Body confidence, a barrier to sport? 

We are currently designing new kit and received some samples from 2XU to try for size. I was perplexed when the large cycle jersey was very snug and yet I was a small tri suit. Standing looking at myself in skin tight lycra I suddenly felt very self-conscious and hyper aware of how alien my curves were vs a typical triathletes slender toned body. I have my first ever triathlon in 2 weeks and rather than the obvious concerns, namely the fact I have never swum in open water or currently due to slow return from injury am only averaging 4 mile runs my main concern is actually about how fat I feel and uncomfortable in my body (in skin tight lycra).


I noticed at the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire last weekend that I hardly saw any women cycling. In fact, looking at the results for the 100km there were only 150 women vs 2350 men! It’s very rare I see many females at any of the cycle sportive I enter. It got me thinking about the barriers to entry for this sport amongst others. Is it the initial outlay of cash, the fear of mechanical failure or body image in a male dominated sport? 


Helen and I recently applied to be ambassadors for Specialized to encourage more women to cycle as it’s a fantastic social sport but unfortunately were unsuccessful, which is a shame as it’s something we are both very passionate about but we wish the chosen ambassadors the best of luck and will do everything we can to support them. It’s good to see the bike manufacturers are recognising a whole demographic that are not currently involved in cycling and making an effort to get engagement. Giant Liv have been particularly good at this but it’s still slow to gain traction.

Swimming is another minefield. Ladies Are under the perception they have to be waxed within an inch of their life and then they have to make the walk into the pool under fluorescent lights highlighting every flaw. This takes some confidence! 

So it got me thinking about my goals and how they conflict. In order to achieve the perfect body from an aesthetic perspective the focus would be on HIIT training and weights and having tried this approach in the past I know it delivers fantastic results. However, when training for an Ironman, the focus is predominantly on the cardio and long distance at that. Of course cross training is important including strength and conditioning exercises, however, given the already huge time commitment one would always prioritise practicing one of the three disciplines over the aforementioned strength training.

Actually, in the gym this is very evident. I know from my own experience I would shy away from the free weight area. I remember being perfectly happy there with my PT and then when following his plan on the days I was alone I would skip bits in favour of the cardio machines where I felt more comfortable. Weights are integral to a fitness program and yet you find mostly women on cardio machines and men doing weights, is this again due to confidence?

So we end up in a chicken and egg situation. With hindsight I would have trained to achieve the body I want and then started training for the endurance events but as it stands I’m out of time with only 6 weeks until the Ironman 70.3 event and with several challenging endurance events before this. It’s daunting feeling underprepared and then having body image concerns. I wonder how many women feel the same and are reluctant to enter these events because they don’t feel comfortable donning a wetsuit and skimpy tri suit surrounded by tonnes of super fit men with single digit body fat %? Is this down to stereotypes and societies expectation for women to always look beautiful and glamorous?

Helen here now – Following on from Jenni’s thoughts above I felt this was a good time to add something that has recently been highlighted in a number of ways – women’s appearance or expected appearance whilst taking part in sport. 

There was a recent article in the Evening Standard with tips for acing the London Marathon! Great right, everyone needs some advice in the lead up to a big event? Except some of this advice was exactly the opposite of helpful and in fact probably added fuel to many women’s fears. The article states “𝕐𝕠𝕦𝕐𝕠you might have a finish line to cross but you do not want to look like a troll doing so. You need sweat proof make up” ummmm really? If I can run a marathon I’m damn proud, regardless of whether I look like a troll… and hang on a minute are we seriously comparing makeup less women to trolls?? 

To be fair I have made this comparison between myself and a troll previously…


But this was in 2015, and I hadn’t just run a marathon, I had just woken up with crazy hair and despite ‘looking like a troll’ I didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed. 

Anyway, I like to think women and sport are moving on from the whole picture perfect perception, surely the Evening Standard article is an exception? After all, campaigns such as This Girl Can are working hard to persuade all women regardless of background, body shape or body confidence to get involved in sport. Their adverts showcase a fantastic array of women demonstrating sport in its raw realistic sweaty form. So this must be having an effect right? 

Apparently not, imagine my dismay when attending an event recently that was supposed to be about encouraging women in sport when one of the workshops was a hair and make up demonstration?? Oh dear… Perhaps these campaigns aren’t working? The session began with a lady saying you might want some tips for make up to use straight after a gym session, fair enough, but went on and suggested that no woman should be without concealer, stating that whilst everyone has dark circles under their eyes using concealer will make you feel better?! Ummmmm nope… I feel just fine without concealer thanks, it doesn’t affect my performance in sport or outside of it… Some days I chose to wear make up, I get up in the morning, have time to apply it and chose to do so, or maybe I’m going out for the evening and want to ‘glam up’ a bit, but I certainly don’t feel like I need to wear it?! The session went on to explain that eyeliner is good for making your eyes look better but it can be hard to apply?! 


At this point I took a selfie of my eyes and sent it to another lady I knew in the workshop, just as the conversation moved on to contouring, then I left… 

I had attended this event under the assumption that as we were supposed to be working towards addressing the barriers that women in sport face there wouldn’t be any of this sort of stereotypical ‘women must look good at all times’ promotion, as surely that’s exactly the sort of thing we are working to evict? Women don’t need to feel like they must look immaculate every minute of every day, people aren’t immaculate, that’s unrealistic. Dark circles under my eyes and non prominent cheekbones are natural, and are the last thing I think about when working out. I wish every woman could feel the same.

I respect people’s decision to wear or not to wear make up, whilst working out or not working out, what I dislike is the perception that if we don’t wear it we won’t ‘feel good’ or we will look like a ‘troll’. 

Girls out there, if you love your sweat proof make up that’s brilliant, we love seeing your inspiring gym pics, but if one day you don’t want to wear it you should feel like that’s ok. Girls working out taking realistic sweaty selfies, you are fab! Well done for being confident enough to do so. Girls scared to work out because of how you look either without make up or in your gym kit, we are here for you, and so are thousands of other women! You can do it!!! Regardless of shape, skin tone, eyeliner, go out there and show yourself how awesome you are, the rest of the world will soon see too! 

2 thoughts on “Body confidence, a barrier to sport? 

  1. Bethan says:

    This is a really interesting post! The relationship between women and fitness/sport is something I find fascinating (so fascinating that I’m doing my master’s dissertation on it!), and I’d agree that there’s a chicken and egg situation at play, arguably driven by pervasive gender ideology. Having meditated on the issue I don’t think there are any easy solutions, it’s a matter of chipping away at preconceptions, being brave and being role models for the next generation.

    I did write a whole response to the Evening Standard article that you might find interesting. You can find it here – http://www.aprettyplacetoplay.com/blog/2017/4/16/you-do-not-want-to-look-like-a-troll

    b x

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    • 1vision2girls says:

      Thanks Bethan! What a fantastic subject to do your dissertation on!! If you publish it after assessment we would love to read it! Completely agree there are no easy solutions, being brave can be tough especially when people feel like they are being judged but we are doing our best to be good role models! Il take a look at the post re: the evening standard article, thanks – Helen XxX

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