Normal is the new normal




or I wish it was.   Let me explain

On Saturday I spent the whole day in a spa with one of my bestest best friends, Mrs Cooke.  Mrs Cooke is a teacher and we met when post-divorce in 2001 I moved into the bungalow next door to her and her family.   We quickly became such good friends that walking down one drive and up the other for a cuppa became too much of an effort so we put a step in between our sloping drives to shorten the journey.   Door was always open, kettle was always hot, one of those friendships where you didn’t even have to knock.   Though as a teacher, Mrs Cooke is always Mrs Cooke and not Jo.   Mrs Cooke was also my matron of honour when I married Mr B.  Though even then she was known as The Matron  But I digress.

Mr B bought the “spa day for two” when he saw an offer on Travelzoo.   These offers are normally brought to my attention with an email from him that says “fancy this?” and it’s four days in Prague.   A long weekend in Barcelona.   A week to see the Northern Lights ten days before Christmas.   Fabulous ideas but in reality, impossible.   Or at least not possible without some juggling.     This one however, Mr B just bought, forcing me to do it rather than wasting the money.   Good man.

Mrs Cooke being a teacher meant we had to do it in the holidays as even her weekends in term time are consumed with being a taxi for her two sporting teens.   In the time between booking and arriving at the spa though I started to panic.

How could I spend all day in a spa in a swimming costume?

You see, if you are not a size 10 or below the media perception of “normal” starts to make you feel, well, less than normal.   We are all bombarded with images of celebs

parading her slim frame

showcasing her taught abs just three weeks after giving birth to twins

looking radiant as she displays her slender form in figure hugging pencil skirt

keeping her bump covered as she flatters her figure in black leggings

It is relentless.  Pics of celebs in the paper for nothing more than going out shopping, or walking out of a restaurant but what they are wearing and how they are wearing it is news.  Their size with these media images and headlines becomes the norm.  It becomes how the majority of women feel they need to be.   That by definition anything other than the media image of women they portray  is somehow abnormal.

At this time of year we are then treated to the added onslaught of getting our bodies “bikini ready” or “beach fit”.    Everything from our hair, to our eye brows, to our legs and heels, and everything in between has to be primed, waxed, honed and made ready for the world.   Again, anything other than spending hours on this task is somehow not normal.   If you don’t have some kind of daily regime you are just not cutting it as a woman.

So whilst I was looking forward to a day off, lying on a lounger drinking smoothies with my BFF and reading an entire book, there was a feeling of dread too.  Of “can I possibly show myself in public when I have been covered up with three layers for the past five months and have done bugger nothing to my body other than throw water at it twice a day?”   The feeling that in the 30 minute window I had on Saturday morning to get ready I had to wax every hair off my body, moisturise, cleanse, remove skin, and do a whole host of other rituals before I showed myself in public.   That I would somehow be judged for letting the female side down.   That was not normal because not only am I not doing these things on a daily basis but I dont’ really care about them.  I have different priorities for my time.

Those priorities being to put on the first items of clothing I could find that were clean and to drag a swimming costume out of the last year’s suitcase full of summer clothes was the most shocking thing in the world.   That to have gone out with no make up was some kind of sin.   Though I admit I did wash and dry my hair.

By the time we got there my stomach was in knots.   Would the girls in full make up on reception look at me with withering looks?  Would the other women there all be gorgeous and effortlessly skinny and look down on me?  It was all I could do to not run away.  And is why I haven’t done this for over ten years.

Do you know what?  Nobody gave a stuff.   Everybody else there was wondering around in swimming costumes, hair a mess after being in the pool, faces flushed from the sauna so not a scrap of make up, cellulite on show to the world, and nobody cared.   That women really are all shapes and sizes in a dressing gown and that actually very few of them were super skinny size zero.

Nobody pointed a finger and said “well, how could she leave the house like that”.

It was one of the most life affirming events ever.

That since 47% of the population are above a size 16, this IS normal.  Normal is the new normal.    That normal is women who have escaped busy lives to squeeze in some time for themselves.   That maybe they haven’t exfoliated in a month.   That maybe their roots are showing through.   That their cuticles are in serious need of attention.

That this really is normal.

