But there are patches of time when swimming is not an option. As a gay man with lifelong body image issues, I have to be in the right frame of mind to get in the pool. Well, right frame of body, to be more precise. As everyone knows, the Speedo covers little. Any roll or ripple of flab is in full view. With its clinging waistline, gut imperfections are especially accentuated.
Even in the best of times, I am not one to saunter about the pool deck in that itsy bitsy teeny weeny garment that is first cousins with the thong. Before I can even begin thinking of my workout, all my energy is channeled in getting from changing room to pool as quickly as possible. Must submerge. Stat. I make a dash but those darn lifeguards insist on “No running”. Even a moderate speed walk warrants reproach. Indeed, lifeguards are merciless. I presume this is some for of sicko entertainment for them as this sit poolside, clad in an oversized red t-shirt and sensible shorts. Walk, you fleshy sad-sacks.
This is the true walk of shame.
If I waited to be fully flab-free, I would never swim. And without swimming, the flab would just grow. For me, no other exercise tones and trims as well. So, when the weight congregates a little too much at the belly, I desperately try to diet and do other workouts until I reach a bearable/bare-able state.
In most public pools, my angst is needless. Length swimming times are frequented by seniors who enjoy the side stroke and a dip in the hot tub. It doesn’t dawn on the men to suck in their gut. They flirt shamelessly with the female lifeguards and talk at length about the weather while standing poolside. In a way, I’m in awe of them.
It takes for guts to bare my gut when I am in a gay-freqented zone—Vancouver’s Aquacentre in the West End, for example. (I only dared swim there a couple of times before switching to the pool in the Kerrisdale area, a senior citizen haven.)
The stakes are exponentially higher when swimming in West Hollywood. During my WeHo visit, my natural inclination was to forgo swimming altogether or to drive an hour into the San Fernando Valley to find a pool primarily populated with octogenarians. But I told myself that, on this trip, I would immerse myself in West Hollywood. That meant I would swim in the old outdoor pool smack in the middle of West Hollywood Park.
Getting in the pool wasn’t so bad. I made sure I arrived a few minutes before the length swim time. That way I could get changed and slip into the pool with relatively few witnesses. The real issue came when the hour ended. An adult triathlon team workout followed the lap swim. These men gathered around the end of the pool where I had to make my exit. They stretched and chatted freely, waiting for the pool to clear. They became a human obstacle course that I desperately tried to race through as one arm covered what it could of my stomach. Every single one of these men could stand about in a Speedo with total pride. Every one of them had that V-cut just above the waistline.
Two dozen perfect specimens. My worst nightmare.
For four weeks I went regularly to that pool. I never cut my workout in an attempt to avoid the walk of shame. I would never see these people again. And, clearly, I needed the pool time more than they did. Still, every time I finished showering and drying off, I felt so relieved to get a shirt back on—a merciful shield from total vulnerability.
I am off to Whistler for a conference and I will swim three mornings at the fitness center. I still have five pounds I’d like to shed before squeezing back into my Speedo, but I’ll deal with it. This summer, I’ve had extra training.