Strong Women are Beautiful Women: Growing Up in a Swimmer’s Body


Strong Women are Beautiful Women: Growing Up in a Swimmer’s Body

By Lillian Nelson (From the Archive)

Whether you are 13 years old and just growing into your body, or 20 years old and reshaping your body with college swimming, this sport really forces you to be aware of your own presence.

I cannot speak on behalf of our male counterparts in the sport, but growing up as a female swimmer, I can fully relate to the feeling of exposure swimming induces. When you are wearing a swimsuit in public for a few hours every day, it can feel as though your body is developing, maturing, and being shaped under a microscope.

Having extra wide shoulders, bulky biceps, and big quads aren’t exactly the features emphasized on the Disney princesses we grew up idolizing, and we’ve all been in that situation where we can’t buy that dress or that shirt because when we went to try in on in the store, it got stuck on our shoulders and we needed help getting it off.

Being a fairly big girl myself, I have experienced pretty much the full spectrum of the struggle. On my journey to growing into the athlete I am today, I have experienced being slightly overweight and I have experienced being slightly underweight, but regardless, I’ve always been bigger than my peers. Long arms, long legs, big hands, big feet.

At age 19, I stand at 5’11” and weigh 155lbs. I’ve always been among the tallest of my friends, even the boys, and “dainty” would not be a word I would use to describe myself.

It has taken me my whole life to work on being totally comfortable in my own body, and though there are definitely some insecurities that linger, over time, I have come to learn that a strong woman is a beautiful woman. There is no better sport to celebrate this in than swimming.


Photo Courtesy: Williams + Hirakawa

Next to the ESPN Body Issue, there have been many recent movements and endless literature on loving and accepting your body, especially aimed toward young women.

As I fall into this target audience, I have learned a lot lately from articles, speakers, etc. One of the most important things I’ve come to understand is that everyone is insecure about their bodies at some point or another, yet no one has the same set insecurities. Being insecure with your body comes with growing up. But that doesn’t mean you should always feel that way.

Being an athlete, a swimmer especially, can open up a whole different world of insecurities. When your uniform is a swimsuit, there is very little you can hide. That being said, it is so important to remember how lucky we are to even have bodies that allow us to do what we do, no matter what magnitude we compete at. Not all ‘strong’ bodies are going to look the same. Swimming is one of the most physically demanding sports, so that in and of itself should make you confident that you are doing good by your body with every practice you finish.

Instead of being uncomfortable and insecure in your own body, no matter what you may criticize on yourself, own it.

Celebrate what you have been given to work with. We often forget the value of our own opinion on ourselves, and how much that opinion can make or break us on a daily basis. Your body is a wondrous tool you have been given to shape and use to reach any goals you may have. So get out there, and show yourself and everyone how beautifully strong you can be.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Larry Bluemel

    Always the most gorgeous, most toned of any athletes…

  2. Shawna Drebick

    I love this sports so much I hate when I not in the water swming

    • avatar

      And the pumpkin quads…!

  3. Karen Smith

    The dress. Yes! LOL Many times. Gotta find one with a halter top. 😉

    • avatar

      This is so true!! ? Still struggle now 20 years on, those swimmers shoulders are here to stay!

  4. avatar

    Everyone has a body, it is important to be confident no matter what. Each and every day I see girls struggling to have that princess body or be something they are not. I strive as a coach to make sure every child knows that they are special the way they are. I was a swimmer to and went through body changes on top of body changes but being a swimmer and wearing basically nothing made me confident and proud no matter how my body has changed. Own who you are.

  5. Heather Lewis Long

    The best thing swimming has taught my daughters is that they have a strong, beautiful body.

  6. Kristen Olson Faust

    Great article! I was always so self conscious about how big I was, but now I am grateful for being so physically fit through my childhood.

  7. avatar

    Outstanding,beautiful woman.

  8. avatar

    We swim because are too sexy for a sport that requires clothing

  9. Andrew MacCallum

    Any swimmer knows the astounding diversity of body shapes that can go fast. I can empathize that a typical male swimmers body (think Phelps or Adrian or Grevers) is held near ideal for society and you don’t hear the same for women. It’s nonsense. Hopefully more articles will focus on accepting the body shape that you were given and developed to go fast. In the end, as swimmers we want to go fast and any body that can do what we do (or done in my case) is perfect.

  10. Susan Marsh

    Just have not been on the comp often thanks for the shares will now be watching more just send it on~ I have already missed so much.

  11. avatar

    Great article Lil. FYI, the most beautiful women are the ones that race is the water. Sorry Robin.

  12. avatar
    Sandy Thatcher

    My wife and stepdaughter are both gymnastics coaches, and much the same can be said about female gymnasts who wear leotards in public.

  13. Elizabeth Grife

    Being a master swimmer has provided myself more security on my body as I had learned to be proud of all the things we had done together

  14. Hallie Stoffal

    Swimmers are more comfortable in their own skin then any other athlete. Deck changes with your friends holding up towels definitely gets you over your hang ups real quick!

  15. Joann Holman

    Love this article – as a swim mom – this is so important!!!

  16. Martin Richards

    Totally agree…
    I used to do the Sandown to Shanklin swim an the Changing Room at the end of the swim was the boat shed …men n women side by side getting changed at the end of the race.together little or no it going of the others around you …in various stages of exposure….

  17. Stella Preissler

    As a master’s swimmer and competitor at the ripe old age of 71keep on training and using that swimmer’s body! In my teen years I was always playing down my swimmer’s body and muscles it wasn’t cool back then. But I can tell you that I’m proud of my older swimmer’s body and its definition. Keep swimming ladies be proud of those muscles and show them off every chance you get! Grandma’s can look great too!

  18. Jackie Arnold

    The struggle to buy clothes is real. I have a butterflyers body. When I find anything that fits i buy it in multiples

  19. Colin Larter

    Just be grateful that you are not a caterpillar ?

  20. avatar
    Jitender Tokas

    Great Article!

  21. Cherie Benz Adair

    Love this! I wish all coaches supported the “not one size fits all.”

  22. Dawn Fernley Judd

    I used to hate wearing tank tops in high school because of my broad shoulders. Now, I love my body. I am so grateful to have put in 13 years of competitive swimming into my life ❤️?

  23. avatar

    Wonderful article. I received the best compliment recently when I was told that my shoulders looked really good, that he could tell I was back swimming again….it was my brother and I am 63 years old! I certainly own it!

  24. avatar

    My daughter is 8 and already 5ft and muscular- swimming is her favorite sport! She has started to make comments already about her body in a swim suit- this article is perfect! Thank you for sharing.

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