Everything I Learnt About My Body Through Playing Sport
Big does not mean bad.
Hi. This is me. I'm a 5-foot-8-inch, 16-stone human being and this is what I look like.
I've always had things I want to achieve, and until fairly recently there was always some kind of weight-related goal on there. My diet and exercise knowledge was severely limited, but I did know one thing, and that was that I wanted to be 10 stone.
I haven't been 10 stone since 1999. I know that because when I was 11 years old, we had a science lesson where we had to weigh and measure ourselves, and then write the results on the board. I was happy enough to write up my height, but I lied about my weight. When the scales said 10 stone, I wrote 9 stone on the board, because I didn't want to be heavier than my female classmates. Despite the fact that I was one of the tallest in my year, a fact I was proud of, I didn't want my weight to be up there with the boys. At 11 years old that is not something I should've been concerned about.
I don't think anyone ever told me I should be skinny, and I certainly wasn't fat, but I had this feeling of embarrassment when it came to admitting my weight.
But I've recently joined a local women's rugby team, and despite almost 20 years of playing competitive sport throughout school, university, and in the big wide world of adulthood, it has already changed the relationship I have with my body. Being good at sport has always made me feel slightly better about myself, but taking up rugby has really made me feel differently towards my body. All 5 feet 8 inches, 16 stone of it.
1. Big does not mean bad.
Guys. Newsflash. We're not all the same size. Like, you know how some people are taller than others and we don't really lose our shit over that? It's perfectly logical that some people might just be wider than others. It's not shoulder fat that stops a fitted blazer stretching across my back.
I spent so long wishing that I was smaller and skinnier, but I'm so over that now. I'm not bashing skinny people at all, I mean that's the way you are. I've come to accept that I'm never going to be a size 8 and that's OK. My size means I can do things other people can't do. I can hold my own on the rugby pitch, I can make a decent interception in lacrosse, and I make a good goal defence in netball, all because of my size.
2. You are not a category.
Your shape doesn't define you. When you're playing sport, your shape and size is taken into consideration, but in a totally different way to what you might be used to. Sure, you might be able to work out what position a person might play by what they look like, but this isn't always the case.
Your body will be put to the test to find out where your strengths lie, and then you'll begin to work from there.
Your shape and size are only ever considered in a positive way. It's less "Oooh you hate your arms? Lets see how we can cover them up with a short-sleeved jacket!" and more "Your upper-body strength means you'd be great in this position, do you want to have a crack at it?"
3. Sometimes what you think are flaws are actually really useful.
I've always been blessed in the thigh department, so much so that someone once shouted "thunder thighs!" at me from their car while I was walking down the street, which was both kind and thoughtful. Joke's on them though, because I was on my way to get some seriously good chicken wings, so lol.
Anyway, those thunder thighs mean I can run pretty fast. And not just on a flat surface either. Give me a hill and I'll sprint up it, because the muscles in my legs can carry me up there, no problems. I'm not saying I'm Usain Bolt, but it gives me a reason to really love my thighs, even when they won't fit into Miss Selfridge's jeans.
Not only am I OK with having big quads, I'm also not going to stop them getting any bigger. Leg day is my fave, and if working on my thighs is going to help make me faster, then I'm totally down with letting them grow in all their thigh-y glory.
4. People will always be arseholes.
To quote the magnificent Dita Von Teese, "You can be a delicious, ripe peach and there will still be people in the world that hate peaches" and tbh the sooner we realise this the better.
If your body is performing to the best of its ability, then that's all you need to worry about. Becoming stronger, faster, and more skilful is so much more satisfying than just eating a tiny lunch because you're so concerned about putting on weight.
5. Women who love their bodies should be celebrated.
The women I play sports with are role models to me. In the past, I hated on myself for how fat I was, and then went home and ate a sharing bag of salt and vinegar crisps and dip for my tea. Meanwhile, my teammates would be putting in the hours at the gym, working on making themselves better, playing to their strengths, and not caring what people thought about them. If I ever have a daughter, they are the kind of women I would like her to look up to.
It's often seen as bragging if a woman talks about her achievements, but we really need more women to shout about how frickin' awesome they are. Instead of celebrities trying to be real by talking about how much they hate their toe hair or whatever, what would be really cool would be if Ronda Rousey was on the front of Elle magazine talking about how her only goal is to wake up today and be better than she was yesterday.
6. I'm not built like a man, I'm built like a strong woman.
I've been told before that I look like a man, and it's not the nicest thing to hear. I think it's just an ignorant person's way of saying, "Hey, you look strong and like you wouldn't struggle to get the lid off a jar of marmalade."
My frame and build allow me to throw a ball, to run up and down a lacrosse pitch for an hour, and to jump high enough to intercept passes in netball, so if you think that's being built like a man, then that's cool, because I'd rather be able to do all those than look how you think I should.
7. Size and weight are just numbers.
So much importance is attached to numbers, but they do not define who you are. I upped my workout game in January this year, and I haven't lost a lot of weight, but I have to buy smaller clothes and I find it a lot easier to bend over and tie my shoelaces than I did at the beginning of the year.
When it comes to playing sport, I have never thought that being lighter or heavier or smaller would make me better. I have always tried to perform to the best of my abilities and to improve the skills I already have to make me better on the field.
8. Our bodies do not exist just to be looked at.
When I'm at rugby training, my thoughts aren't about how I look compared with the other women there; my main thoughts are about learning how I can improve and what I can bring to the team with the skills I've learnt from playing other sports like netball and lacrosse.
Our bodies do so many amazing things, and sometimes the only thing we seem to really care about is what they look like.
9. Food is good for you.
Like pretty much every other twentysomething woman on the face of the earth, I have spent more time than I would like to admit adding spoonfuls of yoghurt and slices of tomato to MyFitnessPal.
Here's what I've learnt: Any kind of diet that involves cutting things out is unsustainable. I managed to lose weight (and my mind) a few years ago when I stuck to eating no more than 1,200 calories a day. Lunch was half a tin of soup and two mini breadsticks. I really hate past me right now.
Your body needs food for fuel (not just food, guys, CARBOHYDRATES), and I've learnt that exercising more means you need to learn more about eating. Just make sure you're eating mainly good things, and then you can have things that aren't so great too.
10. Just do you.
Finding a body that works for you is so much more important than striving to get the body of a celebrity. Sure, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to look like Khloe Kardashian, but that's her body and it works in a totally different way from mine.
So many women are showing off their bodies in a positive way, and women like Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams are becoming role models for a whole new generation of women. The Always #LikeAGirl campaign and #ThisGirlCan from Sport England are challenging preconceptions of women in sport.
I know it's hard to love your body and what you look like. I hated my body for so long because I was big. But sport has allowed me to determine how I feel about my body. And how I feel is great.