Words by a strong woman and former athlete.
Trigger warning: speaks about body dysmorphia.
As a young female in sport, I was surrounded by the expectation that exercise made you fit and that athletes had to look and behave in a particular way. An athletic, fit and healthy body is slim, right? They eat perfectly every day and on the days that they do not, it doesn't even matter because they are burning so many calories off during the week, right? They have no problems with their body image because they are basically the best version of themselves, effortlessly.
As a female, who played badminton at a national level, the concept of body image was installed in me subconsciously. I was always having to condition my body in a way that fit the norms. Singles players were tall and skinny, doubles players were smaller but petite and core strength was made to be the reasoning behind winning and losing matches. I worked so hard to achieve these goals but never got to the place where I felt I needed to be. I had excess fat round my stomach, I had huge thighs from all the training - I hated them. And for a young woman, my top half was far ‘too big’. I was just so different from the other girls.
I was called ‘boy shape’ (regardless of the size of my boobs!), I was told I needed to train harder, lift heavier, do more cardio, shed the pounds. It was exhausting.
Throughout my athletic career, regardless of my enjoyment and love of the sport, in the back of my mind was that exercise was punishment. Exercise meant weight loss. I needed to look a certain way to succeed.
How wrong I was.
After years of tormenting myself and thinking I was not good enough and needed to change myself, I had time to reflect. After a massive injury at university, I was out of sport for over 2 years and have yet to return to any national, regional or even competition level. I look back at the photos when all that was going through my head was “your fat”, “you need to lose weight”, “If only I could...”.
I was tiny. I was perfect. And I was MORE than enough.
Those huge quads – which I needed more than anything to succeed in my sport and have the power and strength to train 5 times a week. That excess fat – wasn’t there. I had a core of steel! And my massive boobs – I am a woman and we come in all shapes and sizes. And quite honestly, the girls around me were the ones who were envious of them!
And looking back now, it is so easy to think “gosh if I could only look like that again”. How crazy is that? I want to be myself? Me, now as a 24-year-old woman, want and expect my body to be the same as it was when I was 14 years old? That’s not just an unrealistic goal, that’s impossible!
Our bodies change, and so do we.
Picking apart your appearance is so easy to do. Society has profited so much from diet culture and preying on the vulnerable and underconfident individuals like myself in this world. It is not our fault.
But we can do something about it. We can learn to love ourselves. Sounds super easy right? But think about it... do you look at your best friend and pick out all their flaws, think they should be losing weight, badmouthing the way they dress and telling them that they would look beautiful if they did “whatever”? Absolutely not. I look at my best friend and I am in awe at her beauty and the cool clothes she wears. When she says something negative about herself and picks out one of her flaws, I honestly do not even notice what she is going on about!
We should treat our bodies the same. Treat our minds and ourselves with respect and focus on all the beautiful qualities we have. In that moment you may not feel perfect, but you will feel YOU.
The other thing I learnt while I was injured was that we grow so much in so little time. We learn so much and become so much more. We try new things, we leave old habits behind, and that’s ok! We should only participate in something if we are truly there for the enjoyment and our own wellbeing. This could be anything, but I decided that competing at such a high level was not benefiting me. I did not enjoy it anymore. What I did love was the friend I met along the way. I now play badminton socially, surrounded by amazing, positive people who love me for who I am.
Think about your future self. Where will you be? What will you have achieved? What new things have you tried? What pastimes have you left behind?
Did your body image even appear in your thoughts? I am guessing not!
We are more than just what we look like.
What could be more authentic than that?