“Well done to the big girls who made it round,” a PE teacher said to 11-year-old me as I stood there catching my breath after dragging myself around the cross-country track. While this might have been intended as an encouraging statement, 16 years later I can still hear those words, picture the teacher’s face, and remember exactly how I felt - full of self-loathing, humiliated and fat.
Throughout my life my relationship with my body and its ability to do sport has been turbulent. I have dreaded team games or working out with other people where any element of competition or ‘performing’ is involved. I have said no to signing up for “fun” group activities with friends, feared sports days and even walked out of a gym class last year when the instructor asked us to race each other on our hands and knees. I have never felt good enough to partake - embarrassed that everyone would be cringing at watching the fat girl trying to do a burpee.
As you can probably tell, body confidence was non-existent throughout my teens. I was overweight, loved eating, and having hit puberty a few years before my peers I always felt so much bigger than my friends. Moments - such as pals borrowing my clothes for them only to literally fall off their slender bodies or avoiding the changing rooms in Tammy Girl on shopping trips because I was never going to fit into the same sizes as my friends - have stuck with me for life.
There have been a few stints of success with exercise, all still solitary activities mind. I fell in love with karate - thanks to encouraging and devoted instructors - and stuck at it until getting my black belt in 2005 (unfortunately I discovered booze and boys and my devotion to training four times a week dwindled).
I also got hooked on running in my early twenties - starting with the Couch to 5k app and later taking to the road a few times. However, what started as a new-found hobby quickly became obsessive. As well as restricting my food to a few hundred calories, I punished myself on the treadmill for eating the odd chocolate bar, or drinking the occasional glass of wine. I’d whisper the most horrific insults to myself to make me run faster or for longer. I put going to the gym ahead of seeing my friends and if I gave it a miss one day, my internal monologue was rife with the same old insecurities. I lost four and a half stone but - looking back - I’m not sure how healthy I was.
Exercise was just never my friend - until last Summer. I was sick of pounding the miles away on the treadmill and aimlessly swinging a kettlebell around and decided that I should see a personal trainer. Now I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that this personal trainer - and my current one, Georgia - have changed my life.
Both women taught me to lift weights and eat well - and at risk of sounding like a Instagram quote - it is honestly the best thing I have done for my mind and body. For the past few months I have been squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting and, while seeing my body change shape has increased my confidence, nothing can compare to what I’ve learnt about my own physical and mental strength (and my fellow Arsenal fans will know how much onus we put on mental strength).
While everyone has their own takes and preferences when it comes to sport, if you are stuck in a rut with your exercise or just don’t enjoy it, I can’t recommend having a go on the squat rack or picking up a dumbbell enough.
For me there is no better remedy to a shitty day - it’s improved my health, happiness and the way I think. I no longer treat exercise as punishment, and I’m really trying to get the balance right and not berate myself for having a rest day or eating that Bounty.
The 11-year-old Aimee is still inside me and I still have days where the self-loathing takes hold but I know I’m getting there, and while I know it’s unlikely that I will ever love my body in its entirety I’m learning to have a different relationship with it. Who knows - one day I might even join a team.