And normal is good.

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  • God I love you for writing this. We have our ‘school pool’ opening soon. And I think back to this time last year and how worked up I was about it. Being in my swimming costume in front of parents to do the pool dip. Lordy. It was so upsetting for me. This year, I’m bigger than I was last and still in the same costume that will no doubt strain with my girth. But I really don’t give a shizzle. I don’t.

    I’m just pleased to be in a place where we can swim after school and my worries are about whether there are enough salami sticks, snacks and drinks in the world to satisfy my boys and all who show up at school pool !!!

    Life is a work in progress. But I’m determined to enjoy it along the way. x

    • I wish the media would turn it on its head and report about women being happy in their skin. That this is what we all need to achieve. That there is nothing better than being healthy in our own skin. Two fingers to all of em I say Liz. And yes to worries about whether there is enough salami. There is never enough salami.

  • Love love love this! I’m a proud size 17 (not a 18, definitely not a 16 anymore) and determined that my girls will grow up to be proud of whatever size they are. I recently went to a new pool and had one of the best hours swim of my life – It was full of other, slightly wobbly, lumpy and bumpy, sometimes slightly hairy when they can’t quite bend over in the shower to get those ankles (that may be me!) – and no-one gave a stuff! Very interesting that 47% of us are over size 16.

    • I am a 17 too, and raising girls am keen as mustard for them to grow up without the issues that I have/had/grew up with. I never really understood spas though. I don’t get massages or “treatments” though I like having nails done. I’d rather sit in a nice restaurant under no pressure to leave and slowly drink away the afternoon catching up with people. Better still have them come and stay so we don’t have anywhere to get to after to sleep it off!

      • I spent all day lying on various beds, that was all I went to do. I didnt want saunas and steam rooms and all the rest of it. I wanted a day with a book, some girly catching up, somebody bringing me drinks and food and nothing else. No feeling I should be in the kitchen or emptying the washing machine. Just lying down on a bed. It was heaven.

        But I do like the idea of coming to yours and drinking and falling asleep. Alot

    • Damn sight healthier than a stick thin, living off half an apple a day and smoking forty cigarettes woman who is only doing it to perpetuate the myth that skinny is healthy.

  • i love going to spas! Nobody gives a stuff.
    I remember my first time, I was so self conscious. Went into the changing rooms, slipped into the toilets and got changed. Came into the locker room and it was FULL of naked women in all shapes and sizes of all ages, some early 20s and some in the 70s.
    I’m now confident enough to not worry about being topless. Only in the changing rooms though. I’m not so confident in the whole “you’re welcome to swim naked if you prefer”

  • Good old Anon eh?! *sigh*
    Great article and reminds me of my ‘bikini’ post that angered the Mumsnet massive. People give less of a shit than you think and, for the most part, just go about their business. Glad you had a great time x

    • Thanks Kate. Yep, good old Anon, but hey ho. Realising that people give less of a stuff really is the eye opener for me. I guess working from home and not being in an office environment or being too old to go out clubbing means that I am no longer around groups of women (and men in fact) having those sorts of conversations. But just constantly being bombarded by what I see online.

      It takes a day like that remind me that it is in fact totally the norm.

  • I have to admit that one of the prime reasons I’ve always turned down spa days is for just this reason! So maybe I need to suck it up and be brave, or is that suck it in and be brave?

  • It’s such a shame that experiences like spa days have to be tainted by the self-consciousness imposed by unrealistic body images. Like you said, everyone looks a bit frazzled and hot after a swim/sauna – and, in reality, very few people care what the other women look like. You wouldn’t think that by watching TV/scouring the internet, though. I’m really glad you had a good day and enjoyed hanging out with someone who sounds like a diamond mate.

  • So glad you posted this. I am a size 18 and Im due to attend a hen party in a week. A day in Bath with some time in the spa and Im shitting myself. Thinking of excuses of why I cant attend. I want to go and enjoy it but like you felt, Im so scared of people staring.

    Im dreading it, but you have made me feel better about it all!

    Thank you x

    • Go. I arrived with a “sod it, my friends won’t care and I will never see the people here that I don’t know ever again so what the hell” philosophy. Let me know how it goes!