Be Big

*Note: the post below is written by a client of mine, who happens to be extremely passionate about swimming. This article (in a longer form) appeared in the July/August 2011 New England Masters newsletter. She shared it with me and I was extremely eager to share it with you. Enjoy.

Recently at the pool I admired a guy swimmer’s newly peroxided hair. The guys around him said, “Yeah, we call him the Blond Baller now.” “Argh!” I screamed. For weeks I had been trying to come up with a female swim power phrase, the equivalent for “macho.” Our language doesn’t have many, or any, female swim power words.

The Blond Baller is a superfast sprinter, so I assumed the “Baller” part of his nickname referred to his fast (swim) stroke. I posted my female swim power language dilemma on the US Masters swim forum and got some interesting suggestions, many of them, ironically, from men—Piscine Goddess, Aqua Aphrodite, and Buff Babes—but none met my criteria of using body language words to convey power. I had my own pitiful list: Ball Busters (later on that one), Water Sweepers (thinking of housekeepers), Power Surgers, Tough-Breasted. Bleah.

Meanwhile, another thread on the masters swim forum was talking about Janet Evans’s possible return to Olympic swimming. A few guy masters swimmers close to her age began worrying that she would be able to beat them. One guy posted, “I used to think I was safe from being ‘chicked’ by masters women roughly near my age in distance races.” Another guy then suggested the term “outchicked” as a way to describe a powerful female swimmer, but this suggested a relational kind of power (aka “Ball Buster”) rather than pure female power.

I found some good nicknames for Olympic female swimmers: Faith Leech, a 1956 Australian Olympic freestyler, was known as the “Flying Fish” because of her streamlined length and “elegant” technique. Mary T. Meagher was known as “Madame Butterfly,” and AP quotes described Janet Evans as “a Force of Nature,” “a whirling dervish of a swimmer,” “perpetual motion.” There was one female-only suggestion from the masters swim forum that I sort of liked: “bitchin,’” as in “bitchin’ sprinter” (though it still has a slightly negative ring).

In the back of my mind, though, I kept thinking “Big Girls.” At a lot of swim meets, the really powerful female swimmers are big. Big shoulders, big arms, big backs, big quads, big muscles overall. They aren’t the majority, but they aren’t the minority either. I think of swimming as a sport where it’s OK to be “sized.” Big Women doesn’t do it for me—it’s gotta be Big Girls, to tie in to the link from childhood on that girls are supposed to be small. Petite. Svelte. Even if very strong, you can’t look it, else you risk being called manly or compared to former East German steroid-enhanced female Olympic swimmers.

I’ll take Evans’s “Force of Nature” any day, but I also want to say to every girl and woman who swims (or does any type of physical activity for that matter): Be Big. Take up a lot of space. Be a Big Force of Nature, a Big Whirling Dervish, a Big Powerful Bitchin’ Swimmer who doesn’t care about “outchicking” guys, but just wants to move with power and strength.

Be a Big Girl and be proud of it.


  1. Beautifully written. The last line is powerful, and made me think of this “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” (Marianne Williamson) Be Big indeed!

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