It’s all about the what-now??

I was sent a link to a blog this morning. A blog that made me irate while lying in bed nursing a sore shoulder/neck after a weekend of athletic excess. A blog so unintentionally (I hope) insulting and condescending that I slowly staggered through to the living room from my pit of despair in order to write this probably slightly over-defensive rebuttal.

Click HERE for a link to Tom Demerly’s article.

To anyone who wants to see more people engage with triathlon, this probably seems like a great blog! And to be fair Tom Demerly clearly knows his stuff about endurance and triathlon and being an all-round awesome human with some ridiculously tough challenges under his belt. Who am I to argue with such an accomplished person?

I think what you might be trying to say Tom, is that the Triathlon industry could make more money by tailoring products and marketing towards those of us who perhaps aren’t “in it to win it” but want to better ourselves physically and mentally by becoming fitter and tougher. This isn’t a ‘day job’ for us. Just a hobby. So we don’t want or need to spend the earth either. Therefore stop trying to peddle £5k TT bikes to people who probably won’t actually get the gains you claim they will. And maybe make some kit that doesn’t accentuate sausage legs and back-boobs.

That’s kind of all you needed to say…

You cover some sensible and pretty accurate ground to begin with, making reference to how the recession impacted consumers who previously had disposable income and now have less cash to throw about or set fire to or whatever. All of that made perfect sense. Triathlon is an expensive hobby, but it’d be great if you could get decent enough kit for less than a trip to the moon. All fine.

But…. Then it all gets a bit “fattist”. Even the title hints at the underlying theme of “curves”

“The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona”

*Shocked face*

Last time I checked, The Scale of Fat doesn’t go directly from ‘Svelte Uber-Athlete’ to ‘Skint And Crying While Mainlining Donuts’….

“The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.”

The sport IS growing. And I’m sure Tom will agree, with his sporting pedigree and involvement in many an association geared towards improving Triathlon as a sport, that this is BRILLIANT! Look at all these people who want to push themselves physically and mentally?!! But hang on… “heavier” and “less athletic”?

Ouch.

Quite often, Joe Average takes up an athletic hobby because he or she is unhappy with their figure. There’s really no need to draw further attention to this. Especially in a sport famously rife with eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

“There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes.”

This is true in as much as most sports-based retailers, magazines and events use elite athletes to market them over  poor old Joe Average. It’s called Aspirational Marketing. It’s not un-realistic in the same way that fashion brands push skinny over normal. We know we’ll never look like Jess Ennis! But people would usually rather see her on the face of an athletics magazine than that of Charlene from the local Co-Op who did her 5K race for life last week. No offence, Charlene.

The faces they use to market products and services are not the problem, here. It’s the attitude that accompanies it. The elitist and frankly pretty snobby attitude that you get within ANY sport. That’s a real problem.

My final bug-bears lie here, Tom. Where you skip further towards dangerous territory:

“Apparel manufacturers have missed the mark too, alienating prospective customers with images of sponsored pros with little or no recognition among average triathletes and building clothing that is too tight, too short and in size runs that are humiliating to try on. If a forward thinking triathlon apparel brand introduced a tactfully marketed apparel line called “PR” with upward-adjusted size runs, modest cuts and middle-road visual appeal they would outsell too-tight, mis-sized brands designed to fit anorexic Kona winners.”

I agree. The sizing jumps are too big between S-M and L. All this needs is some light attention to pattern grading. Dress sizes. Easy. Not a sodding “plus sized” range! This now means Joe Average has to put up with kit snobbery as well as bike snobbery! Kick us while we’re down, why don’t you?

“Yes. I’m looking for your plus sized lycra. With ‘modest cuts’ because I do not wish to inflict my plus sized thighs on any ‘proper’ athletes. And my love handles may throw their focus off their race.”

And then. “Anorexic Kona winners”.

Oh dear, Tom. Oh. Very. Dear.

Let’s be quite clear that the likes of Sebastian Kienle, Frederik Van Lierde, Crowie, Mirinda Carfrae, Chrissie Wellington and Leanda Cave (to name but a few) do not in any way look ‘anorexic’. And I’m SURE your use of that term is purely “for the bants” and that you don’t actually mean it. Because that’s just outrageous. Bit insensitive to refer to an eating disorder when discussing an athletic pursuit that has experienced quite negative press about this before. The incredible Chrissie Wellington has revealed her own struggle with body dysmorphia within the sport, as has Hollie Avil. Who gave up her successful and still promosing career following two battles with an eating disorder.

These are fiercely talented, accomplished athletes who strive to be the best that they can be. They eat well, they live well and they work damned hard. Anyone entering the world of triathlon aspires to be at that level of fitness and skill. And what I think you’re suggesting is that newbie triathletes who are perhaps, as you say, “average” look at these incredible athletes and think “pah, she needs a kebab!”.

No.

What you’re doing is, yet again, drifting down into the depths of body-image and the rabbit hole that is body-dysmorphia.

