Apparently you need to love your body in order to play sport. But is it actually the other way round?
With #Fitspo ambassadors back-bending and hand-standing all over our Instagram feeds, jiggling their jiggle-free thighs in our faces – it’s no wonder that even whispering the word ‘lycra’ strikes fear into the hearts of so many of us. These kind of images give the impression that in order to exercise women have to look a certain way (i.e toned, bronzed, cellulite-free and ideally on a beach at sunrise).
Sport England’s award-winning This Girl Can campaign inspired thousands to get back into physical activity last year by showing women in all their wobbly glory, sweating, panting and loving life. The campaign’s researchers stated that for more women to take part in sport they had to rid themselves of their body insecurities. But I think it’s absolutely the other way around. The women in these ads didn’t feel awesome and then decide to take up sport – it’s the sport that makes them feel awesome in the first place.
Playing sport can be the key to helping you hang up your body insecurities for good. And I don’t mean a selfie-heavy yoga session in your back garden – I mean the breathless brilliance of heart-pumping, muscle-stretching, flesh-bruising sport.
1. Support that’s even stronger than your sports bra
One of the best things about team sport is the set of instant friends that come with it. These are the people you train with, win with, lose with – there aren’t many bonds that match those made in the heat of sporting battle. And this lot couldn’t care less about the size of your thighs, or the stretch marks on your tummy when your t-shirt rides up. They’re not thinking about how much your bum wobbled when you tripped and fell on the pitch – they’re too busy pulling you up by your shirt and dusting you off. It’s an infectious state of mind.
2. Distraction is the action
We all have those days when we can’t stop obsessing about our muffin top, or can’t stop staring at the girl with ‘perfect’ calves on the tube. And going to a gym is unlikely to help. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors that scream, ‘MUFFIN TOP’ at you every time you accidentally glance at your reflection mid-burpee. Sport provides a fast-paced distraction from this toxic tornado of negative thoughts. There’s no time to think about how you look in your shorts when there’s a hockey ball flying at your face.
3. Your body is actually pretty good to you
When you play sport – whether you’re into sprinting, football or swimming – your body becomes a tool for your success. If you’re trying to smash your PB or destroy local rivals then you need your muscles, joints and bones to be functioning at their best. This shifts the focus of how you view your own body.
Rather than something aesthetic to be picked at, scrutinised and altered as often as your hairstyle, your body suddenly takes on a higher purpose – to help you perform at your best. You’re not doing squats to try and get a thigh-gap, you’re doing them so you can run faster than your opponent – and that’s so much more satisfying.
4. Strong body = strong mind
Physical strength builds confidence. I’m not saying that the ability to do ten push ups will mean that you’re automatically more assertive in the workplace, but being a stronger human genuinely changes the way you think about yourself. Having strength and being more robust makes you literally more capable to do life.
Ok, we might not have to hunt wildebeest for dinner any more, but knowing that you could outrun someone or lift a piece of furniture on your own makes you feel pretty awesome. Trusting the capabilities of your body is likely to outshine doubts and insecurities about how you look.
5. Endorphins baby
Endorphins. Glorious endorphins. Crack for athletes. This natural drug floods your bloodstream when you get breathless and push the threshold of your fitness, they suppress pain, elevate your mood and basically make you feel amazing. It’s the same chemical that’s released when you have an orgasm – yep, playing netball is that good.
With all this positive energy coursing through your veins how could you possibly feel anything but love for your own body? The power of endorphins is so strong that some scientists believe exercise is more powerful at treating anxiety and depression than therapy or pills. All this glorious goodness for your mental well-being, just from chucking a ball about – how nice.
But really, nobody puts it better than Serena Williams: ‘I love how I look. I am a full woman and I’m strong and I’m powerful and I’m beautiful at the same time,’ she told Good Morning America. ‘I don’t have time to be brought down, I’ve got too many things to do. I have grand slams to win, I have people to inspire, and that’s what I’m here for.’
Take a leaf out of Serena’s book. Champions don’t have time to be held back by body insecurities. Stick your trainers on and feel the confidence permeate every aspect of your life.