The moment that I became aware that I was different to the boys I played tennis with has always stayed with me. At the age of 12 I had just started to hit puberty and the rude awakening of breasts hit me like a tonne of bricks. Standing in the queue at tennis practice one Tuesday evening I waited my turn in the drill when quite unexpectedly the boy in front of me turned round, stared straight at my chest and said in a hideously loud voice “I can’t believe you’re only thirteen and you’ve already hit puberty.”
I was stunned and ran to the bathroom teary eyed. There I was confronted by a girl in the mirror that I didn’t quite recognise. I don’t know what horrified me more, the fact that these great lumps had been noticed so prominently by my peers or the fact that I was really only 12 and had hit puberty early by another’s standards (incidentally he was featuring a grotesque bowl haircut so really was in no position to judge). In an instant my confidence was crushed and for years I would only wear clothes that hit my new found attributes because I was so ashamed. One moment had a lasting effect on me on the court and off and I wonder to this day if he ever knows what effect his flippant comment had on me .
It’s taken many years since that incident that remains burned onto my memory, but slowly I’ve come to terms with how I look, it’s just a shame that so much of my time spent competing in sport was marred by that one comment about my appearance.
“incidentally he was featuring a grotesque bowl haircut so really was in no position to judge”
When I think of my own experience, I remember the scrutiny that Rebecca Addlington came under for her own looks. The first British Olympic swimming champion since 1988 and first British swimmer to win two gold medals since 1908 her CV certainly seems incredible, but she revealed that pressure to look good from social media left her feeling insecure over her looks. For a woman that should be a role model for young women in sport she found herself under intense scrutiny for her lack of physical model credentials. And don’t get me started on the mockery of women who look a little different through weight lifting or shot put, a sport that places them outside of the accepted aesthetic.
I used to be terrified of anything that would make me bigger, being weighed down with big boobs already made me feel far from the perfect petite form. Therefore, the idea of weights and strength and conditioning was a horrifying one, but now I love the feeling I get when I work every muscle in my body, I love feeling stronger after a workout. I have realised now in my fourth year at university that we shouldn’t fear the stereotype of gaining big thighs, or too broad shoulders, because we’ve been made to feel that we have to be tiny. Women can be beautiful and strong no matter what their size, and I think that’s wonderful, but still too often forgotten.
The “This Girl Can” campaign has gained international recognition for challenging the stereotype of women in sport and you can only hope that once the hype dies down the momentum doesn’t stop! On a personal level it really resonated for me to see women embracing every part of them that jiggles, so now I try to not be so self-conscious when I’m running, playing, or spinning, all bodies are beautiful some just jiggle more than others.