Allow me to finish with the following:

I accept that I am considered “average” by elite athletes. But you’re getting a bit personal with the “heavier” and “less athletic”, buddy. What you’re saying here is “hey. It’s cool that you’re not as fast as the elites. You only need to compete with yourself! You’re average and it’s the taking part that counts”.

Let me tell you the most important thing I’ve learnt since deciding to undertake this Triathlon Adventure:

No one who has ever completed a triathlon is “average”.

I cannot emphasise that point enough. We may not be “elite” but training for a tri, especially if you have kids and/or a full time job (which we need to FUND this clearly incredibly expensive sport) requires über dedication and a kind of drive that differs to that of a person motivated by sponsorship and podium-payouts because TRIATHLON is their day job. The kind of dedication borne from a person who wants to be the best that they can be, while fully accepting but not really caring that we won’t be winning Kona anytime soon.

Don’t you dare belittle that by saying “ah it’s ok! You can do this AND be slightly fat and poor. It’s the taking part that counts”. You use the term “filling from the bottom” a few too many times, for my liking. Is that a fat-jibe or your way of saying that Triathlon is filling with average people who look rubbish in lycra? I think both.

We already know that. And to be quite honest, we’re not that arsed for winning! I just want to be able to eat cake and still look smoking hot in skinny jeans. I don’t need a crazy-experienced athlete to tell me that this is actually ok. Because I already know it is. I don’t need to win! My income doesn’t depend on winning. I have a job so that I can buy cakes.

That’s kind of liberating.

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The Struggle

I’ve been struggling with something lately.

Those who know me will understand that I am a bit of a control freak. Those who know me well will understand that I am also a perfectionist who is very self-critical.

Combine these two, rather charming, characteristics and add a dose of body dysmorphia and you have the perfect recipe for a bad relationship with food and weight management.

I’m not going to call what I’ve struggled with an “eating disorder” because the bad relationship wasn’t with food as such, it was with myself.

I’m not exactly sure if there is a specific point at which I suddenly decided I was fat… I just remember becoming aware of my body. I was 15. I had never ever worried about what I ate before. Mum had tried diets and spoken about them to me but never in a way that instilled them as a quick fix or something I should ever consider. I just became aware.

I was called “chubby” by a school friend but assumed they were jealous because boys fancied me and I never needed make up or short skirts to get attention.

I just became AWARE.

Aware that my body was changing and that I couldn’t stop it.

Aware that I maybe had a bit too much chub around my hips.

Unaware that this was prepubescent, I began not eating. And then eating ALL the things. Thus never losing weight. Thus getting increasingly unhappy.

Things died down in my 5th and 6th year until by 3rd year of uni. I was living with two amazing but very VERY body conscious girls who were MUCH thinner than me. Their dieting and worrying rubbed off on me in new, scarier ways and my relationship with my body deteriorated once more.

Boys still fancied me. Clothes still fitted me. I never starved myself for longer than a day. But I fucking hated the way I looked.

“Oh poor you” I hear you say. “You have a lovely figure with perfect skin what have you got to complain about?”

Nothing. But. Everything. I HATED myself.

And that is sad. I’ve spent a good 50% of my life hating my body. Which has done nothing but exist and take what I’ve thrown at it.

I read about girls who have starved themselves to the brink of death. And girls who binge in secret like I once did, and I feel desperately sad for them. Mostly because I know that it will never go away for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I kicked the arse of my self-hatred. But it still comes back. Sometimes unexpectedly.

(If you don’t know me well, I will have come across in tweets as a cocky and arrogant shit. I am, of course. But it’s mostly for show.)

Now the hard part. The part I don’t want to have to admit to and the part I know will make my mummy sad.

I have to confess that since I lost loads of weight training for the marathon (32lbs), it’s been difficult if I’ve put any back on through overindulging or water weight or hormones.

In the last 4 weeks, I have skipped meals consciously. There. I said it.

I am not using exercise to lose weight any more. But to maintain it. Which is healthy. I’d just like to make that clear.

I am writing this down so that I’ve said it publicly. I don’t want any “oh but you look amazing’s”. No. What I want is for anyone that’s reading this that has had those thoughts ever, to stop for a minute and realise that you are not alone.

And it’s ok. Not to skip meals, but to know that you’ve done it. It’s ok to accept it. But you need to work out why. And get to the bottom of it. Which is what I’m trying to do.

You’ll be told you’re stupid. And self-centred. And aren’t there more important things to worry about in life?

Probably, yes.

But to be honest there is little that is more frustrating than achieving something amazing and not being able to enjoy it because it’s just not enough.

There is little that is more difficult to manage than anger at yourself and a lack of understanding as to how to deal with this.

There is little more frustrating than hating absolutely EVERYTHING about yourself and being told you’re stupid for thinking those things.

You are, of course, perfect in your own, silly, melodramatic, slightly chubby-in-the-wrong-places way.

You won’t like hearing that. But you are.

And you are not alone.