There Is No Right Form: Don’t Let Anyone Knock Your Body Image

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There Is No Right Form: Don’t Let Anyone Knock Your Body Image

“Your body is a temple, don’t knock it down.”

“Beauty is pain.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

It’s no secret that we, as a society and as a human race, have put a huge emphasis on the physical body and what is considered “beautiful.” We’ve all heard phrases like the ones above that are meant to be encouraging or soothing, but in reality, it’s quotes like these which have led to an unhealthy obsession people have with physical appearance and overall body image.

So many people will skip a meal if they see the number tick a little high on the scale, or go super hard in the gym because they feel guilty for eating a slice of cake or a cookie after dinner. People beat themselves up when their clothes stop fitting or their waist size goes up.

So, what about sports? How do predetermined thoughts translate into the athletic world, especially swimming, where much of our focus is on what our bodies can do. As athletes, we don’t care about the number of pounds on the scale. We care about the number of pounds on the rack as we lift and hit a new personal best. We don’t care about counting every single calorie we consume. We care about counting every second as the clock ticks away. We don’t care about attaining society’s standards of perfection. We care about attaining our own goals and dreams.

Still, society is obsessed with body image. Commentators analyze our bodies through different lenses, deciding what physical features give us an edge and which could be our potential downfall. Some wonder why female athletes don’t wear makeup in their sports. Strangers on the street, who know nothing about swimming, will attempt to guess what sport you play based on your physical attributes. If you’re tall, you must play basketball. If you have strong legs, you must be a soccer player or a runner. Broad shoulders and a triangular body? Yep, you’re a swimmer all the way.

People fail to realize how this over-analysis and stereotyping can affect an athlete’s performance. We are trained to mentally block out distractions and maintain focus on our goals, but we’re also human. Many of us are young and still in our formative years. We will overthink what those words mean. We will wonder if we are cut out for the tasks in front of us because our bodies are not what they should be. Who knows what effect that could have on a young athlete?

If an athlete skips a meal, or eats less to try to change the way their body looks physically, it’s not just unhealthy, it’s physically dangerous. With the way most competitive athletes train, lack of proper nourishment is a huge risk that could lead to injury. It also puts a risk on one’s ability to make progress. A lack of proper nutrition means an absence of fuel in your body. Like a car running on empty, you cannot function or run properly without fuel.

The next time you think twice about having that cookie after a hard practice, shut it down. If you’re feeling guilty about pigging out on a Saturday night with your teammates after a hard week, ignore that tiny voice in the back of your head. Obviously, balance is important, and practicing moderation is usually the healthiest way to maintain a healthy diet, but one cookie never hurt anyone. Part of balance is eating a little junk food when your body craves it. Your value does not come from the food that you eat.

As an athlete, your value comes from the pride and success of your own accomplishments. It comes from hitting that new best time or helping your teammate over a hump. It comes from qualifying for a higher-level meet or achieving a feat you weren’t sure was possible. Your value as an athlete comes from your inner strength, perseverance and determination.

And guess what? Strength, determination, and perseverance are also beautiful. We are so quick to judge someone as “attractive” or “unattractive” by their physical traits. We are not what everyone sees on the outside. Instead, we are so much more. One quote that rings true about beauty is one that encompasses all facets of one’s personality.

“It’s not just about what’s on the outside. It’s about what’s on the inside.”

4 comments

  1. avatar
    Dr Bruce Lawrie

    Some interesting observations, thank you.
    Athletes/coaches realise their strengths when they regulate how they think about the external world, and exercise control over their inner thoughts.
    Online resources help, but let there be no doubt athletes/coaches will benefit from being supported/taught how to regulate their thoughts. Success is invariably determined by factors outside the pool etc. Your/our thoughts exist in all life-areas you/they matter!

  2. avatar
    Megan

    I was once told, by a nutritionist at the Olympic training center, that I was starting to get the body of an athlete rather than having the body of a woman. At the time I was eating verry little and swimming a ton. Not gonna lie that comment still messes me up sometimes. But I love what my body can do for me. So I’d better treat it right.

  3. avatar
    Kevin Fallon

    Thank you for this. Body image in swimming is particularly severe (doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why) and can impact our athletes for the rest of their lives.

    As coaches we should all strive to develop the “entire athlete” so it’s just just the pool and dry land training but also the mental/ emotional/ and to some degree spiritual aspects- coach “the entire athlete” and find appropriate ways to confront this issue head on – especially in the 11-16 age groups

    If we can free them / liberate them from these issues they will improve in the water and it’s almost guaranteed.

    And it isn’t just young women preoccupied with being “too broad shouldered “ – the young men think they need to be like Adam Peary or Caleb Dressel and the obsession can become unhealthy

    • avatar
      Kevin Fallon

      Peaty….”freakin autocorrect” LOL

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