles look disgusting. This is why she wants to stop all her sports activities, she told me. She does not want to look like a boy.
My heart broke. I was so very sorry for her but I also knew exactly how she felt. I could identify with her since I myself felt exactly this way as a girl and later as a teenager…
Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters and anyone who is in contact with girls and female athletes or will be in touch with them in the future – I am addressing all of you: Sports -no matter which discipline- strengthens body and soul! It's our task to encourage and support every girl and woman in this world.
It's our job to contribute to the discourse on women's empowerment and to change the perception of beauty. Of course not everyone is into sports but for those who love to engage in sports - support them and also remind yourself that strength and strong muscles are beautiful and to be admired!