Suzy Messorole and Signe Harriday do not match the standards of what many people think a typical swimmer looks like. That is something they are trying to change.
The two founders of the Subversive Sirens use their identities as plus-size, queer people to show that all body types are welcome in the sport of synchronized swimming.
Both Messorole and Harriday were discouraged by the messages they believe society had implanted and wanted to make a change starting in the swimming pool. As a result, they created a team that promotes the body positivity movement, a social movement that encourages a positive body image and self-acceptance.
“I had someone say to me two days ago, ‘I’m super inspired. I think I’m going to buy a swimsuit and get in the water,’” Messorole said. “If the reason you’re not getting in the water is because of these cultural messages and not wanting to be seen in a swimsuit … that’s the issue.”
Messorole and Harriday did not intend to create the seven-member synchronized swimming group that Subversive Sirens is today. They started the group because Harriday wanted to compete in the Gay Games, a worldwide sporting event that takes place every four years to promote equality for those who identify as LGBTQ.
“We looked up on a computer all the possible sports. We both were like, ‘Oh, aquatic arts.’ Both of us are swimmers,” Messorole said.
In 2016, they decided to learn the sport of synchronized swimming and began practicing for the 2018 Gay Games in Paris.
The two women did not let their body types discourage them from competing.
“I started posting our videos on social media, because we were just so proud of ourselves for learning this stuff. Then two other people were like, ‘I want to do that.’ And we’re like, ‘OK, let’s make a team.’”
Messorole said once three others joined the team, they started promoting a message of radical inclusivity and using synchronized swimming to push a body positive message.
“I think our message … is that we are learning to be free in the water so that we can be free out in the world,” Messorole said.
Messorole said for most of her life she received negative messages about her plus-size body. “When I was in eighth grade, we moved to a town that was large enough to have a dance studio. I love dance, and I took the class up until the costume arrived. Then, I made up a reason, and I know my mother did not believe it,” Messorole said. “I dropped out … because of how I felt in that costume.”
Growing up being uncomfortable in their own skin gave the members of the synchronized swimming team motivation to challenge society’s standards.
“We’ve been talking as a team, just with language around body neutrality as well, to think about: what does it mean to always wake up and be like, ‘I feel really positive about my body?’” said team member Serita Colette, who also works to challenge beauty standards and ideals surrounding physical fitness. “Some days you wake up and you don’t, and that’s OK. I think it’s OK for us to reckon with just, our bodies are constantly changing, our feelings around our bodies are changing.”