I never thought I’d ever own an item of lycra.
Now, it’s not that I don’t like the idea of lycra. It’s just that lycra has never really liked the idea of me.
But, if you were to rummage through my bedrooms cupboards today (not an activity I’d recommend), you’d find a drawer crammed full of the stuff.
Why? Because the day I started exercising was the day I started to lose my inhibitions and gain a little something called confidence.
Growing up, I was the child with ‘the nice personality’. I would stare in the mirror and cry at the girl staring back. I carried too much weight. My face was plagued with spots. My hair was thick and unwieldy. My right foot (a problem linked to my left hip condition) turned in when I walked. Not a day would go by without a negative comment or a reminder of the fact I didn’t quite fit the mould. Another invisible scar would make its mark.
Body confidence wasn’t just something I lacked. It was something I couldn’t even imagine.
Until a few years ago.
The body I stand tall in today is no stranger to imperfection. I may have shifted the weight (constantly yo-yoing in my 20s when I couldn’t walk properly), but the foot still turns in. The hair is still thick and unwieldy (and sticks up when I run because my post-chemo style is short). My tummy is one giant scar (they cut out my body fat to make my new breast after my mastectomy) and my belly button has been moved up my body. In fact, when the surgeon took away the cancer, he even said he’d line up my tummy scar with the one from hip surgery running down my leg to make it all look neat! My bust will always be lop-sided (one natural, one stuffed with tummy fat and no nipple in sight).
I’ve been rearranged more times than I can remember.
And even adults won’t let me forget it.
People in the park have stopped to laugh and point at my rather alternative running action. People imitate the way I walk. And, when the BBC ran a feature in the lead up to our charity marathon wedding carrying a sweaty post-run photo and the title ‘Why is this woman getting married in trainers?’, one man commented: ‘to take the attention away from her face?’
I could have easily tucked myself away and dreamed of a better body. Instead, I bought myself a pair of compression tights (and spent a good half hour squeezing all my wobbly bits into them). Then, I got out there (at last) and celebrated the body I have not the one I thought I wanted.
I am who I am because of my imperfections and the bits that life didn’t get right first time. And that – along with the scars and the extra lumps and bumps – makes me feel proud, not sad. I don’t look in the mirror and cry any more. I smile. I smile that I have legs that can carry me round marathon courses. I smile that I have lungs that can cope with hours on the run. I smile that when I am exercising, I am lapping all those people who put me down when I was a little girl.
I smile because I have learned to love the bits that cancer left behind.
I know that body confidence can be a real barrier for those trying to build exercise into their lives. But, I know now that it really doesn’t have to be.
This is my virtual hug to all of those reading this and feeling self-conscious. Take yourself out to the nearest park and you’ll see all shapes and sizes, all speeds, abilities and ages. These amazing people have one thing in common. They’re all out there, giving their best and taking time for themselves. They’re exercising to feel good not look good.
And, just remember. Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives, they won’t even notice you passing by. And, if they do, and if you find yourself, like me, the subject of some unwanted attention, smile to yourself that they’re usually the ones not exercising!
When I started planning our marathon running wedding, I thought I would get married in lycra. But, while a pair of hideous white lycra shorts did make an appearance (in case my skirt flew up), an amazing lady called Frankie Seaman (talented professional ice skater of Dancing on Ice fame) heard our story and decided that should have the chance to feel like a bride. She believed that I deserved to feel beautiful. And, while she couldn’t do much about the blue rock tape holding my injured leg together or the sweat trickling down my face, those words and her beauty left a real mark on me. I will never forget her kindness and her belief that beauty is there in all of us. In my case, you just have to look a bit harder to find it.
This year, I am committed to helping people use exercise as a way to love the skin they’re in. All I hope is that every woman and man reading this and worried about their wobbly bits, their awkward arms or back sweat can find their way into a bit of lycra and out into the fresh air.
I’m off to look sweaty with my sticky-up hair, turned-in foot, ‘child-bearing’ hips and ‘tighter-after-Christmas’ compression tights. And, I know I’m going to feel good.
I hope you’ll join me.
And, if you are feeling brave, please share your sweaty selfies (using hashtag #Milesbetter2018) to inspire others into exercise.
Jackie is currently trying to complete 2018 activity-based miles over the next 12 months, while encouraging 2018 people into exercise. If you are in need of a virtual cheerleader or a confidence boost, follow her #Milesbetter2018 campaign on Facebook (where there is a closed group), Twitter, Instagram and Strava.