My Plus-Size Journey Through 30 Days Of AquaCycling
Beautycon Contributor   -   August 24, 2017
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.
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.