12 Candid Photos Of Russian Women At The Pool

Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Moscow's Chayka pool looks exactly as it did in 1957, when it opened as a training facility for the national diving, synchronized swimming, and water polo teams. Although it's maintained its Soviet-style design, the pool's clientele has since expanded to include families and tourists (in addition to the occasional athlete).
Photographer Olya Ivanova visited the hub of summertime activity to find out how the Russian women swimming there really feel about their bodies. The first thing she noticed was a confidence age gap. "Previous generations of Russian women are often ashamed of their bodies and don't want to show them," Ivanova tells Refinery29. "But now, a lot of young women accept their bodies as they are."
Many of the women told Ivanova that, after years of worrying about their appearance, they finally learned to love their bodies when they stopped caring what other people think — even those closest to them. "They usually heard the most critical things about their bodies from their boyfriends," Ivanova says.
Others mentioned that their journey to self-acceptance is ongoing — and admitted that it's difficult to silence their inner critic. But Ivanova takes their honesty as a sign of progress toward self-love: "Being fragile and accepting your body are connected," she says.
Ahead, learn more about the women of Moscow and how they talk about their bodies.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Nadia, 32, editor
"When I was a teen, I really hated myself and my body. It took a lot of time to feel comfortable in my skin, and I'm still learning how to do that. But I remember the very first turning point. Once I asked my boyfriend why he loved me, and he answered: 'Because you have green eyes.' It sounds strange now, but then it felt like revelation. Someone found a reason to love me. Maybe I'm not so bad!

"When I was 25, I was diagnosed with a benign tumor in my breast. It required a small operation which left me with a small scar. A nurse told me: 'When you sleep with boys, don't ever tell them about this operation.' I was so shocked, like this small scar made my body not good enough.

"Russian society has very high expectations for women's bodies. I remember I judged people for being too fat or too ugly. But at some point I started to think more about it, and my opinion has changed. Now I basically see all people as beautiful, because they are alive. Life is the most beautiful thing in the world."
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Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Elena, 36, journalist
"I was lying in bed with my boyfriend, it was the very beginning of our affair. Suddenly he said that it would be better if I start doing ab exercises, because he likes it when a girl's belly is flat, even concave. I was struck by his words and felt panic: It was pretty much impossible after giving birth twice to have a concave belly. I was blaming myself and felt scared he'd stop loving me if I didn't fulfill his wish.

"It's always a problem for me to buy the proper swimsuit, because my breasts are bigger than average. Once I spent a whole hour in the fitting room, putting on one swimsuit after another. My bosom looked unwillingly provocative in any cute bra, making me feel insecure. At last the shop consultant noticed that I was desperate. She whispered while holding out another swimsuit to me, 'You have a gorgeous figure.' I made my choice very quickly, and that beach season was my favorite, ever.

"I hate judgmental comments regarding human bodies, like, 'He is fat,' 'She is ugly,' etc. I wish not to think about people like this at all. But sometimes, these thoughts just come into my head and I feel disappointed in myself. Unfortunately, our appearance is predominant over everything these days. At the moment, my body is going through a big change, and I notice that I became invisible to men. I know it's normal. I am just pregnant. But I can't stop thinking, what if I always lived in a body that wouldn’t fit in any standards? To be honest, it's a very lonely feeling."
3 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Liliya, writer
"I try not to criticize other people aloud, but I feel sorry about women who do not take care of themselves and look messy. I like women who are plump by nature; I accept it. My criticism is aimed only at those women who don’t love themselves."
4 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Ksenia, 29, model
"The best things I've heard about my body were: 'You are tasty,' 'you have beautiful legs and breasts,' 'your skin is velvet.'

"The worst one was: 'You look like the mother of many children.'

"In other people's bodies, I pay attention to the details that I am interested in my own. I think each body is unique, and I appreciate this uniqueness. That’s why I participate in the art project Matreshkas, which finds, creates, and supports unacknowledged beauty."
5 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Natalia, 35, sales manager
"Once my partner said: 'Your body is insane.' That really made me feel accepted and more laid back.

"Then there was a comment that made me feel very aggressive towards the guy who said it. He said, 'Fuck! What huge tits.' It felt like I was a piece of meat. That was rude, and for me that showed a lack of respect. I receive a lot of comments about my breasts, but they can be so different [depending on] the manner and tone they are said. Why on Earth do all these people try to comment on the obvious things?

