Body Image

There is a stereotype about what true elite athletes look like - svelte and muscular with little to no body fat. Thin and tiny - even for the cyclists. When I was a runner, it was always very clear that I did not match that stereotype. I was inches shorter then my competitors, but pounds heavier. Standing in the starting ling for the 2005 Half Marathon National Championships, I looked like a line-backer compared to the other women. It was disheartening in a way - I felt like no matter how hard I trained, I would never be as fast as they were because of my stature. Instead of thin and lanky, I was stocky.  And that would never change, no matter how much I dieted or how far I ran. When I switched to triathlons, my broad shoulders became an advantage in the water. Rough water didn't bug me. With mountain biking, I've been able to throw the bike around and absorb wrecks that Nick was sure would break something. The stockiness was an advantage for the type of riding that we like doing. Yet still a disadvantage when it came to racing. I was still dragging the extra pounds up the mountain passes, in addition to all the "oh shit" crap in my pack.

I would be lying if I said it didn't bug me, that I didn't look at some of the slender racers with envy. Instead of focusing on that, I focused on my training - compensating for my statue with the extra work. And that worked, bringing me success this year in all my races. I might not have been the fastest at all of them, but I finished strong. But from the mouths of babes (or in my case, brutally honest demented old folks) come the harshest truths. An innocent statement about how he knows I'm a "hard core athlete, but you don't look like one...." Ouch. After showing him a photo of me in my national championship jersey. I don't look like a hard core athlete? Didn't help my mental state to be bombarded with images from the underpants run later that week - of very slender yet muscular women strutting their stuff. While I might have one time been as fast as them at the iron distances, I never looked like them. As Nick puts it, I've still got all my curves, even if there isn't much there. The lines have always been softer, less defined.

Body image is such a tricky issue with female athletes. I'm not any different - I know I'm healthy and strong, but there is always the thought. Could I be stronger, faster if I looked more like the "ideal" hard core athlete? If the lines weren't softened, but chiseled? And after years of being an endurance athlete, my weight has always been stable. Some fluctuations as anticipated, but fairly stable. I also haven't put any focus or emphasis on trying to loose weight, so staying stable has been easy. How hard am I willing to work to change that or do I need to mentally let go of the desire to look more like an "athlete?" Is the benefit of monitoring my diet going to outweigh the stress? Do I have the fortitude to be strict - to limit the nibbling and the snacks and only eat when I'm hungry? To decrease the portion sizes enough to actually make a difference? Or will that focus draw strength from my workouts, backfiring on the intent? It's hard to train at high intensity while attempting to lose weight. After all, riding and racing is a lifestyle for us - while the podium is always nice, the experience is really the goal.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing! I agree body image is a huge issue for female athletes and important to address. I think we all struggle with it to some degree. I've lost 100 lbs and while I feel proud to be out there with what feels to me like "the real athletes" I'll never have a body that looks anything like so many others...just making it to the finish line (heck making it to the starting line) is a huge accomplishment for me. I am proud of getting there, but it's hard not to look at others with envy. I'm sure I would see you and be envious -- yet I know there are others that see my weight loss and are envious of me. It would be great if we could all be thankful for what we have accomplished!

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    1. Congrats on the weight loss. That is a huge achievement and one you should be proud of. You're out there on the starting line and that means to me you are a real athlete.

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