The Body Battleground

Another day, another stupid effing “challenge” on social media where people show how skinny they are by holding up a piece of A4 paper in front of their waists. If your waist disappears behind the piece of paper when you hold it portrait in front of your torso, congratulations, you’ve passed the challenge.


Sometimes I really, truly despair.

A4 Waist


This is yet another fad (after the “Belly Button Challenge” and “Clavicle Challenge”) to emerge out of China, and it’s come at a time where yet again there seems to be a lot of unreasonable focus on women and their bodies and reputations (because the focus is more on women as the above photo shows – good luck finding the guy whose self worth is valued by how he looks in a crop top).

Take for example the recent furore around Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley, when the following image was posted to Instagram:

Daisy Ridley

When I first heard about this I was genuinely confused by the whole thing. I have never viewed Daisy as having an unrealistic body type. Since when did being strong and fit become something people viewed as a bad example? Understandably Daisy felt somewhat attacked about the whole thing and felt she had to defend herself online. A little further digging on the matter showed that the image had been lifted from a satirical cartoon strip and been taken completely out of context. But satire exists to mock and ridicule wider issues in society – and how often has the “real women have curves” argument been thrown across the body battleground? All women are real, regardless of shape and size. It really is very, VERY simple.

Lastly, on a slightly different topic, we’ve had Maria Sharapova come out and admit that she tested positive for Meldonium, a drug that was added to the banned list on the 1st January this year. Whether she cheated by knowingly taking a banned substance or whether she showed negligence by taking it without knowing it had been banned, her reputation and career are currently in a bad way. The thing that has struck me about her case though, is Nike’s attitude to it. Don’t get me wrong – if one of your athletes has taken a banned, performance enhancing substance, by all means you should walk away from them.

So how does that explain their relationship with Justin Gatlin? What gives Nike? Gatlin has been completely unrepentant about his past transgressions, so why one rule for the male athlete and another for the female?

This has been a bit of a brain dump of a post so far. I think I’ve just felt so frustrated by the media in the last few weeks (which is nothing new really) and the way there is ALWAYS so much focus on how women look. When Chris Hemsworth beefs up for the Thor films, do you ever hear even a sniff of “what a terrible example! I can’t live up to that!”? Or does everyone gape in awe at his commitment to lifting weights and chugging protein shakes?


I don’t know. Maybe I’m part of the problem by even talking about these things in the first place. Or maybe I’m just too idealistic by wanting women to be valued by their achievements rather than their looks. But is it really too much to ask for the Women’s Varsity Rugby Match to be shown on BBC2 like the men’s was rather than online only (especially as Cambridge’s thrashing of Oxford led to a incredibly exciting match)? Or to focus more on women like Gee Purdy, Bella Collins, Lauren Morton and Olivia Bolesworth who became the youngest and fastest all female crew of four to row across the Atlantic Ocean? Or Paralympian Jordanne Whiley, who has 7 grand slam tennis victories under her belt? These are the things we should be sharing on social media, not the utter, UTTER bollocks that makes young girls think that the size of their waist is all that matters, or that men will always be treated differently in the same scenario. That has to change.

Although when a search for “smart female sportswomen” comes up with this as the top three hits – I have to wonder if it’s too big a battle:

Smart Female Sportswomen

Eff you internet. I may only be a tiny blogger who can only really rely on my mum reading every single post I write (love you!) but I’m still going to play my part by always celebrating inspirational sportswomen whose minds and bodies are leading them to achieve greatness.


The Many Faces of Fitness

When you spend as much time on social media as I do (cat videos anyone?), you tend to hear when something “out of the ordinary” happens. By this I mean something that’s outside of what we expect to see. Case in point, the August cover of the US edition of Women’s Running:

Erica Schenk Womens Running

The first thing I thought when I saw this was “look how well she’s using her arms!”. Seriously, I’d kill to be able to bring my arm back that far without having to think about it. My second though was that I wanted those leggings. What can I say? I’m a workout clothes addict with a penchant for sheer detailing. My third thought was – who is this girl?

The girl is 18 year old Erica Schenk, a New York based model who has been running for 10 years. And with her Women’s Running have finally realised that not every runner is a chiselled, tanned gazelle (are they even a thing?). Runners come in all shapes and sizes, and I personally couldn’t care less what someone looks like when they’re exercising – I just love seeing people getting out there and experiencing that same rush that I get from running, the one that helps me to clear my head and feel like I can take on anyone and anything.

gazelle-leapingWhat do you mean I didn’t get the cover?

What I also love about this cover is the fact that “3 Reasons Your Weight Doesn’t Matter” is tucked away in the bottom corner – it’s not the main subject of this edition. That’s about how to stay cool when running in summer, which is advice I could definitely benefit from.

I seriously hope this is a sign of things to come for magazines like Women’s Running. Aspirational bodies and outlooks are not “one-size fits all”. Look at all the different shapes and sizes of some of the most successful sporting women of our generation – Serena Williams (who JK Rowling brilliantly defended to a troll recently), Paula Radcliffe, Rebecca Adlington, Amanda Bingson, Jessica Ennis-Hill. These incredible women have been or are at the top of their sporting game, and yet they all have completely different body types. And the media has a responsibility to reflect this. How can a young woman who considers herself to be a bit bigger or shorter or bustier be encouraged to get into fitness when she is constantly faced by ONE body type?

