What happened?

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a little while. It’s about a recent article, that I read at a time when similar thoughts were going through my own mind.

You’ll remember by Olympo-mania a few weeks ago. How I very much loved it, and loved that it coincided with my own newfound running bug – and, more importantly, that us girls had some decent body image messages hitting us for once. Strong, not skinny. Remember?

… No?

Yeah, I’d noticed that too.

That passion, that fervour, that positivity – where did that all go?

I’ve never been shy about the fact that I’ve had a … fractious relationship with my body over the years. I’m by no means big, but equally will never be a single digit dress size. I am neither here nor there – in short, I’m healthy, which is what I am supposed to be. But we hear so many reports focussing on either extreme of the spectrum, the size zeros and the “I ate so much I got stuck in my house”-es, that us normals can feel we don’t have a place. And that, therefore, we are wrong.

Even the celebs championed for their “curvaceous” bodies, their “normal”, “healthy” attitudes to themselves and to food and to exercise are often no bigger than a 10. Hmmm. I read an interview with Emma Watson recently, who said she is “anything between a 6 and a 10”. Which suits her and her frame – I’ve never looked at her and thought oh my lord, eat a pie love – but is definitely on the slim end of things.

I’ll never be a 6, after much beating-up-of-self I’ve  seriously rectified my attitudes towards food. It’s not perfect, I still care about it a little more than I’d like to, but I am *so* much better than I used to be. And I love exercise for the right reasons – kicking the crap out of a treadmill after a full on day makes me feel awesome. And the days I don’t run as far as I’d told myself I was going to – I’m still beating everyone on the sofa. My body is awesome for what it is, and what I can do with it.

If that sounds a bit like I’m trying to remind myself of something… it’s because I am. That was the place I was in – and not just me, but everyone, seemingly – a few weeks ago at the height of the Olympics. And while I’ve seen a few bits and bobs on the Olympic legacy they rounded off the games by banging on about, sports for schools and more facilities and yada yada – all good stuff – what about the Olympic legacy of how we girls see our bodies?

This is the article I was talking about – by Afua Hirsch, a really great writer. While the “strong not skinny” message was not only all over the Olympic coverage, but was hugely positive, it feels a bit like we’ve already taken a step backwards when it comes to portraying female athletes. Strong women are once again being painted as intimidating, unwomanly. It’s not good to be strong – again.

As Afua writes – Only a few weeks after the close of the Olympics, I feel cheated. I thought the world was supposed to have changed.

The day before I read her article I was lying on a mat in the gym, feeling that horrible mix of guilt, failure and unrealistic resolve. I’d not been “on it” with the gym (even the phrase smacks of duty, doesn’t it), and despite a pretty good run, was beating myself up, not feeling “good enough” – importantly, specifically, not feeling “thin enough”.

And then I remembered. Lying on the same mat a few weeks ago watching the athletics. How I’d felt then. Not that skinny mattered, but that muscles mattered – how I felt, not how I looked. I remembered the sheer pleasure in realising the physicality of running for the first time. Not the desperate glances at the calorie counter (which I have now, once again, turned off).

It’s really, really important we remember this. Exercise for the right reasons. Not because you’re not “X” enough or “Y” enough, because you “need” to change. Do it because you care about your body, and your body is awesome.

Serena knows.

Strong, not skinny. Don’t forget.


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