Learning to Love the Body Swimming Gave Me

Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

By Sarah Lloyd, Swimming World College Intern

Ah, the “swimmer body” — broad shoulders, narrow hips, pronounced musculature — immediately recognizable and generally admired by those who do not have it. I’ve heard people describe swimmers as looking like they were carved by Michelangelo, a tinge of jealously in their voices, so it may surprise them to find out that swimmers have body image issues, too.

As athletes, we exist in a realm that is not quite within “societal norms” (whatever those are) and because of that, we struggle in unique ways with the way we look. It’s more than being “too fat” or “too thin”, there are complicated implications for athletes– our bodies do wonderful things for us, but sometimes we don’t see that in the moment.

**Disclaimer** I’m a cis-gender female, so I will be writing from this perspective. I in no way intend to offend any readers by leaving out their specific experience, but I cannot write from perspective that I have not experienced. My experiences are also not intended to forego those of trans* or male athletes, which are as wholly unique as my own.

Pressure to Conform

Shopping for clothing has always been something that has been particularly stressful for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good shopping spree every now and again, but it’s always way more stressful than I think it should be. As a female swimmer, it’s really hard to find clothing that fits well. Pants that fit around my waist almost never have enough room for my quads and shirts that fit my shoulders have entirely too much room in the waist and it’s been this way as long as I can remember.

When I was younger, shopping was an annoying reminder that I didn’t fit into the mold. It’s not that I thought I was ugly or something, but for a 13-year-old girl who was desperate to fit in with the “regular” girls at school (and trust me, I didn’t), I certainly felt different. I  looked at my sturdy, already-muscular frame and compared it to the thin, slender bodies of my classmates and felt weird.

I can’t count how many times comments were made about my “man shoulders” and as much as I wanted to let the comments roll off my back, when you hear it a lot, it tends to stick. I once had a gym teacher tell me that it was “impolite” to beat the boys in my class in a pushup contest, which now seems absolutely absurd, but at the time triggered a lot of insecurities. Another common comment was that boys felt “intimidated” by me– not exactly a confidence booster for a 7th grade girl. Behind many of the comments was the implication that an athletic body was somehow not quite feminine, not pretty enough.


Photo Courtesy: Katie Seaton

Fast forward to high school and my self-image hadn’t progressed much, especially since I had joined the realm of social media. I envied the soft curves of my female classmates and celebrities and lamented over my angular, muscled body. Getting dressed up for semi-formals and proms was hard– strapless dresses made my shoulders look HUGE, but sleeved dresses never allowed me to raise my arms past 90 degrees (not conducive for dancing like I just don’t care). Once, a woman in a dress shop told me that my rib cage was too large to look good in a dress I had picked out. I left without a dress and went to a different store, defeated.

I knew that my body looked the way it did because of the training I had done since I was eight and I understood that if my body wasn’t built the way it was, I wouldn’t be able to swim as fast as I did, but there was still some resentment over it. I didn’t curve in the right places, I was too big in some, not big enough in others. When you’ve been told by society and social media that you’re not “normal” over and over again, acceptance is hard.

Accept and Embrace Your Body!

It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I really came to appreciate and accept the body that swimming gave me. It wasn’t some lightbulb, epiphany moment, so I can’t tell you exactly when I stopped caring that I didn’t look like a “normal” girl and started really loving what I saw in the mirror, but what I can tell you is that it happened. Somewhere along the line, I stopped obsessing over the size of my biceps and quads and the number on the scale (because, hey, muscle weighs more than fat) and started appreciating what my body can do for me.

My body can do amazing things, from cranking out 14,000 yards in one day to squatting more than my body weight, and it really doesn’t matter whether or not it conforms to societal beauty standards. When I stopped obsessing over my “abnormal” body type, I began to love the sport, and myself, even more. We may not be a size 2, but we still look darn good in a dress.


Photo Courtesy: Ellie Crawford


  1. avatar

    Nice article Sarah! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Oda Bygdnes

    Rebecca Edvardsen like den kor ho fortæll om skjortene som ikke passe rundt skuldra??

  3. Míriam Basco

    Swimmers body, the best lookin body ever!

  4. Jill Frater

    My daughter is 17 years old and a fly swimmer, she’s proud of her abs but obsesses over the size of her shoulders ? loves swimming hates shopping for clothes with friends, small frame but needs bigger sizes due to shoulders and rib cage.
    Her body is amazing and I just wish she could see that for herself, better to be sculpted than flabby like me ?

    • Jill Frater

      Aw thanks Rania Magdy Mahmoud

    • Rania Magdy Mahmoud

      My son is a butterflyer too …always scared of gaining weight …I understand what u r going through …may God bless them all

    • Jill Frater

      Best wishes it’s gruelling stroke! x

  5. avatar
    robin walker

    Since “normal” now days is obesity I’m always happy when I don’t fit into off-the-rack, normal clothes. Swimmers have the best bod’s in the world!!!!

  6. avatar
    Amy Havig

    Great article! Thank you so much. My 13 year old daughter is having issues with her swim body and I am excited to share this article with her.

    • avatar
      Sarah Lloyd

      I’m so glad you’re going to share it with her!