April 7, 2022
Body Positivity for Women in Triathlon
Body positivity is a movement towards body acceptance. In triathlon, it is important that we don’t fall into the trap of looking at elite athletes and set our standards for our own bodies based on them. Read to find out how to nurture body positivity for women in triathlon.
Earlier this year I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a long weekend with my college-aged daughter at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Most of the trip was spent simply enjoying the sunshine and each other, with a lot of bonding and laughter. We also met many new people, played sand volleyball, and participated in some of the activities that the staff offered around the pool or on the beach.
As she more boldly took part in some of these silly activities, I sat back and intentionally watched the women with a curious eye. On an intellectual level, I truly believe that there is no perfect body. It was exciting to see women of all ages and sizes from all over the world have fun together shamelessly in bathing suits. Each time a woman would come up to do the activity, the staff would call her “beautiful.” And each of these women were beautiful, even if not defined by the limited definition and standard of beauty most prevalent in the US. I also recognized that, in that moment, each individual’s acceptance of their own body freed them up for laughter, connection, and for trying new things. I saw what appeared to be an outward display of collective body positivity.
Body positivity is a movement where the intention is body acceptance, or accepting one’s body regardless of not being completely satisfied with all aspects of it. It is based on the idea that you can live comfortably in your body, as it is right now, and/or caring for it through nourishment and movement of choice, without punishing yourself for looking the way you do.
There are a lot of misconceptions about body positivity and body acceptance, but the most common is that body positivity promotes unhealthy lifestyles, and is therefore toxic. More specifically, that the body positivity movement is telling people it’s okay to be unhealthy. This is not true. Body acceptance is not about telling people how they should look or how they should live. It’s about telling people it is okay to feel good about themselves no matter how they look or live.
It helps to be mindful of how we use comparison. In our sport, it is important that we don’t fall into the trap that is looking at elite women in triathlon and setting our standards for our own bodies based on them. Check out this article recently published in Triathlete magazine that debunks the myth of the “ideal” triathlete body.
Women in triathlon can benefit from the same body positivity energy that I witnessed that day in the Mexican resort pool. But sadly, I am well aware that this analogy, or the answer, is not that simple. The good news is, that as we are creating conversations about how we can shift the culture for women in sport. This includes how we see experience and see our worth as female athletes, including our physical bodies.
Why is Body Positivity Important for Women in Triathlon?
- How we view our bodies impacts our desire to try and stay in sport. Research shows that the level of personal satisfaction with body image has a strong correlation with sports participation. The more positive one’s body image is, the more likely they will be to participate in sports.
- We need to fuel well in order to perform well. The body positivity movement means accepting our body as is. This acceptance can encourage women to eat sufficient nutrients and calories to support their training. When we focus more on how our bodies look, rather than caring for them, it can result in Low Energy Availability (LEA) and Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). We can also suffer from unhealthy eating habits and/or clinical eating disorders. While there is no single cause of eating disorders, research indicates that body dissatisfaction is the best-known contributor to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Stice, 2002).
- How we use our mental, physical, and emotional energy impacts our ability to train and ultimately, our performance. A negative body image can trigger, anxiety, shame, self-hatred, depression, low self-esteem, and even suicidal thoughts.
- When we accept our bodies we can put our truest selves forward to accomplish goals and connect with others. Women compare and compete less, and instead come together to create the change we want to see for women in triathlon and beyond.
Finding and Maintaining Body Positivity
In a perfect world, we all would have never been inundated with cultural messaging that tells us to be thin (but not too thin), smooth, supple, curvy (but not too fat), “toned” (but not too muscular). Oh – and also without cellulite, wrinkles, age spots, moles, dark circles, and/or stretch marks. In that perfect world, we could fully love our physical bodies, not only for what they can do, but also sincerely for how they look.
But, we don’t live in a perfect world.
As we continue to work to debunk the overarching, culturally established myths that wrap how we look into our self worth, we can focus on adopting body positivity. The message that I want you to take from this is not what you should do, but that you can accept and love your body as it is today (even if you still want to change it).
Here are some tools for finding and nurturing body positivity for women in triathlon:
- Question standards before accepting them. Cultivate your self worth outside of your physical appearance, as a woman and an athlete. In triathlon, focus on what your body can do, rather than what it looks like.
- Acknowledge your perceived physical flaws and practice moving toward acceptance. You can still love your entire body and want to change it. Be honest and curious with yourself as you explore your strengths and perceived flaws.
- Consider what is influencing your mind. Try to avoid articles, social media posts, magazines, etc. that perpetuate the “perfect triathlete body” myth. Instead, engage with those that focus on body positivity. Be mindful of how certain charts (like watts per kg for biking and running) and/or other resources discussing “racing weight” impact how you think about your athlete body. Avoid them if they are negative triggers.
- Wear clothing that fits your body. Find brands that make triathlon clothing and other gear that fit well for your body shape and size.
- Acknowledge that not all triathletes have the same body shape or size. (Even though we still have a lot of work to do in terms of diversity in triathlon!) Take time to become aware, without judgment, of the body size diversity around you. Celebrate these differences in community with other supportive women.
Body positivity is possible for women in triathlon. And with practice, it will add value to your personal experience and for all girls and women in our sport.
Miranda Bush is the Head Coach and Educator at Feisty Triathlon. She is USA Triathlon and Training Peaks certified, as well as a certified Health Coach. She is also a graduate of Dr. Stacy Sim’s Women Are Not Small Men and Menopause for Athletes courses. As a longtime coach specializing in training women, her passion lies in using lessons from training and racing to teach athletes to evolve physically, mentally, and emotionally through sport. Miranda is also a longtime athlete and multiple Ironman and 70.3 distance podium finisher, maintaining a consistent racing career while working and raising her kids. She resides in Wisconsin with her three teenagers and husband who all love to race triathlon.