…that actually, there isn’t one at all.
Unfortunately, that’s not often the truth I find myself believing about it.
It’s Mental Health Awareness week, and this year the focus is on Body Image. Having shared my struggles a little recently on instagram, I felt like I wanted to blog from my own experience of body image struggles, as a mum, an ultra runner and a mid thirty year old woman.
Please can I precursor this by saying these things;
This is my OWN experience, my own feelings towards my body, and based on MY experience of living in this body. Knowing what is big and what isn’t for MY BODY. I also realise that there will be irrational things which are stupid and don’t make any sense, but again, you don’t need to tell me or roll your eyes at them. I already know! (ALSO maybe you won’t think ANY of these things and it’s my insecurity assuming you’re already judging me for writing this out… urghh)
I can’t remember when my body issues started. I vaguely remember in 6th form that people started going to the ‘gym’. I was more concerned with eating cheeseburgers from the canteen, clearing out the common room vending machines or driving down for a Pizza Hut buffet during our lunch-plus-free-period-bonanza. I wasn’t a big girl. I wouldn’t say I was ever ‘fat’, but I started to see the little belly pooch at 16, but didn’t take much notice, or realise it’d be hanging around a good 19 years later…
I have what i’d describe as an ‘addictive personality’. Maybe not to the extent of the result of a Dr.Google search but there are certainly parallels.
I obsess over things, I suffer with anxiety and depression, I crave excitement and adventure and I become very low when these things aren’t happening. I wouldn’t say i’m a food addict, but I get into very bad cycles of eating, especially chocolate, take aways and the good stuff, el vino.
I’m small in size. 5ft 2 ish, with a short torso. I always get so frustrated with my brother who is a bean pole in comparison (but has had his share of body demons too) – why couldn’t I have got those genes? Why did I get the short and fat ones?
As i’ve got older, and had children, i’ve hit that place most mid thirties seem to. The one where the weight goes on and doesn’t come off quite as fast as it used to. Mine in particular congregates around my middle, not the best when you’re already short waisted and not vertically blessed. This means that when I put weight on, I can feel it and see it quite well.
It always used to be about the scales. The lightest I ever was was when I got married at 21 (I know!). On my wedding day I was 8st 2. My wedding dress was size 8 and a little on the loose side. But do you know what? On my honeymoon, I was STILL complaining that I didn’t like my body. I’d literally punch my 21yr old self in the face over that now.
I’ve been through stages of my life where i’ve been thinner. Notably before, was back in 2008/9, pre kids, lots of time to myself, and getting into running. Andy and I ran a 10k for Cancer Research at Ashton Court in Bristol (where we lived until 2010) and that led to me wanting MORE (addictive) so I booked into the Bristol Half. I had no idea about training plans, all i’d read was I needed to run 10 miles comfortably. So that’s what I did. Maybe 3 runs a week, one short loop (5-7 miles) and a couple of 10 miles. Weight fell off me and I distinctly remember a pair of TEENY Nike leggings fitting me (and also remember looking at myself in the shower and despising THAT pooch despite the tiny lycra).
In reality, the first time I felt completely happy in my own body was when I fell pregnant with Milly. FINALLY I could appreciate my body for the most wonderful thing it was doing. AND to boot – my pooch would be taking a vacation for a while as my baby bump grew and grew… (don’t get me started on criticising the bump btw. It wasn’t a beautiful rounded bump either. It kind of went in and out for a good while…)
Becoming someones Mum gave me respect for my body. I became, for a while, appreciative of it. Of what it had done. That it wasn’t just me anymore – i’d made a human and my body now reflected that! And it took the pressure off how I felt about it for a while. And during my first pregnancy, i’d stayed pretty active. Running a little and going to the gym and swimming.
My post natal depression started to creep in when she was a few weeks old, but she was an awesome sleeper, and I credit my ability to kick the PND quickly thanks to enough sleep. She was 10 months old when we found out I was cooking him up. Things were about to get cray.
Between pregnancies I wasn’t very active at all. This continued once my little chunk of boy was born, as you can imagine – having a newborn/new baby and a 19month old was quite the handful. And this time I wasn’t so lucky with escaping the PND.
Exercise disappeared. I was struggling and I was lonely. I put on my fake happy and pushed it down. I couldn’t cope. I was drowning and failing and I actually was on the verge of not wanting to be here at all.
I was around 13 stone at my heaviest. 4 stone over my ideal weight. I wanted to lose it but coming in and out of weight loss clubs, I didn’t do too well. At most I lost a stone, and put it on again. But then I remembered what had once helped me get into those tiny Nike leggings and started to run, very cautiously and slowly. By the time this happened, Jasper was already 3.
I tried out Lean in 15, and found the world of HIIT. But soon enough running took over, and I became obsessed with it and getting better, faster, going for longer….
Three years ago, in May 2016, my old desire to run a marathon reignited and I started to look for new challenges. Anything to keep me motivated and on track. I was eating well and I was losing weight and getting fitter week by week. For the first time in a long time, I felt happy with my body – there was a long way to go but I was doing something about it. I was pursuing the run on a regular basis and a half marathon soon became three half’s in a 6 week period, and so began my pattern of addictive behaviour, but this time, applied to something i’d not applied it to before.
