The moment I realized I’d be judged on how my body looked was in fourth grade when Derrick yelled out, “Moley! Moley! Moley!” No thanks to Austin Powers in Goldmember when “Number Three” walks in with a giant mole on his face and Dr. Evil couldn’t help but judge.
From that day forward, the moles on my face would be a constant reminder of how cruel others could be and the value society placed on women’s bodies.
I wanted a flat stomach as much as any insecure girl did in school. I remember sitting down in a chair, nonchalantly feeling how much fat rolled over my pants, and adjusting my posture on the chair in order to flatten it. I remember telling one of my 9th grade friends I was jealous that her stomach didn’t spill over the edges of her pants when she sat down.
I remember being naked in front of my boyfriend for the first time, wishing he were blind. Surely, he didn’t think think my body was beautiful, no matter how many times he told me.
If you were to look at photos of me through my young adulthood, you’d consider me crazy. “Where was the fat she obsessed over?” It wasn’t there. Sure, my stomach wasn’t a six-pack and there was a little pudge but for the number of McDonald’s apple pies I ate, there was little fat.
I had a distorted image of what I thought my body looked like throughout my teens and twenties. I wish I could say it’s changed since turning 30, but truth be told, I still see fat rolls and fat dimples and I absolutely and consciously change my seated position to minimize as much fat spillage as possible.
I share this not for sympathy but because I know women still struggle with body image issues. I know the cyclists I race against and ride beside silently judge their bodies: on its performance and how it looks with and without a cycling kit. I, for one, remark on my “sausage legs” at nearly every race.
If I was paid one dollar for every time I heard a woman comment on her body in a cycling kit, I’d be able to fund my race season.
In cycling, weight matters. I’ve been on bike rides where cyclists argue the grams of bike components; in rooms where people determine which cycling shoe to buy based off its weight; and watched riders celebrate their power-to-weight ratio. Obviously, cheersing with water bottles and SIS gels.
When we look at the professional racers, they resemble Skeletor. Honestly, the women tend to look healthier than the men’s professional field, but they’re still about one size and color. When we look at these successful women racers, consciously or subconsciously we think we have to look like that in order to race our bikes.
The fuckery with that is when someone looks at me, likely they see that “typical female bike racer” body. I’m not obese. I’m white. I have giant quads, a small frame, tiny arms, and a sizeable ass. My grandmother comments on my body shape often, not realizing what’s actually appropriate to say to me. Bless her heart.
None of this matters because that’s not what I see.
There’s a bathroom in the gym at my office with lighting out of a horror film: bright, stark, and creates shadows from the smallest object. I swear the mirror stalks me. It doesn’t matter where I stand in this one-person bathroom, it finds me. It magnifies the cellulite on my legs and arse. As much as I try to avoid fixating on this, I always find myself ridiculing my body for the amount of rumples I see staring back at me. I repeat to myself, “my body is strong,” in a futile attempt to convince myself that cellulite is not a marker of my strength or value.
Bibs that fall below my belly button squish my belly fat like playdough. Another reminder of my sweet tooth. I shouldn’t have had that chocolate and toffee ice cream last night I think to myself as I tuck my fat behind Lycra.
I started classifying food as either “good” or “bad.” “Carbs were the enemy.” I prioritized foods on their net carb content more than the energy they’d provide me to complete training sessions. I ate relatively healthy, but I obsessed over how many carbs I was consuming. I thought carbs made us fat. Fat made us fat. And too much protein made us fat. I stressed out so much about food and gaining weight, I probably didn’t lose weight because of the cortisol streaming through my bloodstream.
The more I read and learned about food, the less I labeled food as “good” or “bad” and more “Will this help me reach my goals?” Changing how I viewed food helped me stress less about what I was eating, kind of. I began to focus on foods that’d give me energy to perform workouts and recover efficiently.
Do I still eat sweets? You bet your sweet ass. I moderate though and don’t feel as guilty. I don’t agonize as much as I used to.
The biggest change was meeting with a professional. We went over what it took for me to perform and to recover. Heidi suggested a few tips to cut calories without hindering my performance. I began to follow other nutritionists online and read more books about it. Food now is neither good nor bad but is nutrient dense or not. And if I want something sweet, I eat it. I try to moderate. I try not to feel guilty. I listen to how my body responds to certain food: if it feels energized or depleted. If it makes my stomach hurt. I continue to eat foods that make me feel good and eat less of the foods that leave me feeling shitty.
When I want to critique my body, I remind myself of all the things my body CAN do: ride 120 miles, race my bike, walk, run, jump. I have a friend who has muscular dystrophy and any time I get judgy about how I look, I think of him. I take my body and its capabilities for granted. It’s easy to forget that one day I could lose the ability to do everything I do now. So I try to be grateful for all my body has accomplished instead of criticizing it for physical flaws. It helps me check my assholeness.
We forget how easily a fall could change the trajectory of our lives. We don’t stop often enough to appreciate the fact we can breathe without thinking about it.
We forget that we are more than just our bodies.
We forget that we’re the way we think, behave, talk, love, and exist. Without our powerful bodies, our minds would be stuck in the ether.