Lisa changes in a cubicle at the pool. Tanya laughs through the partition when she explains it’s because, under her swimsuit, she has scales instead of skin.
“That does explain it. You swim like a fish,” Tanya says.
Afterwards, Lisa stands under the communal showers in her Speedo Endurance. She explains, it’ll last longer this way. It helps rinse out the chlorine.
“You shouldn’t be shy, you’ve got a swimmer’s body,” Tanya says.
In the grotty cubicle Lisa slips layers of clothes on over the swimsuit. The scales flake silver dust when they dry out. Best to keep them damp.
I hear some funny and astonishing things in the changing rooms at the swimming pool, mostly because so many kids use the trainer pool adjacent to the main pool where I often go. Last week, I noticed a small girl with the most amazing plait of thick red hair, exactly like her mother’s. I admired them both before heading for a cubicle (scales, you understand) from where I heard the girl ask, ‘Do I look fat?”
Her mother said, “No, you don’t look fat. You’re six, for God’s sake.” This retort probably sounded like a non sequitur to her daughter (even if she wouldn’t have called it that) but the rest of us know what she meant. I’ve read about pre-pubescent girls developing totally inappropriate weight worries but it was chilling to really witness it.
While I dressed I tried to think back to being six in the changing rooms. What did I notice, and what didn’t I? Was I self-conscious? Did I judge others according to body shape? I remember noticing much older bodies rather than the young ones, perhaps because we all took our extreme youth for granted then. Wrinkly bits, hairy bits, the way other grown-ups didn’t all look like my parents under their clothes.
I remember collective giggling when a small girl entered the pool with her costume on back to front, nipples barely covered by the cross-straps. How lovely to be unaware that this was wrong, I think now. I remember a classmate who would put her swimsuit on over her vest and pants, and go swimming like that. When challenged, she said her mother had told her not to take all her clothes off in front of other people. She grew up to be a bit of an exhibitionist, so no harm done there.
Most of all I remember a girl, a couple of years ahead of my year group, tall and a little bit chubby, whose pale body was covered in large, variously shaped brown moles. Even from my six-year-old perspective, she seemed incredibly brave, donning her swimsuit and baring her flesh with the rest of us. Nobody ever teased her, but we looked, and she must have seen us looking. I wonder now what her mother told her, to enable her to deal with this. I wonder if she still swims, and whether it is easier or harder as an adult to expose an unusual body.
I longed to be able to breathe under water as a child, and still do, even then thinking that having scales would be a small price to pay for this advantage. I thought webbed fingers would be pretty amazing too. Now it seems as though, for a six year old, even having a normal body can be a trial. I just hope that the small girl I overheard will love her red hair and not want to change that too; on the plus side I’m sure her mother will have something sensible to say on the subject.