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.