OCR has forced me to confront a lot of issues – my mental health, my physical health and fitness, but somewhat inadvertently, my body image.
OCR is probably one of the very few sports in which there is no ‘ideal’ body type, no cookie cutter, and most happily of all, no bitches telling you what’s wrong with your figure. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – never before have I encountered a group of people so ready to celebrate the bits of you that you previously thought were gross. Just talking through and reading other people’s body insecurities already makes me feel as though I’m not alone in my struggle to accept the fact that I am not going to wake up with the legs of a willowy pop star. (Not like, a disembodied pair of legs, you understand, I mean my legs being awesome, oh, never mind). I also know that I’m not going to suddenly acquire the physique of Jessica Ennis-Hill, but what is going to happen is that I WILL get stronger, even if this doesn’t immediately manifest in my physical appearance.
Thankfully, my legs have notably changed shape since I started running around like an aimless loon. They were the top of my hit list when it came to Most Hated Bits of me, so it was nice to see them start to cut some definition. Despite their increasing strength and muscle size, I still found myself doing a bit of a weep in a department store changing room when I realised that this meant going up a dress size. Since then I have adopted a more devil may care attitude to ridiculous shop sizes dictating my feelings, but at that point in time, I was just a girl that wanted to feel pretty and slim. And despite doing incredible things at the weekend and feeling awesomely strong and fit, I felt fat, lumpy, sweaty and useless. The saddest thing about this is that I know tonnes of you relate to this feeling.
How many of us have accomplished feats that we never dreamed we could, only to see the race photos and zone in on an errant fat roll, a wobbly thigh or a weird looking chest? Unless you are literally a Spartan cut straight from a scene from 300, I’d wager all of us have focussed solely on the negative aspect of a photograph despite the fact that you’re climbing a ten-foot wall, balancing over a river on a sliver of rope or dangling off a hang tough ring like an obstinate chimp. These feelings don’t easily wash away, but we can bury them by celebrating the victories those photographs represent. So you have a fat roll – just means you didn’t shave your pelvis off when you shimmied over an inverse wall. Your legs are too big for pencil skirts, yet they supported you up a 7m rope climb. Your arms are weedy, yet they took your full body weight as you clung to the monkey bars.
Or even, you can’t stay on the monkey bars for love nor money, but you’re going to stick at it until you damn well get there, because you’re doing a butt load more work trudging through the mud and falling off obstacles than you would be drowning your body sorrows in a tub of Haagen Dazs.
Something that really disturbed me when I was at the height of my recent illness was my weight loss through sheer wastage and lack of decent calorie intake. Put simply, I was too tired and sick to get food, so I didn’t eat. I was out of breath just walking up my stairs, so exercise went out of the window. The result was I dropped the best part of 8 kilos and looked like something Harry Potter might have dredged up from a secret cave-lake. My skin was grey, my cheeks were sharp and my chest was ‘ribby’ around my neckline. My thighs, true to form, stayed on ‘big booty white girl’ form, but with my shrunken waist I looked disproportionate. I was weak and ghastly, and yet people around me congratulated me on my weight loss. This is fucked up. It took this to make me realise that skinny (however unintentional) was never going to make me happy, and despite the bizarre ‘compliments’, I did not want to feel like death to achieve a look that wouldn’t have been out of place on a mortuary slab. I had literally ONE friend say to me honestly that she was ‘alarmed’ by how sick I looked (and believe me, I felt it) and I was so grateful to her for confirming that I needed to do something about this all-consuming foggy fatigue that had floored me and taken away my enjoyment of pretty much everything.
Now, thanks to bimbling around forest trails and OCRaces, I’m almost ten kilograms heavier than that. I’m a dress size bigger, notably fitter and my body fat percentage has improved dramatically. I’m actually, for the first time in my adult life, fit. And I’m also a lot more realistic about what my body can look like without drastic dietary intervention or SRSLY INTENSE training. I’m creating a new body bucket list, and I don’t care if you think it’s ridiculous, but if you don’t – I suggest that you do the same.
This season, I want to:
- Run in shorts
- Wear shorts to the gym
- Improve my back muscles
- Work on my core
- Exercise in a sports bra (get that stomach out)
- Wear a cropped tee/top without feeling like a moron
- Wear a bikini in public
- Stop freaking out about having ‘thigh arm’ in photographs
- Get over my cellulite
Superficial? Maybe, but they’re my body confidence builders. Some of these acts come so easily to some of you, and others may be simply mortified by the idea of wearing anything but baggy tracksuits to the gym – it’s all relative. The minute I know that I can get through that list is when I have made peace with the parts of me that I have punished, hidden and cried over. I really hope that we can all manage that one day – this is certainly the sport in which to do it with minimal judgement.
Edit: I ran, for the first time, in shorts this weekend. This photograph marks the first time that I have looked at myself and my first thought has not been ‘your arms are massive and pasty and your thighs are huge’…it was…’holy shit, someone managed to photograph you about to jump off a bridge. That’s cool.’
Baby steps 😉