The third blog post by Amy, links to previous two blogs can be found at the bottom of the post!
Has the embarrassment of exercising ever held you back from doing it- the fear of the wobble, the sweaty back, the red face…? Does the thought of wearing only a swimming costume in public fill you with absolute dread?
If the answer is yes, then I can safely tell you that you are not alone. In fact, these very insecurities I have felt all my life.
When I was young girl, probably up until I was 16 (in many cases until I reached university), I had a lot of insecurities and nearly all of them tied into my physical appearance. I once discussed this in a blog a wrote about feminism and I don’t want to repeat myself, but essentially the fact I have always been overweight and the fact I had curly hair were two of the main reasons I felt inadequate and far from what was considered the “ideal” woman.
I would never claim that I was excessively bullied at school, but there were comments made, one person in particular I would describe as a bully and I was not his only victim. The worst were the comments I have had off people in the street, shouting put-downs out of their cars. “The gym is that way” was one I remember; recently in Rotherham I was called a “fat cow”.
These insecurities I realise held me back in some significant ways. Mainly when it came to forming relationships; because most of the fat shaming and derogatory comments I got were from men (actually let’s call them boys), I genuinely thought no man would ever find me attractive. I reached this realisation when I was 21 and it was like unveiling a great mystery about myself. It was only through building my own confidence and stopping myself focusing too heavily on my physical appearance, that this changed.
Part of this confidence building actually came from embracing the imperfection of my body and realising I was actually part of the larger majority of women who were also not “ideal”. Post PCOS diagnosis I was faced with the truth that I needed to exercise so I could lose some weight and it just so happened that at that time I lived with a group of girls that had recently taken up swimming at our local pool. It was with their support that I was able to get over the fear of embracing the cossie and take the first plunge.
Scared as I was, after a couple of weeks swimming I genuinely didn’t think about it anymore. I didn’t think about my wobbly tummy or the stretch marks on the backs of my legs, areas which had haunted me in my younger days. Unlike at school where I was surrounded by my peers, I shared the pool with a range of ages and sizes of people. I grew to (and still) love the community of the swimming pool; from Newcastle, to Manchester to Sheffield I’ve met some real characters through swimming and now I can’t imagine my life without it.
It came as a surprise to me then that these insecurities resurrected themselves when I decided to start running. I will never forget that first day I stepped out to start the couch to 5k. I vividly remember the door closing behind me and this dread rolled through me like a wave; could I really go outside and run on the streets of Sheffield city centre? I immediately took a step back and started knocking on the door for my sister to let me back in (at this point I hadn’t started pinning my keys to my bra) but she didn’t hear. That was it, I thought, I had to do it.
I remember those first few weeks running, I purposefully slowed down or measured my breathing so as not to tempt any unwanted remarks because I felt like a walking target. However, after a couple of weeks I can safely say I didn’t give a shit anymore. All I cared about was getting through that run, reaching that next break and making sure I never gave up. Sweating and breathing like bulldog in the summer sun, I completed the programme and finished with a 5k Race for Life in July (you can read more of my running stories here).
I guess the point I am trying to get at with this blog post is encouragement. In preparation for this I asked my Facebook feed whether anyone had been put off exercising because of what other people thought.
One of the girls discussed how she was always embarrassed about “looking awkward dancing” and she also delved into the inner thoughts of her 13-year-old self where, after buying a tankini for the first time, she was so scared to “dislodge the carefully navigated outfit” so as to not show her “puppy fat belly”, she didn’t end up swimming.
Another girl explained how she received “inappropriate comments” by men when she started running to work. Because of the “body shaming and cat calling” she now no longer runs. How familiar these comments were to my own experiences.
As I get older, I realise the gravitas that my pubescent years had on the woman I am today. I think a lot of work needs to be done to raise the self-esteem and confidence of young girls. Telling someone they’re fat, even if they have weight problems, is wrong and if needs to be done, it will be done in an appropriate manner, at an appropriate age by a medical professional. If you tell a child that they are fat, in the vast majority of cases it will have the opposite of a good effect. In my experience, you need to have some positive self-esteem and sass to be able to exercise.
We also need to take the focus away from “thinspiration” (yes that is a thing) and all that bracket of absolute bollocks. My love of exercise comes from a drive to keep healthy, mentally and physically, not a way to become someone I am not. I will never be in the bracket of the uber fit, but I have gained a confidence, a strength and joy from exercise that I once thought impossible. I hope that more women reach that place before I did.