Making the body beautiful

Running summary for w/c Monday 16th January
Miles: 25.9
Cross training: Spinning, and a failed attempt at throwing my kettlebell around (I squatted a little over-enthusiastically and my right leg seized up in protest)

How best to celebrate being happy with your body than posting a picture of yourself in your swimsuit?! (Hampstead Heath duathlon 2011)

I spent Friday night with the Women’s Fightback discussion group talking about body image and the magazine industry. It was a really interesting evening discussing possible reasons for our obsession with looking like other people. We concluded that our obsession with looking at ourselves and wanting to look ‘nice’ was quite natural and harmless. What is harmful however is that we are often coerced into imitating an appearance that is unattainable.

Despite being a pretty well educated young woman, an ex-magazine studies/cultural studies student, keen body theorist and feminist I have obsessed over my body since my friends started growing boobs (I didn’t grow boobs until a significant number of years later…). We live in a strange world where we are constantly encouraged to look at ourselves and make ourselves look better, but we can’t get caught looking at ourselves for fear of being called vain, and we certainly can’t admit to ever achieving contentment with our physical selves for fear of the accusation of being well up ourselves. It’s a bit of a lose/lose situation really…

We are constantly encouraged to be critical of our bodies, in pursuit of perfection. We’re too tall/short/fat/thin/muscly/wobbly/hairy/wrinkly/dimply… Try this potion/lotion/cream/razor/milkshake to get just a little bit closer to perfection… Even top athletes, whose bodies are their business, are invited by the media to criticise their physical appearance, as runner/blogger Bangs points out in this blog post.

Running has had a very strange effect on my relationship with my body. While it is certainly not the first regular exercise I have ever done (I took up swimming to lose weight a few years ago) and while I have previously been a bit slimmer than I am now, running has completely changed how I feel about my body and how I look at it.

Everytime I have passed a running milestone (the first time round the park without stopping, the first race I trained for, the first sub-30min 5K, the first sub-25min 5K, the first 10K, the first half marathon, the first time I ran to the top of Parliament Hill…) I have learnt to admire my body just a little bit more. I am in constant awe of what it is capable of and how it continues to improve, and have learnt not just to forgive its flaws, but to realise that they’re not really flaws at all. I used to always feel massive – tall, stocky, and a bit of a giant next to my friends – but now I just feel strong. And I feel so healthy! I have so much more energy, I quit smoking and I’m far less prone to stressing out and/or feeling sad.

Thanks to running I now have thigh muscles that stick out above my knees. A couple of years ago I would probably have been pissed off at yet another part of my body that refuses to be feminine, but I poke these muscley bits and can’t wait to see what else happens to my body as I try and become a better runner.


8 responses to “Making the body beautiful

  1. Great post. So, so true.

    25+ miles last week? You are a machine! (and also my hero today as I still feel queasy after yesterday’s plod)

    Keep it up!

  2. Well, I think you are just perfect. I love you any size you are and after spending 9 months making you I am glsd you love yourself too!

  3. This is so fab. You’re an inspiration. And I want to join your running club! And do the Hampstead Heath duathlon!!

    • It would be lovely if you came along Anne – we can see what energy you’ve got left over from Run To The Beat! You ran such a brilliant time. Any plans to do it this year?

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