Why Water Polo Made Me Change My Relationship to My Body

You've heard it before: I'm a swimmer. 

Swimming is awesome. I'm in the pool 6 days a week. It's been this way since I was 9 years old and my Aunt nicknamed me, "Chlorina." There's no way I could do this if I didn't LOVE the water. But I didn't get lucky enough to play water polo until college. 

And thank God! When I moved to New York City 9 years ago, I had a pretty fucked up relationship with my body

When I found myself in a city where cover models and actresses walk the same streets as regular folks, I decided it would be a good time to quit swimming.

Instead of swimming laps, I started counting calories and logging hours at the gym. I ate small servings at lunch and hated myself when I downed a whole box of cereal an hour before the dining hall opened for dinner. 

I don't think my experience is atypical of what other women go through. Naomi Wolf's, The Beauty Myth is all about this. Instead of bragging about how much we can bench, women are more often bragging about how much weight they can drop. In my experience, this desire to be thin manifested in my workouts looking more like a to-do list than a good time

Enter water polo as my knight in shining armor. 

Not only is it responsible for introducing me to the love of my life, water polo is responsible for helping me think about exercise as something fun that I wanted to do. It helped me learn that being small is not always the only thing I want. It teaches me weekly that confidence goes a long way. 

Frankly, I think it's bullshit that women go to the gym to run on the treadmill while men are playing basketball.

I mean, in romantic comedies, basketball is where guys go to bond, get their game on, and distribute important dating advice. But, it seems to me, that most women are begrudgingly hitting the cardio room just to burn off lunch. Or at least that was the case for me before I started playing polo, especially since the only sport I knew how to "play" was swimming which is all about counting laps, times, and seconds shaved off. New research actually shows that measuring an activity that you're supposed to do for fun makes it less pleasurable. And that's how it felt. It didn't feel fun. 

Now, I go to the pool to play a game instead of measuring anything. And, that has made me love moving my body again in a way that I haven't felt since recess as a little kid. I go fast because I'm chasing the ball. I build strong legs holding huge dudes away from the goal. I'm excited and motivated to be moving my body. My relationship with exercise has changed, which means I'm showing up to the pool a lot more often. 

Water polo doesn't value being small. 

Other exercise routines, especially for women emphasize weight loss. Just look at Insanity. I mean most women's exercise programs get you to buy based on the fact that you're going to see "great results." Most people don't talk about how intrinsically FUN exercise is. How fucked up is that? Seriously?! The most important thing to me when I was a freshman in college was being small. I wanted to look attractive. I wanted to appear thin. So, having fun never ever was the point of hitting the gym for me. It was about making myself smaller. It was about taking up less space. 

When I started playing water polo, being small was a problem. Both vertically and horizontally. Since I couldn't do much about the vertical part (I'm short), I decided to stop worrying about losing weight because extra weight was extra work for my defenders. 

I'm going to repeat that, ladies. I STOPPED WORRYING ABOUT LOSING WEIGHT. 

You can't be a good water polo player if you're not confident. 

Being a teenage girl is filled with self-esteem issues. Can I remind you that I was suddenly surrounded by not only beautiful, genetically talented women, but I was also surrounded by women of serious means, like, money to burn? And the comparison hangover was FIERCE. Afraid of being "braggy" or "conceited," I always felt like I needed to be deferential to other people who were more confident. This also meant I didn't think much of myself, which led to a lot of berating of my body. 

In water polo, being polite is asking for trouble. If you back off when somebody has the ball, they score on your team. Likewise, defenders take you down if you even so much as look like you're not going to score. Sometimes even just pretending is enough. 

Water polo has TRANSFORMED my relationship with exercise. It's made exercise fun again. It's shifted my focus away from weight loss and it's made me more confident. 

Maybe water polo isn't for you, but if it is, feel free to come out next week to play with my team at St. John's Rec Center

If you choose no water polo, write in the comments which sport you do choose.

You deserve to have fun! Stop worrying about losing the weight and feel good in your body. 

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