My whole life I’ve obsessed over weight.
When I was young I was known as the fat one of the family, was told I’d eaten too many biscuits whilst my stomach was patted before a debutante ball, that I should exercise more when I already played netball, soccer and squash. As a teen, I was what would have been considered MEDICALLY as a “healthy” size. As a teen, I was what would have been considered SOCIALLY as an “obese” size.
At university, my weight ballooned. I became focused on my studies because I wanted to do well. I wanted to become a member of the Golden Key Society (tick), I wanted to get first class honours (tick), I wanted to get into a PhD (tick). I was in an unhealthy relationship, I was mentally in an unhealthy place, and I funneled my issues into study and eating. I never knew just how overweight I was.
Now, I didn’t eat because I loved food. I hated food. Nonetheless, I ended up somewhere above 120kgs, I have no idea how far over that, because I stopped weighing myself. I hated myself. So much self loathing, avoiding clothing stores because it was horrible to try on clothes, how they sat, they way they felt, I already hated how I looked, I didn’t need to struggle with fashion chains to reinforce that.
I did try to exercise. Each time, someone made me feel ashamed, which sent me further into the spiral. I would go running, well, my attempt at a run, only to have bogans pass by in their cars and scream “run fatty” at me, or “go eat a cake”. I didn’t get it – you hate me when I’m fat and make fun of me, but when I’m trying to lose weight to become the size you deem acceptable, you make fun of me still? What do you want?
Eventually, I decided that I didn’t want to be that anymore. I wanted to be active, I wanted to be fit, I wanted to have a future and I didn’t care about the bogan comments. The want to change came from within me, the only truly successful way to lose weight and change your life, because you want it. I started walking, then jogging, then running, then cycling (when I finally felt a bike could take my weight), and weight lifting. I lost half my weight. It was hard, and I learnt that it will always be hard, but that little things like climbing stairs become easier, unlike those crazy hills climbs or runs when I’m trying to get my new PB. I aimed to just keep at it, but I did get obsessive. I weighed myself twice a day, I obsessed over how big I was and how little I should become. I constantly compared myself to everyone around me. I still thought I was huge. It took a long time for my mental picture to actually catch up with what I truly looked like. I remember two specific events. The first, I had to fly to the USA and I had always hated how uncomfortable and embarrassing it was to sit in what felt like tiny plane seat. I sat down and actually had room in the seat either side of my hips – what the f*ck! The second, I had always thought a friend of mine was gorgeous and tiny. I went to a party at her place, a kind of fancy dress party, and at some stage she decided to have an outfit swap with a couple of other people – something I never would have imagined I could do, being so much bigger than everyone else! Yet, it turned out I was smaller than her, I left wearing her dress, and had tried on some other guys outfit for the night, and I was stunned. I never thought she was anything but a normal beautiful size, and smaller than me, a size I wanted to be, and here was proof, staring me in the face, I was in her dress and it was too big for me. I was smaller than I realised.
Then enter the world of cycling. With all it’s rules and the harsh way that some people will treat you when you don’t know the rules – like the ridicule at not knowing if you’re meant to wear undies under cycling knicks (I’d never worn knicks before and I wear undies under my yoga pants!), the apparent taboo of wearing white leg warmers, having bar tape that doesn’t match your seat. I just wanted to ride a bike, I just wanted to get fitter and faster. Ignoring all of that, the more I rode, the more I realised I would need better clothing, cycling specific clothing, so I started to invest in cycling kit. Women’s kit is horrific for your self esteem. I’ve spent the majority of my cycling “career” buying men’s kit because women’s kit either doesn’t fit right, isn’t available in my “size”, or is just ugly (I don’t always want to wear pink and bows just because I have female organs). I have a fragile self esteem when it comes to my size, it’s been a long battle, and though I should feel empowered that I have lost half my weight and that I’m a “normal” size, putting on women’s extra large cycling kit just hits me where it hurts. Lycra is weird and unforgiving enough as it is, skin tight, showing all your rolls and creating new ones to remain in place as you race, adding to that a size that I know I am not is at times, and riding among some of the thinnest women I’ve ever met, all built for climbing hills it seems, is difficult to deal with. I know a couple of young girls who already, at 15, are buying men’s kit too because of the mental game women’s kit plays. It broke my heart to hear that from one girl, so young, so active and fit and out there trying. My only advice here is to ignore it. I can’t even do that well, but I try my best. I order cycling kit, I ignore the label and just wear it. I judge it on how it feels, is it comfortable, is it warm or cool, is it going to cradle my butt the way I need it to on those long rides? Yes, well then it’s great kit. Does it look good? I hope so, because I still want to like what I’m wearing, I want to like how I look in my kit because it does affect my mental state (despite how much it shouldn’t!). You know what doesn’t affect my mental state? How red my face goes, how hard I am wheezing, because I know I am trying, I know I am pushing my hardest and trying my best and I’ve come a damn long way to lose close to 60kgs.
I struggle at times. I want to high five that bigger girl as she runs around the suburbs, or has a smash out on the cross trainer at the gym – but I don’t know that it would come across in a good way. I want to encourage more women to start riding, but I want them to come to it because they want it. I want to help people change their lifestyles to healthy lives, to long lives, but they need to want it too. How can I achieve this? How can I encourage people without coming across in a somehow negative way, especially when I still look at myself and fail to see a true role model. My only idea of a way forward here is to keep working on myself. To keep working on my self esteem, to keep looking after my mental health and reminding myself that I’m doing awesomely. To keep being a friendly face at my gym and to be positive and encouraging to all the people I meet who are trying to lead active lifestyles. To keep being active, keep aiming at achieving things that push my boundaries, like the Scott 6+6 race in October, to keep ignoring the labels and be proud of what I have accomplished. So I’ve never won a race and I probably never will, I won the race to beat obesity, to avoid diabetes, to be healthy and fit, and that’s a much more important race.