Why I’m surprisingly comfortable taking my kit off…

One of the (many) great things about growing up as a swimmer is that I have developed a total lack inhibition when it comes to stripping off in a swimming pool changing room. When you’ve spent years trying to fit in training around school, and as an adult you find yourself squeezing a pool session in during your lunch break, there is little time for prudishness. It’s a clothes off cossie on while trying to catch up with your swimming pals kind of affair, with no thought given to the nudity in between.

This lack of inhibition was something that was drawn to my attention after a swimming session this week. As I confidently flaunted my 30 week pregnant belly and newly formed breasts in the shower before drying myself with my tiny sports towel, the woman next to me was painstakingly manoeuvring into her swimming costume beneath a large bath towel. I felt sad that, in what I regard as a safe, female, sports-focused space, she felt uncomfortable enough to go through the rigmarole (that many of us are familiar with from on-beach changing) of trying to undress while within a towel tent.

This is perhaps a surprising observation, and a touch hypocritical, coming from a woman who can change her work clothes up to four times before leaving the house on a so-called ‘fat day’, and who has spent years battling with issues of body image and confidence. Yet with communal swimming changing, and likewise, when wearing sportswear (often the most unforgiving of the outfit choices), I feel surprisingly body positive and unconcerned about how I may look to those around me.

Reflecting on this on my walk home from the pool I realised that, when it comes to the sporting arena, for me it’s not about how you look but what your body can do, a message propagated by the #sportsbrasquad movement (worth searching on Instagram if you’re not already familiar with this hashtag). While on the beach I may find myself intimidated and in awe of scantily clad bikini beauties, on poolside, even with my giant belly, I don’t bat an eyelid. In fact, it’s in the pool at the moment I feel my most at ease. I’m weightless and can swim almost as well as I could pre-pregnancy, and I feel an even greater sense of smugness when me and my belly do some overtaking. It’s only when I pull myself back onto poolside, and it takes a while to regain my land legs, that that literal enormity of my body is brought back to me.

I’m pleased that I can have this focus on performance over physique in some areas of my life, but I need to work at translating this into the everyday, when I’m in my jeans and not just my joggers. The body critical and comparison games are dangerous and counterproductive ones to play. The question shouldn’t be about how my thigh gap compares to anyone else’s, but rather how well my body is performing at whatever it is that it’s doing, be that running, yoga, swimming, cycling or growing a baby, and whether I’m maximising my health and wellbeing alongside those goals.

I will be focusing on this going forward and until my next, embrace getting your (PE) kit off (and on) and as always, let me know your thoughts on all of the above.


Fat versus Thin or Form versus Function?

I love my body.

There’s a sentence you rarely hear.

And this is something that’s been playing on my mind, particularly following on from the recent backlash, featured in various news articles and on social media this week, against the latest Protein World adverts.

Protein worldIn case you haven’t seen them, the ads show a woman, with the most incredible physique, in a skimpy yellow bikini, accompanied by the slogan ‘are you beach body ready?’

In defence of the advert, the woman isn’t super skinny – she is shapely and toned with muscle definition – and, as a spokesperson for Protein World pointed out (although perhaps not in the most sensitive or diplomatic way), this company aren’t alone in adhering to the ‘beach ready’ trope.

Indeed, this is a slogan that is churned out on an annual basis, alongside a flurry of articles on diet and exercise, that remind us that the comfort eating of the winter months is about to come back to bite us (just Google ‘get a beach body’ and you’ll see what I mean).

But, as my mum always said to me: just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

Whatever you think of the adverts, (and they are certainly sparking off lots of opinions), the fact that people are publicaly standing up for their bodies (whatever shape or size) has to be a positive thing.

In the UK at least, we are conditioned to be as self-deprecating as humanly possible. Try to give an Englishman a compliment and you will be met by a barrage of objections, excuses and awkwardness. Tell someone you like their outfit and you’ll hear how they got it in a sale, or have had it forever, or that they aren’t really all that sure about it anyway.

beach doveAnd the same goes for our bodies. We are taught to critique and pick ourselves apart piece by piece. Heaven forbid that anyone might declare that they are actually quite comfortable in their own skin – whether they have sculpted six-pack abs or not – and wait for the gasps of disbelief. Suggest that you actually like the way you look and you become a social pariah.

We grow up hearing everyone listing their flaws and, in turn, see those flaws in ourselves. And I admit to being party to this. I’ve spent years pulling apart my appearance, feeling negatively about my body, picking up on every lump, bump and blemish, hating myself and then feeling guilty for being so shallow and ungrateful as to hate myself.

Even this week when I’ve been reflecting on what incredible things my body can achieve, how lucky I am that I have fully functioning limbs and that my vital organs are still all working at least, I still found myself, in a moment of weakness trapped beneath the neon lights of the gym, resenting every curve and squishy bit as they were reflected back at me in mirrors on every angle. Then I got myself back in check and chastised myself for being so ridiculous.

beach_body_ready_3282046bI admire those women who are able to confidently stand up for their own bodies and who feel comfortable enough in their own skin to strip down to their bikinis and stand on the tube platforms in protest (or even those who are confident enough to strip down for a giant poster).

Because it shouldn’t be about form but function. We should be proud of our bodies and what they can do. This shouldn’t be a question of fat versus thin, as the Protein World debate has become, but one of form versus function.

We should look after ourselves, eating the correct things, doing functional exercises – running, walking, climbing, swimming – stretching after days spent sat at desks, doing body weight exercises to keep our bones strong, to make sure our bodies can fulfil their full potentials.

So as the protesters declare, we should be making sure #eachbodyisready, but not just for the beach but for everything that life throws at it – be it marathon, childbirth, illness, injury and everything in between. And whether you do that in a skimpy yellow bikini or not is up to you.