This story is part of our Summer Bodies series, a collection of stories exploring fatness in the summertime heat. In this op-ed, Emma Specter explores how swimming grounds her in her body.

I’ve been exercising with the explicit intent of losing weight since I was approximately 13, the same year I got roundly Heathers-ed by my middle school friend group and saw my grades plummet because, as I once yelled at my dad over yet another D-studded report card, “Why should I try to do better at a school that I hate?”

I couldn’t control much that year, but when I talked my mom into signing me up for a New York Sports Club membership, I found I could control my body. Half an hour on the elliptical canceled out approximately one Starbucks cake pop, and sure enough, I found that an hour on the elliptical canceled out my loneliness; soon, cutting down on food intake would regularly ensure that I’d be too dizzy and nauseous and distracted by caloric math to mourn the life I’d once had.

It’s been 15 years since then, and my exercise regimen has grown to include, in no particular order: commuting by bike in L.A. for my first year of “adult life” after college and learning exactly how to cross Santa Monica Boulevard without dying, spinning with my friends Kate and Maya at the now-defunct Williamsburg studio where the too-loud instructor regularly made me cry, running (always for 24 minutes, no more, no less) whenever I have the inclination. What I always seem to come back to, though, is swimming.

I learned to swim in the ocean with my mom long before my miserable dalliance with New York Sports Club in eighth grade, and before exercise became, in part, a form of punishment. Somehow, swimming never seemed like a form of exercise until I began using my college’s Olympic-sized pool to do laps in my senior year. For the preceding three years, I’d used the gym solely as a place to obtain Jeni’s ice cream and gossip with my friends in the sauna; actually getting in the water alongside my DIII swimmer classmates proved too humiliating a possibility. When I finally started using the pool, I took my swims late in the evening, puffing my way through 10 laps in an empty pool. I’d walk back to my dorm in the dark, my limbs heavy and sated and my hair fragrant with chlorine.

When you’re living with an eating disorder, exercise can be a bit of a moving target. The same workout that flooded you with serotonin a week ago can be a means of self-harm today; and consequently, a method of exercise you always thought would trigger you (hello, barre class) can actually feel good. When I lived in L.A. after college — in the hazy, difficult few years preceding my binge eating disorder diagnosis — I made a habit of driving to Topanga Beach in the early morning and swimming out, way out, farther than any sensible lifeguard would have allowed, until all I could see was murky green-blue and all I could taste was salt. I eventually stopped swimming out quite so far, but I still remember how that free expanse of water shocked me back into myself, allowing me to leave the beach feeling like…well, like someone again. All I want, really — all that any person who deals with disordered eating wants, maybe — is to feel present and alive in my skin, and swimming left me more embodied than any other exercise ever had.

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