“You look like you could eat the other girls.” Athletes, body image, and form vs. function.
At the risk of sounding serious and trundling into feather-ruffling territory, let’s talk about body image.
A few evenings ago, my friends and I were sprawled out slackjawed on the couch, our cerebral cortices approaching a vegetative state during another enjoyable-yet-predictable episode of America’s Next Top Model.
The lone unfortunate boy in the group (lulled couchward under the false pretenses that the television show of choice would be Survivor) was entertaining us with predictions about how we girls would do on the show.
When it comes to honesty, this guy is the call-it-like-he-sees-it, speaks-before-thinking, frequent-deliverer-of-tactless-roasts type who holds nothing — and I mean nothing — back. No filter. We love him for it, and a thick skin is necessary if you intend to hang around.
In speculation of how I would fare on the show, he delightedly put on a Tyra Banks impression and threw around both neutral and inflammatory versions of the terms “athletic” and “muscular” and finished with, “you look like you could eat the other girls.”
Ain’t he a treasure, folks? As I said: thick skin required.
But for about 1/8 of a second — slightly after I contained my knee-jerk reaction to roundhouse kick him directly in the scrotum — I considered bursting into tears.
Now you see, I’m just a regular girl living in the western world, and we American females tend to get a little woe-is-me about the body image jazz. I won’t pretend for even a second that I’ve ever been immune to that.
Throw in the perfectionistic, ambitious, and occasionally compulsive behaviors that can accompany distance running/endurance sports — particularly that intoxicating habit of constantly striving for improvement — and you’ve got all the ingredients necessary for an unpalatable and dangerous mix of disorded eating, distorted body image, and general I’m-not-good-enough angst.
In an environment like this, physical self-acceptance can be a tall order. In fact, ten years ago, as a vulnerable and impressionable 13 year old caught in the throes of extreme disordered eating, a comment like that would have absolutely wrecked me.
I have to take it as a compliment. Backhanded, perhaps, but a compliment all the same.
Because the truth is, I’m no whale. I’m 5’9 and athletic, occasionally semi-svelte and occasionally not-so-svelte, depending on my eating and exercise habits of the month.
Startlingly, people I don’t even know will often approach me and blurt out loud about my semi-bulky shoulders and “soccer thighs.” Why this unencouraged commentary is presumed acceptable, I’m not sure. Again, I’ve learned to take it as a positive thing rather than an attack.
There was a brief and unenjoyable time in my life during which I valued form over function — thinness at the expense of athletic performance was completely acceptable.
In fact, sometimes I still desperately wish that I were the effortlessly trim-waisted and willowy ectomorph runner I used to idealize.
As I’ve grown up though, I’m ascribing an increasingly higher value to function than to form.
Because you want to know the truth?
These so-called soccer thighs have outkicked plenty of skinnier ones over every distance from the 5K to the marathon. And that, though satisfying, isn’t even the point: It might come in a larger size than whatever is standard, but this body has been giving me nothing but gold from day one, and to lament its appearance instead of reveling in its capabilities would be a piss-poor show of gratitude indeed.
Time to embrace my inner (and outer) rhinoceros, because can’t nobody say this sumbitch ain’t fierce: