By Laura Delarato
I wore a bathing suit every single day for the last month — a statement that my teen-self would have side-eyed at the thought of while drowning in full-length t-shirts (and shame) attempting to mask my plus-size body. She definitely wouldn’t have believed future-Laura’s newest wellness obsession in the least. And while I’ve reestablished my love for my size as I’ve grown into body positivity, my swimsuit-clad bod has willingly traded the opportunity to traipse the beach this summer and has been hitting spin class . . . in a pool.
AquaStudioNY is a clandestine, side-street studio in New York City’s creative Tribeca neighborhood laden with spa-like style and brimming with welcoming energy —the spearmint scent floating through the air helps calm every impulse to flee; carrying all my insecurities back out through the entry. I’m super glad I didn’t as I became truly immersed in this urban-mermaid workout life — the location is a shining star on my Google Maps app.
First . . . Aqua Cycle. Two contrasting notions that seem cumbersome when said out loud. I’ve been to plenty of spin classes and at no point would I have thought submerging myself waist-deep in a salt-water pool would make it any easier or some how better — in fact, my brain gravitated toward it being yet another surrealist fat-girl nightmare I’ve become accustom to when entering an intimate atmosphere. What I pictured when I heard Aqua Cycle for the first time: a boutique-y fitness class occupied by the Klosses and Mosses of the world; devoid of us commoners just trying to workout for the sake of it.
I often speak about the lack of representation when it comes to plus-size inclusivity within the wellness space, and have way too many personal anecdotes to fuel my reservations of subjecting myself to working out in a bathing suit in this luxe Tribeca workout-scene. Notwithstanding: The implication that every plus-size woman has had to relearn body confidence is not at all the truth, but it wasn’t until a few years ago plus-size became a topic we talked about openly; giving way to the true experiences of isolation and discrimination when your size is in the double digits. Hell, I semi-can’t believe I live in a world where plus swimwear is a real thing. So, please excuse the judgement on my behalf — I just can’t do another exclusive fitness class that may leave me having to defend my body.
Early in the morning of my aqua debut consisted of hopping from store-to-store trying to find a decently cheap bathing suit for what I thought was going to be my one solo performance on this underwater stage. I couldn’t find anything in the immediate so I stuck with a sports bra, swim bottoms, and a tank top — really bringing back some ego-depleting memories of my graceless teen years sporting a bulky white t-shirt over my already size XL one-piece. My friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I promise it’s really great. There are all body types here,” as if she could hear what I was thinking.
Often, I’m stunned by how many times people — even the ones I love deeply — use terms like “everyone” without actually thinking that through. I’ve been in plenty “everyone invited” events where I solely represent the plus community. But this time…it was true. There was a diverse range of people. It was clear — there wasn’t competition or comparisons amongst these attendees. Simply the high of knowing that they all truly enjoyed being there.
I changed into my pretend swimwear and made my way to the pool. Following a quick rinse off (you must do a quick splash pre-cycle), I entered the stationary bike–filled pool. The instructor demonstrated the proper bike setup for my height and comfort level, and after a few failed attempts I finally got my feet in the caged pedals — p.s. I’m a pro at this now! I wasn’t very good at pedaling in water the first time. My movements were lurching and rough; definitely not as smooth as the people around me. As we moved from positions 1 (sitting), 2 (standing up), 3 (leaned over and standing), and over to position 4 (moving your body behind the bike while holding on to the seat; still pedaling), I found my rhythm and understood this was a matter of letting go and trusting that the water would hold me. If you’re trying Aqua Cycle for the first time, I promise you it will.
I left feeling . . . changed? transformed? I breathed a little deeper while my enthusiastic friend walked by my side exchanging I told you so glances in my direction. This one time couldn’t be the deciding factor of me turning in my sneakers and opting for swim shoes. I went back the next day without her to see if I felt the same. again…different body types, different people. I can’t believe it has taken such a long time to see what I wish I saw at every single boutique fitness club. My visible belly in my tank top was less of an insecurity as I moved through the water.
there is something really powerful about being the only #plussize gal (in a high-cut, zipper front #swimsuit no less) in a workout class. yeah, I get A LOT of stares. sometimes people come up to me and ask if i’m in the right place. Most of the time, there are silent glances over in my direction. and on a few occasions, people ask me how I feel confident enough to wear what I’m wearing. ➡️ often, I’m the sole #pluswoman in the room, meeting, friend group, picture, event — and it’s incredibly isolating. not only are you clearly the ‘other,’ but you now have to be the voice of your entire community in every single situation. and when you do speak up, your voice tends to be drowned out by happier, less complicated, unbothered opinions of the situation that don’t see how the world treats the ‘others.’ ➡️ #plussizecommunity: I encourage you to do the activities you want to try despite how the world reacts to us. but also, have the courage to speak up as to why you’re removing yourself from mentally-stressful moments. it’s your body and your life – do what you want with it.
Forty-five minutes went by so fast in this second class. My pedaling was much stronger, my form was a lot better, and my understanding of how to change positions smoother. Again, I left in a serene state — there is really something about spending time in the buoyant expanse of a pool for almost an hour . . . even if you are burning up to 800+ calories while cycling through the pressure of water.
That night I went home and booked myself out for the next week. I was determined to make a 7-day judgement on the sport so that I can really live what it’s like to be an aqua-cyclist. Was I going to encounter an instructor with a less-than body inclusive attitude? Would I find myself in a position where I felt uncomfortable about being plus-sized? Would I not be able to balance it with my work schedule?
That week turned into week two . . . and then week three . . . and then week four. By the second week, I had to invest in swimwear other than a sports bra, tank top and swim bottoms. I set my sights on sporty, classic pieces from Juno Active. I stocked up on three pieces so that I could alternate between drying each off on the shower railing in my bathroom — there is currently a designated spot for my bathing suits as per my roommate’s’ request.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this place became my sanctuary. No locker room comparing, no body-negative conversations, no weight loss goals requested from instructors (a thing that I’ve been asked by too many in-house gym trainers without ever saying I wanted that), no moments of self-doubt as I walked from pool to the shower and naked into the locker room to change — this is where those razors came in handy as I was going nearly everyday and showering there.
I ended up doing 24 of the 30 days — making time to rest and have at least one day where I wasn’t carrying a bathing suit in my bag. But even with that 24-days, I notice some major changes in my body from the jump. Let me say first, this is not one of those weight loss stories where I tried a workout and I transformed into a thin person. Not in the slightest. I feel leaner and my muscles are tighter. My posture has greatly improved and have a lot more energy. Yes, I can tout the weight loss benefits of this workout — and there are (10 pounds down), but I wasn’t here for that. I wanted to find a place that made sense in my life and reduced my stress.
Am I sometimes the only plus-size woman in the class? Yes. But this is so rare. No, I don’t always need to be surrounded by community members in every activity I do to make myself feel comfortable but I love that this is a space where my body isn’t a problem — it’s welcome.
Follow Laura at @lauradelarato.