"I really see how what I say and think about other people's bodies has changed through time. It’s getting more and more positive. The more I accept myself as I am, the more I love my body — my expressions, emotions — the more I feel beautiful, the more I see beauty in others, the more I accept their imperfections. Nowadays, I actually focus less on the bodies and more on personal qualities, face expression, manner of moving — that’s interesting to watch and to ask myself what I feel about this or that."
6 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Masha, 36, founder and coach at the Body Language Project
"I feel most beautiful when I’m inspired and loved. I don't quite remember being told anything unpleasant about my body, but I do get quite a lot of compliments from people. And I’ve put a lot of effort in getting to know my body, accepting it, and even cherishing it at some point.

"The first thing that I focus on when I meet somebody is their body — the way it looks and feels. I love hugging people. When a person is present in their body, you feel that right away. And then you meet. That’s really beautiful."
7 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Nika, 29, food and travel journalist
"People don’t talk with me about my body much. But if they do, they usually make some very pleasant compliments on the exact parts of my body, mainly my ass and tits. But my life partner says that I have very harmonic body.

"The worst thing that I’ve ever heard was from my dance trainer — he said that my body is stiff and wooden.

"I say things about people’s bodies only if I know exactly that he or she will be happy to hear it. Usually I’m too shy to say something positive about people’s bodies, because it is very personal for me. And I never talk negative about people’s bodies because I don’t see negative things. Don’t know why. Maybe I have some special filters in my eyes. I don’t value bodies much, but I value how people get along with their bodies."
8 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Ekaterina, 35, artist
"Even when I was 19 years old, with less acne and long hair, I was not sure if I deserved love for how I looked. Now I understand that it’s not about looks, but about people.

"I love watching other people. Each body has its own story. If you are smart, confident, or a good interlocutor, all your features will be nice. If one is beautiful, but silly, cruel, or arrogant, all his beauty crashes down in a moment."
9 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Tanya, 34, editor
"Weight doesn’t make you look worse. In my life, I was thin and fat, colored my hair in various colors and shaved my head, wore strange clothes. It doesn’t affect anything. It's unlikely that anyone could hurt me seriously with his thoughts about my body. I don’t reduce my life achievements to my pants size. If somebody does, I feel sorry for them. It’s impossible to win with such values because there are no winners in this fight for beauty.

"Sometimes I look too long at people, even strangers. I look at the shape of their eyes, at hair, or how clothes accentuates the color of the lips. The variety inspires me. Often I can't understand why someone is called beautiful, and another is not."
10 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Dana, 34, photo editor
"A guy once told me I was 'too big' for him, that he preferred skinnier girls. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but that was probably the only time when somebody said anything negative about my body. I guess I am lucky.

"My body is so average that I don’t really get many compliments, either. When I used to play basketball and worked my ass off in the gym, I enjoyed compliments on my muscles. Once in college, my teammate’s boyfriend couldn’t hide his surprise when he first saw me in a sleeveless shirt. He said I didn’t look that strong when clothed. I was over the moon. Unfortunately, these times are long gone."
11 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Aliona, 36, photographer
"One of my ex-boyfriends, who used to hear a lot of my laments about my body, once took me to the Pushkin Museum of Arts and showed me antique sculptures of women in the Greek room. 'Look,' he said, 'she looks like you. Her figure and posture, and muscles.' I looked at her, and she was very athletic and strong. Still today, when I feel ugly, I say to myself, 'I look like an antique statue.'

"I don't give a shit about strangers' opinions. And I like how people's bodies look — so many shapes, colors, and textures. I think, I really find most people, of all genders and ages, very beautiful. I like to scrutinize different forms of bodies and faces: how they move, how they exist in space. People fascinating me."
12 of 13
Photographed by Olya Ivanova.
Yuma, 45, psychologist
"In my childhood and youth, I was told that I was skinny, bony, and clumsy. But I did not care. I always liked my body. I love to take care of my body. I don't smoke or drink alcohol.

"With age, I began to hear compliments about my body, and the most pleasant ones were from my partners. I was often told that I have a graceful body.

"I especially like watching mature people who treat their body with dignity. I think that bodies reflect our emotional traumas. I do not praise or criticize the bodies of people, but I try to understand what their bodies say to me. If the body suffers, I feel sorry for this. I want to help.

"Surprisingly, I gained full harmony with my body only when I shaved my head. With a shaved head I feel natural, my agender identity calmed down in my body. I think 'beauty' is a balance and sense of dignity, rather than the form, size, or weight of a body."
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As another part of this year's Take Back The Beach initiative, we want to hear from you about all the ways — big and small — that you take up space in your own life. Share in the form to your right.

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