While you consider this for a moment, here is another photo from an advertising campaign that is currently doing the rounds:


Here we have model Ymre Stiekema in an advertising promo for Bugaboo’s Runner pram. As is often the case in photos of this nature, Ymre has been slammed for promoting an unrealistic body type and putting pressure on mothers to look a certain way. But let’s be clear – Ymre is 23 with a 2 year old daughter. Getting back into shape will be easier for her than it might be for others because age is on her side. Plus she’s an avid runner (taking after her father, a keen marathon runner) and her career depends upon her looking amazing. I have no more interest in people criticising the way she looks than in their criticising Erica Schenk. Here we have two women enjoying running and looking awesome doing it – that’s enough for me. No one is saying you need to look like either of them to run. Although Ymre might want to rethink that outfit. Hasn’t she read my blog post on the importance of sports bras? Yeesh.

Plus we all need to remember that advertising is meant to get people talking about a product. Congratulations Women’s Running and Bugaboo – mission accomplished.

But the point that stuck with me most in all this was Women’s Running’s interview with Erica. When asked what the best part of being on the cover was, she replied “women of all sizes deserve to be praised for good health and have a presence in the media”. She didn’t specify a body type in her answer. She just said “women of all sizes”.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

We Need to Talk About Social Media’s Body Dysmorphia

Let me start this by saying that on the whole I think that social media is all kinds of awesome. Without it I never would have met my running buddies Oli, Matt and James, I never would have talked feminism and trolls with Caroline Criado-Perez (OBE!), I would find it harder to stay in touch with family abroad and I wouldn’t have passed many gleeful hours harassing @Selfridges with my fashion soul-mate Ally. My experience with it is mostly fun and positive and full of like-minded people.

But sometimes, social media can be really, really crappy.

The latest tedious case in point? The ludicrous #BellyButtonChallenge

For those of you who aren’t au fait with internet stupidity (not sure what that comment says about me but let’s plough on), the belly button challenge originated on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and is supposedly based on a “scientific study” from the US (although citation of said study is surprisingly absent). Essentially, if you can reach behind your back and around your waist to touch your belly button, you’re fit and healthy. If you can’t, best put down the doughnut and get on the treadmill sharpish. It looks like this:


Are you kidding? I’m not sharing this rubbish. Google it yourself if you must.

I mean seriously? SERIOUSLY?! It’s not the fact that some moron has come up with this complete and utter twaddle that bothers me (there will always be morons and they will always bring their twaddle). It’s the fact that as of a week ago there had been 140 million posts about it, so I dread to think what the number must be now.

I’m going to let you ponder that number for a moment whilst I eat the aforementioned doughnut.

As an adult who works in fitness, I know that this is a test of flexibility. In this specific instance, shoulder flexibility. If you have flexible shoulders – be proud and show it off! I’m not above busting out the splits or crow pose when the fancy takes me.

wpid-img_20150619_191637.jpg    wpid-img_20150619_191731.jpg

But don’t you DARE peddle this as a sign of good health to impressionable young girls and women, who – mainly thanks to the media – base a huge amount of their self worth on what people think about how they look. One 24-year-old woman in Chongqing dislocated her shoulder from repeated attempts to reach her belly button for crying out loud (Google translate that page if you want a giggle).

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of days ago the Clavicle Challenge reared its ugly head, again courtesy of Weibo. GOODY GOODY! This time people have been balancing coins along their clavicles to show how skinny they are. If you can’t balance a stack of pennies – SHAME ON YOU!



And this is the crux of the matter. It is body shaming, no two ways about it. China clearly has a problem with encouraging women to be unnaturally thin. To put it another way, this is a country where I – a UK size 6-8 – would be hard pushed to get into a size large. But this is just a drop in a nasty, bullying ocean. We have US schools body shaming girls by sending them home for wearing shorts in 90 degree heat, but allowing BOYS TO WEAR SHORTS OF THE SAME LENGTH OR SHORTER (essentially telling girls that their bodies are a problem that need to be hidden).

WTF Gif 2
 WTF right?

We have Protein World and their frankly pants, lazy advert (same goes for Victoria’s Secret, but at least they stepped up). We have celebrities torn apart by revolting “journalists” (who I won’t be linking to here) for not losing their baby weight in two weeks. And on the flip side we have Plus-Sized brand Taking Shape body shaming thinner body types at London Fashion Week. And every single one of these things can be viewed by a 12 year old girl who starts plucking at the skin on her stomach and asking her parents if she’s fat, like the daughter of a friend of mine did recently. This crap filters down.

Luckily, whenever these stupid things happen, there is always someone waiting to turn it on its head and poke fun at it. Case in point is lingerie brand Curvy Kate, who decided to run with #boobsnotbellybuttons. Exhibit A:

Boobs Not Belly Buttons

Thanks to @danifearon11 for this.

This isn’t a flawless response, because Curvy Kate only do bras for D-cups and up which rules me out for one. But it’s a start. It’s a chance to showcase a plethora of different body types by confident, beautiful women who are poking fun at the ridiculousness that can be found on social media, which is what young girls need to see.

Body shaming, whether it’s of someone who is a size 0 or a size 22, is bullying. It’s not a grey area. And you know what? As an insecure teenager I was probably guilty of it to others and myself when I was growing up. But I’m older and wiser now. Although I might look in the mirror sometimes and not like what I see, more often or not this comes from my inability to get the same amount of volume in my hair as my hairdresser does. I think of my body more in terms of what it can do, and in my case it’s do a chin hold for 60 seconds, it’s running a 5k in 21:27, it’s hip thrusting 62.5kg and it’s running a half marathon dressed as a boob (almost) without hurting myself. My body is capable of more than I ever gave it credit for when I was younger, and I love it for that.

So in response to social media’s behaviour in the last week, I posted this:

Tweet July 18th

Wouldn’t it be great if every woman posted something that made her celebrate her body with that hashtag? If you’re feeling this post please do the same as I’d love to see it. And as for Curvy Kate, I love them for their response to this:

Tweet Response July 18th

That’s what I’m talking about.