I will start by explaining the title. As many people will have experienced different ways of training, different exercises will change and alter your body in different ways. As a woman who often chooses powerful, strength-based sports, I have always been conscious of how it has changed and shaped my body. Although exercise has greatly helped my mental health, I have also dealt with crippling body dysmorphia, and I wondered if sport helped or hindered my body image.
In an attempt to be open and honest, I’ll start by explaining my complicated relationship with my self-image. When I was a teenager, I suffered pretty severely from depression, and to cope, I started self-harming. At this point, I was still a reasonably self-confident person. I’m not sure what changed, but I think my body confidence got lost when I started covering up, hiding my body to cover up the scars. It’s hard to describe self-hatred, but that’s what it was.
I’ve always been an active person; I started Karate at the age of 7, got my black belt some years later and when I was 16, I joined a gym! But, being asthmatic, I really struggled with high-intensity cardio workouts. So, all the exercises that keep you slim and slender, i.e. running, were off the cards. So, naturally, I look up powerlifting instead. I was an exceptionally good powerlifter. I was focused and dedicated and gained strength and power quickly for someone 5’2.
Admittedly, I quite enjoyed people’s reactions when I stacked 160kg on the leg press, especially as I was around 53kg. Powerlifting changed my body; I was incredibly toned, but my legs and triceps became quite obviously muscular. To be honest, I liked how it changed my body. The only issue was when I would get comments from people (including a guy I liked), about how muscular women weren’t attractive. Of course, it’s easy to say ignore them, but when you are a very self-conscious person, any comment that validates your low opinion of yourself will simply imprint them further.
When I got to University, the gym wasn’t equipped for Powerlifting, so I took up rugby instead. I really enjoyed playing, it was great fitness, and all the strength and power I had built up had made me into an unexpected ‘pocket rocket’. The only downside is that I continued to feel ‘big’ and ‘chunky’ throughout University. Toward the end of University, I didn’t have time to play anymore. When I stopped, I didn’t have anything to take my mind off the anxiety, and as a result, I lost over 1 ½ stone. It made me very ill; I don’t think I’m built to be that small. However, frustratingly, I was getting a lot of compliments about how slim I looked. I cannot tell you how damaging it is to believe you are only attractive at an unhealthy weight.
When I was 21, I took up hiking properly, I was out every weekend, I managed to put the weight back on, and I was again seeing changes in my body. For some reason, I put on muscle so much easier than other women, which has resulted in big legs, and, thanks to hiking, big calves too. I was always self-conscious of this and would rarely wear dresses or skirts. When I did, I would always get comments saying how big they were or how big they made me look. I do think I am genuinely unlucky in my encounters with people. My confidence has never really recovered from it either.
So, I guess the question is, if a sport changes your body to make you feel self-conscious, do you continue to do it? I think it partly depends if the benefit of the exercise outweighs the negative. In my mind, I am never going to have the body or figure I would like, not unless I grow a few extra inches. But, the benefits of exercise, especially hiking, outweigh the negatives. Exercise allows you to push yourself in a healthy way. It keeps your mind and body active and being in the mountains is such an amazing experience. I have struggled with self-confidence almost all my life, but what I should be doing is celebrating my body. It allows me to climb mountains and do what I want to do in life. I’m slowly learning this as I get older; my effort needs to be put into building myself up and saying thank you for all its allowing me to do. So, I guess the moral of the story is to do what you enjoy and don’t be so hard on yourself.
4 thoughts on “The walker’s body dilemma…”
Great blog. It’s easy for people to say ignore comments but less easy to do.
I lost a lot of weight about 18 months ago and people noticed. Reason was I was in a really bad place in my head and not eating properly. I’ve put most of it back on but my head is in a much better place which is more important than being thinner.
Hi Tessa, thank you for your comment. Thats exactly what happened to me, i was in fact not eating because I was in a bad place. Us hikers are probably fitter than most, it’s ridiculous that we have to put ourselves under so much pressure. Thats what I like about hiking, I dont have to worry about what I’m wearing or what my hairs like. Don’t have to worry about anything other than getting up the next bloody big hill!
Great blog Amy and I agree with you and Tessa – it’s how we feel about ourselves that’s important, not what others think. Health always has to come first and hiking is so good for physical and mental health. Writing helps too!
Ignore the comments about your legs. Having the muscles to power you up a hill is far more attractive than a ‘thigh gap’ (urghh!) in my book any day. It speaks of your character, something that will outlast anyone’s transient appearance.