The next thing was to run every day in December, which I did. 120 miles. The most i’d ever run in a month. I was so happy. I was looking super trim, and felt so fit.
I was over the moon to have a place in both London and Brighton marathons in 2017 (and long story short!) – i’d entered an ultra marathon, Race to the Stones, just from watching someone i’d met on instagram do it, without having even run a marathon first. I thought I could do that too and I booked on! I wanted to try and get in a marathon first, and I trained hard and started to raise money. But being the keano that I was, I got injured and as I was doing London for Mind, I deferred Brighton to 2018. I couldn’t do both this time.
Lining up for my first marathon I had no idea what to expect, as i’d only reached 18 miles in training due to the hip issue.
Despite it all, I managed a respectable 4:23:17 for my first ever marathon, at London no less. But that was it. I was well and truly hooked in.
Despite all these long distance races, I noticed that I wasn’t really physically changing much. The long runs would keep the weight down, but I wasn’t very toned, and the fact that I was rewarding myself with food, didn’t help me to find that athlete’s physique I was after.
2018 came round and I was in my best shape running wise for Brighton. I had a perfect training cycle and ran a Good for Age time, to qualify for London 2019. But guess what? Those Brighton pictures? I saw a physique I didn’t like. All that training. All those hours of running. I STILL couldn’t accept the body I was in. Thick thighs. Big hips. Skinny face sure, but zoom out and it was a different story.
July swang round and I took on my first ever ultra marathon, 100km over two days (do you see the escalation here?). Still not quite mastering my nutrition, and injured in the lead up, I managed to run the thing with my new running family; Martha and Daryl, a pair of pre weds wanting a challenge together before married life, and me, wanting to show my kids just what the hell mummy can do; and had the absolute best time of my life.
I didn’t realise there was such a world out there. I certainly hadn’t been an outdoorsy type of girl since I was pre teen, but this new found freedom to be me, to be outside and enjoying nature and pushing this body to the limits? was a new exciting challenge, and I lapped up every minute of it. As soon as we were done, I knew i’d be back for more.
There was this whole new part to my life now, that I never even dreamed of. It stretched beyond marathons. It was new territory and I wanted more of it. Because the more I got into it and the social media side of it, the more I saw that people were doing it better than me. Actually, maybe I wasn’t as badass as I thought – there were people doing it faster, and they were skinnier and they had better gear than me… and once again, social media started robbing me of the incredible things i’d achieved.
In a social media world, it’s flipping hard to make a difference.
And if you’re obsessive and addictive like me, and you constantly fall into the comparison trap, then NOTHING, honestly NOTHING will ever be good enough for you.
No amount of miles.
No weight loss.
No material stuff or accolade will cut the mustard.
If I don’t come to a place where I accept and appreciate myself or my body for what it can and has achieved, what is the point of looking to anything else to validate that? Because it can’t. Social channels can’t fulfill you. Likes and interactions don’t replace real world validation, and to be honest, even that is lacklustre most of the time.
I’m sure many of you repeat marathoners/ultra runners etc will understand that people sort of lose the ability to congratulate you or even care about what you’ve achieved. I get it, it’s not everyones cup of tea, but FLIPPING HECK BABES, I just ran my 5th marathon 2 weeks before my 5th Ultra marathon and you don’t even bat an eyelid? (In their defence, MOST of my family and a good few friends are epic at supporting me, everytime, thank you pals xx)
All that makes me feel is like i’m not good enough. Nothing will ever be good enough will it? What on earth do I have to do to get validation from you and WHY DO I EVEN FIND MYSELF STRIVING FOR THE VALIDATION FROM A PRACTICAL STRANGER?
I joined instagram to document my journey for me. I didn’t start out for likes. Or freebies (I hope that’s the theme you still see today, although i’m very lucky to be gifted a few things these days). I had no idea what I was doing and I found others in the same place, who inspired me and brought me into a world I knew nothing of.
I guess my point, if there even is one, is that I don’t know how I get to the point of loving myself for what I can do. To appreciate that my body isn’t anyone else’s and it has its limitations. That I am more than one crappy race photo which is more than likely an awful shot mid stride where everything is heading south and I look like death… The journey to that race is MORE than that one shot.
And also, the reasons why I do it. Yes I want to feel good. Of course, I want to look good. Who doesn’t like to be complimented on their appearance right? But what is more important to me? Can I win the mind game and convince myself that the good is in the people i’m encouraging to have a go too? The people that have signed up for and run ultras who would never have done so without being moved by my journey? surely that is the biggest flattery and achievement in this whole journey?
I’ve been hard on myself since taking on my 5th ultra marathon this weekend, on my 35th birthday no less. Shaving off 1hr 40 mins from my 50km time. But what did I do when I saw these finish line pics? I cried.
Because I put on weight. Because I want people to say i’m skinny and fit and to me that means being less than what I am here and now. Despite what I did this weekend. And that needs to change.
I showed Milly the finish line pictures and she demanded that there and then, I print out this photo for her to put in her room. “Why do you like it?” I asked her.
“Because it’s just me and you”, she said.
She doesn’t see me as a size or a weight. She sees me and her having fun. Running together, strong girls club. And being taught a lesson by a 7 year old is pretty humbling to say the least.