Most of my memories of secondary school involve trying to juggle sport and studies.
The sporty girl battling body image
Rushing to school with damp hair from swimming training at 5 am. Going running training in the evening, then doing homework until midnight. I was the sporty girl. In fact, I won the ‘most likely to become a famous athlete’ award. Well, that didn’t happen!
My whole identity at school was being good at sport. And whilst my parents were proud, and my friends were impressed, it did result in some bullying.
Disliking my sporty body
For some reason, because I did sport, that made me ‘manly’. I began to hate my body because it didn’t look how the opposite sex wanted it to look. I resented the fact that I had muscles instead of curves.
I got called a ‘man’ regularly by the boys in my class and heckled for being sporty. I was also a late developer, which didn’t help the situation. I had no boobs (or period) until I was 16. The no boobs and sporty combo lead to bullying. What’s particularly interesting was certain female classmates (and even friends) teased me for having no boobs. And the male classmates who called me masculine. Who knows why.
A shout-out to my 15-year-old self
I wish I could go back and tell 15-year-old-me that 36-year-old-me LOVES having muscles. Not only that, but I can be strong, and still feel attractive.
I have to say; I’m absolutely loving the trend of women getting into supposedly ‘manly’ sports and ignoring all the age-old stereotypes. ‘Women can’t lift weights,’ ‘women can’t do contact sports.’
Well, I have done both. I competed in kickboxing and won numerous tournaments, leaning on an inner rage and strength I never knew I had. And now I’m dabbling in strongwoman – and it feels incredible.
I want to teach my daughters to ignore what the world thinks and do what makes them happy. I think, as females, it’s a huge benefit to be physically strong and know how to protect yourself. When I lift a heavy log or get a deadlift PB, I feel so empowered.
Then vs. now
I think the easiest way to compare things is to list thoughts I have had at both ages. And the comparison is really interesting. What’s encouraging is that I do think opinions are very slowly changing. Things are very different from when I went to school. People are becoming more accepting and also more impressed by women who have muscles and can do impressive physical things. Though we’re definitely not quite where we should be yet. Women are still getting called out. Some people still think (and may always) that women shouldn’t be muscly.
But there is a movement of incredible ladies and people who are showing what’s possible. Breaking boundaries. Demanding women be included. Making an impact in traditionally male-dominated sports. Just look at Donna Moore, Danni Speegle, Tia Toomey, Zoe Smith, Fraer Morrow and Chloe Brennan. The future is exciting, but I’m hoping we will still continue to see a shift in attitude so that my daughters can be proud of what their bodies can do.
- Gets bullied for being sporty.
- Wanted my freakin boobs to finally appear so the boys would finally notice me.
- Wanted my period to start so that my friends would stop teasing me because it hadn’t happened yet.
- Wants to achieve in sport but also look attractive.
- Wants to lose weight.
- Looks in the mirror, checking for fat.
- Sees body as something that needs to look more womanly.
- Wants to get bigger and stronger rather than lose weight.
- Doesn’t care about boob size.
- Looks in the mirror posing/tensing arm muscles to see how strong I’m getting.
- Sees my body as a tool for achieving in sport.
- Is amazed by what my body can do.
- Happy to put on extra kgs if it means I get more muscle.
- Wants to compete in sports I enjoy even if sexist people think they aren’t for women.
- Have discovered I am much better suited to high-impact, intense sports. There’s no better feeling than the high I get from this.
- Appreciates my body for creating two human beings. Wow.
Just look at the difference. I am loving seeing my body transform from being very weak and broken after two difficult births, to being strong and powerful. So here’s a little note to my 15-year-old self.
“Your body is amazing, look at what it can do! Don’t try to change yourself to impress the opposite sex. Do sports that make you feel good and see muscles as a sign of strength, not something women shouldn’t have.”
It absolutely melted my heart when my preschool daughter lifted up her trike and said, ‘mummy, look, I’m a strongwoman.’ Yes, you are darling, you are amazing, and you can do whatever you set your mind to. But most importantly, what makes you happy and feel good.
The images below show some things that have me feel very good. And I didn’t care about what my body looked like, just what it could DO. Lift, win, punch, kick, carry, defend.