I originally wrote this post, in a flash of inspiration and following a train of thought a while back, keeping it for a future time.
However in light of Essena O’Neill’s recent video, this post never seemed more relevant to now publish. For any of you who have not heard of Essena, she is a hugely successful Australian model. Beautiful, skinny, and seeming ‘to have it all’, she has just published a vlog, breaking the media façade of ‘what it means to be successful’; admitting the truth behind every model shot and the reality behind trying to maintain an image that society seems to hold in such high esteem.
Listening to her video, I don’t think I have heard such a strong, motivated and determined young woman of her age, who wants to redefine what strength really is as a woman, and what true beauty is. She is very beautiful person; and this is no reflection of her obvious good looks.
“You don’t have to do anything, but explore what excites you”, O’Neill speaks out on her video, trying to re-define to her vast audience what real happiness truly is. It isn’t about trying to ‘fit in’, or ‘be skinny’ or ‘look a certain way’. It is about being yourself.
Here are my thoughts about body image. Let me take you back to August 2014.
Getting ready for my first ultra, and my body felt a lot different than how it had ever felt before. I had got more beefy. Bigger legs, my shoulders used to be slim and now filled out t-shirts more, and I was a few pounds heavier.
When I was 18, this might have been a cause for concern.
But in light of the 53km mountain ultra marathon I was about to embark on, I couldn’t not have felt more proud and I had never felt so strong, or so myself.
Growing up, I was always fairly skinny. A seemingly high metabolism, I ate like a horse and never really gained weight. I wasn’t particularly sporty, but somehow I never really changed weight, even during the more hormonal teenage years. Growing up in a time when ‘Size Zero’ was the epitome of a successful body image, I held my stature with a fair amount of pride, and although never officially one to diet, was pretty conscious, the older I got, that I didn’t want to look any other way. I liked being slim – and the media and magazine industry seemed to certainly endorse that. I would feel guilty if I over indulged, and would get a bit of a buzz if people commented on my slim physique.
As many of you know, long distance off road running is something I started over two years ago, in 2013. When I signed up to my first ultra marathon, I took on an intense training schedule which would get me race ready in eight months, through milestones such as running my first half marathon, to training to the distance of 26 miles etc. And my body changed. With it, confirmation came, that I was indeed, as Essena wrote, doing what excites me, never feeling so myself and happy. I was looking a bit different, but quite frankly better. I was getting a bit stronger.
I was developing a bigger body, one that would get me up the mountain incline, one that could tackle challenges that I had never even dreamt of before. I was not the skinniest I had ever been, but it was the best I had ever felt. My body image was one where the perception changed to "how can I best equip myself to reach new challenges and adventures?". A little less about what it looked like at the end, and a lot more about what my body might be able to do.
It’s late 2015, and I’m trying to get stronger still, as it will help me further for future challenges. Eating a full, healthy and balanced diet could not be more important to make sure I am strong to run. I’m not immune to the media pressures to ‘be a certain way’; I often beeline towards mirrors, freak out at the appearance of a spot, spend a lot of time over my appearance on Instagram etc. In terms, however, of being more aware of who I really am– a girl who just happens to have a big smile on her face when she is running – this for me gives the most happiness. Sometimes I just have to look at my own feet to remind myself of this -long distance running has meant black and lost nails; but look how far they have taken me! My message therefore is to do yourself the rightful thing by finding happiness in the person you are – whatever you want to achieve, and whatever that might look like.
I am grateful that the perception of body image, as well as women striving forward in sport, is looking far more positive, far more empowering and far more true to who we are as human beings, than ever before. I’m still going to find spots difficult to deal with. Yet, what Essena has done is falsify the notion that happiness is generic, looks a certain way and is a certain life. She however has found something far greater – real value in life, and her strength is inspirational. So whether you are a size 16 or a size 6, aged 25 or 65 – take care of yourself. Enjoy sport, be confident to try and seek in your image, to above everything, be healthy, and be strong. Strength in yourself.
Essena has started a new website, which both men and women, will find invaluable: http://www.letsbegamechangers.com/new-index/