I have been plump since childhood but I have also been a swimmer since then. Despite my rounded proportions, or perhaps because of them, I found it very easy to float backwards rather swiftly, so much so that I was on my school’s swimming team and a gold medallist in backstroke.
But this gift and affinity with water has its pros and cons for a large Indian woman.
On one hand is the irresistible pull of the pool, on the other is the acute consciousness of one’s semi-naked bouncing booty in a landscape where any woman – even a skinny one – is stared at with much curiosity.
Every summer then, I head to the neighbourhood club’s poolside in trepidation. The first few days go by in a blush, until I develop the body confidence and familiarity with the regulars to walk out of the changing room with my head up. This summer, however, things became complicated.
My old swimsuit gave way.
My mom had bought it on a trip to London. It was ruched around the tummy and had inbuilt boob pads, in a kind gesture to a woman my size. To further protect my modesty (read: cellulite shame), I wore it over a pair of black cycling shorts. I looked like an aunty, I admit, but then I am allowed the freedom to be one. I am a mother of two grown girls after all.
With my swimsuit gone, I went shopping for a smart new one. But a walk through two of Delhi’s most happening malls left me bereft. All were out of stock – Adidas, Puma, Nike, Forever 21, Reebok, Marks & Spencer, Lifestyle, Pantaloons, Shoppers Stop. I was bewildered.
What does a large-sized woman have to do to get a swimsuit in Delhi in August?
I went online. I tried Zivame.com, Prettysecrets.com, Jabong.com, but there was nothing for women with curves. I checked out the plus-size paradise for women, Swimsuitsforall.com, but with the added charges for delivery to India, the ones I liked would have cost me three times my budget. Then I went to Amazon.in and got what appeared to be a swim-dress with boy-shorts attached by Speedo for Rs. 2299. It had a five-star rating. I took it in the exact size the sizing guide recommended according to my measurements.
It arrived and I excitedly wore it to the pool that evening, confident of my camouflaged flab. I walked down the pool steps, and then stopped a few feet into the water, horrified. The darned thing was floating! The dress rose like a nightmare from around my thighs and settled nonchalantly on the surface of the water, leaving those coveted boy-shorts and attached mesh lining shamefully exposed underneath. Who designed these things?
The humiliation did not end there. Determined to keep moving so that the dress did not get a chance to float up, I immediately began doing laps only to discover that it was actually two sizes too large and the bust-line scooped down when I swam forward. A person swimming toward me would have a clear view of my bobbing bosom if they were inclined to look. Oh, the scandal and the agony.
I left the pool early that day, distressed about the time and money I had wasted. The next day, I dug into my wardrobe and found an old wetsuit I had bought years ago from Abu Dhabi (shops in the Middle East are renowned for stocking conservative clothing for large women). I hadn’t worn it much because it is impossible to take off when wet, and I was paranoid about being stuck half out of it in the changing room.
But it was time for desperate measures.
I wore it yesterday. It zips up all the way to the neck, is half-sleeved and goes down mid-thigh so I am well-covered with nothing hanging about. Something like a semi-burkini. It would probably earn a fine in France, but it’s just fine for India. After the swim, I did some desi jugaad and lathered myself up with body wash in the shower. It slipped off easily.
So there it is. I went out searching for a sexy new swimsuit, and I ended up in a conservative old wetsuit. Woe be to the world; it does not deserve large bountiful swimmers like me.