A Lesson In Being Your Own Worst Enemy, Thanks To The Swimming Pool Changing Room

A month ago, author Anna Mansell introduced as to the idea of Intuitive Eating with her post, STOP Fighting Food. A Revolution’s Coming!  Now she's back with on Strong Women Squad to tell us about a bump in her road to body positivity that involved a feeling I'm sure many of us are familiar with: the utter exposure of the swimming pool changing room...

A Lesson In Being Your Own Worst Enemy, Thanks To The Swimming Pool Changing Room

by SWS guest writer, Anna Mansell

It’s body image week. I’m still battling mine, still trying to intuitively eat. But today took an odd turn…

I’m just back from the gym. I swam for 25 minutes, alternating between front crawl and back stroke. It’s part of my mission to feel better about my body by remapping my hardwired brain to believe in the concept of intuitive eating. Of self love. I was feeling pretty good, invigorated. Proud of my arms, legs, and lungs withstanding the pressure of my increased activity. I felt strong and capable and ready to take on the world. I’m editing a new book – I needed this focus and positivity.

And then, this weird thing happened. Something that speaks more about my reaction than the other people involved. Something that’s left me feeling confused and a bit… vulnerable.

I was in the changing rooms and was locked out of my locker. No matter how many times I tried the code, it just wouldn’t open. I was stood, fresh from the shower, in a towel that barely covers my arse, so generously proportioned it is these days. My waterproof mascara had run. My hair was a mess. I just didn’t feel comfortable to head out into the foyer and ask for help. Two girls came in chatting, so I asked them for help. 

‘Excuse me, before you get undressed, would you mind getting someone from reception? My locker’s broken.’

My request was met with a scowl. And maybe a look up and down at the state of me. Or maybe I just imagined that. I don’t think I imagined the scowl…  ‘Have you definitely put the right number in?’ she said, not smiling. I felt like a child.

‘I have,’ I said, sensing I’d put her out. ‘I’m sorry!’ I said. ‘Thank you,’ I shouted after her, as she went off to fetch someone. On her return, I said a big ‘Thank you so much, sorry to interrupt you, thank you. Sorry.’ I was probably gushy. Her lack of warmth to my plight had made me needy to know I hadn’t pissed her off. She said nothing. 

The women continued getting changed, chatting between themselves. The locker was opened. We could all go about our business. Yet, as they chatted, and I dried off, an energy in the room enveloped me. I can’t say where it came from… probably, it came from me. I disintegrated. All aforementioned pride and strength dissolved and instead, I felt like an idiot. And you know what was worse? I felt like a fat, idiot. And stupid. Like only a stupid, fat idiot could make a mistake like that. And what was I even doing there, in a gym full of beautiful people. Amongst the women in tiny bikini’s and top knots to protect their hair. Barely breaking a sweat and yet blessed with the kind of body I’ve never had.

The thing is, they said nothing to make me feel this way.

The thing is, they said nothing to make me feel this way. And her lack of warmth is not my concern, I don’t know what was going off in her day. I don’t know what was in her mind. And okay, had it been me, I’d like to think I’d have appeased the person in need. An ‘Oh don’t worry,’ or ‘You’re welcome,’ or ‘Gosh, that’s happened to me before…’ can go a long way to making people feel less awkward, particularly when exposed by a shabby towel. But they didn’t say that. And in their defence, nor did they have to. In fact, by further way of defence, nor did they say anything that suggested I should feel the way I was feeling. There were no words, no snide looks, no nudging between themselves, and yet… I felt instantly, irrationally, disgusted in myself. This wasn’t just a broken lock. This was everything that was wrong with me and my presence in that place. It was so ridiculously irrational, and yet totally all consuming.

I got dressed. I dried my hair. I wanted the world to swallow me whole. I cringed at the size of my jeans as I climbed in to them. I was disgusted by the extra chin I caught sight of as I dried my hair. I felt sick at my belly as it wobbled in my top. Thank god for long sleeves that hid my bingo wings. 

One simple interaction, with two women of archetypal beauty, - albeit where I was on the back foot, but no more than that, really - and I was left in tatters. One silly, broken lock, through no fault of my own, and all hatred toward self and body had steam rollered my pride leaving no sign of it whatsoever.

Where does this shit come from?

I mean… what!? Where does this shit come from? What happened to me, to make me so easily undermined? Why do I have such little faith in self, and why does that instantly translate into disgust in my body? How are these two things even linked? How complex is this?!

It was just a lock.

Intuitive Eating is as much about how you feel about your body, as it is what you put in it to fuel it. And it’s hard. That’s how I feel at the moment. It’s really hard. I am so desperate to be okay with food and with me, that I am pinning all of my hopes on to this one concept. And yet, as each week goes by, and I don’t lose any weight, or look any better, or feel any more self-accepting, I wonder if I can really do this? Or if it’s the right path. Except that, to be bothered by any of those things makes it clear I’m not following my intuition enough. Because were I, I’d not care about the scales, how I looked would be embraced, nurtured, loved even. If I had total acceptance of self and body, an interaction at the gym, something so small and insignificant, wouldn’t send me into a tailspin of self-loathing.

So where does that leave me? And if I feel like that, do others? And if they do,  where does it leave us all? And how can we overcome an obstacle that seems to be so intrinsically ingrained in our psyche, that an apparently confident, smart, forty-year-old woman, can be rendered useless by something so inconsequential.

I don’t have answers, not at the moment. I just have a deep sense that I’ve not got there yet. And a fear that if ‘to get there’ means I’m there at this weight, with this body, in my heart of hearts, it’s the last thing I really want. And yet, the idea of restriction and control and constant scrutiny, feels wrong too.

I know that Intuitive Eating is the right principle for me. I really do.

I just wish it wasn’t so hard a concept to live.


Thank you so much, Anna!

Anna is keeping us updated with her progress with intuitive eating as the months go on, and she's really interested to know your thoughts - have you given this a go?  Did it work for you, and help you feel better about yourself (about life)?  Have you been inspired by anybody through social media that's made you come around to a body positive way of thinking?

You can keep up with Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMansell, Facebook: /AnnaMansellAuthor or Instagram: MrsAnnaM, or buy her awesome books, The Lost Wife and How To Mend A Broken Heart, over on her Amazon page.