We all have that part of our bodies that makes us feel self-conscious. For me, it is my stomach.
When I first saw this photo, all I could think of was how my stomach puffed out and how people would think my stomach rolls if they saw it. Lately though, I have been working a lot on self-love and I realized that I was not being fair to myself, to my body, and to all the hard work I have done for myself, especially in the last year.
My body image is something that I have struggled with since I was young. I was a girl of colour, with frizzy hair, gangly arms and legs, who was late to hit puberty growing up in a very white town. I would get teased for my long legs and flat chest. I was told that my hair would look better if I would straighten it, get it relaxed, or thin it out (the last of which I did, to my now regret). Being an extremely athletic girl all my life, I never worried about my body weight growing up. I ate what I wanted and focused on being good at sports, getting good grades in school and spending time having fun with my friends. As I started to grow more into a woman in my last year of high school and my first few years of university, I slowly came to love my legs, my hips, my toned arms, my small chest, and my hair for all its beauty.
In my first year of university I put on the infamous Freshman 15 Pounds. The realization of this, did not come from me but from my coach, to which I felt extremely embarrassed. The summer after my first year I ended up on a very restrictive diet to get off the extra weight and get myself into track shape. The diet was so restrictive that I never maintained it and found that I started to become prone to emotional eating and feeling guilty when I did want to enjoy treats. It was during my second year that I found that I was suddenly becoming self-conscious of my body again.
The thing about being an athlete in the world of track and field is that body composition does play a role in performance. As a female hurdler, I know that I personally perform my best when I am at my strongest and lightest. Like most athletes, as I transition from different phases of training, particularly from off season to base season to competition season, my body will change in weight and composition. My body composition can fluctuate significantly within the same year; I typically see greater changes between off season and peak competition season. My body builds muscle easily, and also fat easily. These fluctuations in my body composition are natural for me as I adjust to certain phases of training, or breaks from training. I have also gone through phases in my life where I have been heavier, usually reflecting times when I was having issues with extreme stress, injuries, or (especially in the case of this last year) my digestive health.
For most of my university career, I strived to look like the elite track and field athletes I saw on the track. The slim girls with perfect six packs would constantly make me self-conscious of my own stomach. I am a pretty lean person, but I would feel massive standing next to some of these girls on the start line. I have never had a super defined stomach. I have done core exercises to the end of my days, making adjustments to my nutrition, over-tracking my macronutrients, trying to achieve those six pack abs. No matter what I did I just could never seem to get them.
What has taken me a lot of time to learn is this: I will probably never look like that track girl, the one who could be a model on Instagram.
I may never have that super defined six pack and size 2 waist without any stomach fat. I know I am a great athlete, and most importantly, I know I am a beautiful woman. I know I am fast and I know I am strong. I train hard and my body is healthy. The focus of my training and nutrition is making sure I am strong, fast and technically efficient to hurdle and sprint. I fuel my body to be the healthiest athlete I can be from the inside out. When I finally let go of trying to make my stomach aesthetically look a certain way was actually when I started to see results. I do pay attention to my body composition throughout the season, but from a performance standpoint, not an aesthetic one, and always with guidance from my dietician. I can truly say that right now I am in the best shape I have ever been in and I am confident in my body and its abilities.
So when I see photos that happen to be from an angle that catches my stomach folding over or puffing out, or my love handles showing over my spandex, my first instinct still is to want to delete them or untag myself. I forget that the girl in those photos is fast, is strong, and is beautiful. She can do more with that body than most people ever will be able to. I am learning to love my body for everything it is and everything it is not, although sometimes I may forget. My body is hella amazing and I should celebrate it more.
**Photographs by Taylor Ehrhardt.