“So you know that you’re going to have cyclist legs now, right?”
This was the question posed to me by a girlfriend shortly after I embraced the sport. We all know what she’s referring to. Large, muscular, un-ladylike upper thighs that will make skinny jeans a nightmare. For a girl with my build, slim but with a tendency to build bulky muscle easily, this was almost a dealbreaker. And then I thought about that said about myself. Was I willing to give up a newfound sport and all the health benefits that came with it, to maintain a slimmer cut of jeans? Unfortunately, the answer was almost yes.
As a woman, I contemplate body image a lot. We are bombarded by the image of the perfect woman constantly, even within sports. Whether its Victoria’s Secret or sportswear, all we see is sculpted and almost inexplicably perfect bodies. The idea that I would knowingly participate in a sport that would take my body further away from the societal norm scared me.
Then I thought about my daughter Hailey. She is 9, and so far somewhat removed from the constant media barrage of body image, but she is already aware of it. I have tried my hardest to focus my praise of her away from appearance (which is hard, she, in my eyes, is the most stunning beautiful girl on the planet) and to focus on her other assets, her mind, her wit, her boundless creativity. I want her to enter the adult world self assured and confident. Did I want her to see me counting calories and pointing out my bodily flaws, or did I want her to see me being healthy and independent, finding a sport that makes me happy and brings me joy that can carry through my entire life?
I chose to ride. I chose to accept that to do so means my body will never fit into the standard mold. I chose to have my daughter see me as strong. A strong cyclist, a strong woman with a strong body and a strong heart. I chose to have my strength inside be reflected by my strength outside.
I want my daughter to love her body, no matter what. I want her to embrace her strengths and even her weakness, and to know that every scar we have is evidence that we made it through something painful. And I have to be the person I hope she will be one day. I can’t tell her to be confident while I obsess over a scale or a pants size. I can’t teach her to be healthy while I starve myself. I can teach her to be healthy and fit. I can teach her to love how the machine that is her body can work in ways that are amazing and awe inspiring.
And of course, my friend was right. My body has changed since I began riding regularly. But I have begun to embrace the shape of things to come. I will never be the skinny girl in the magazines. But I will be the strong woman cycling on the trails with my daughter. I will be the woman with cyclist legs who looks like she belongs on the podium when she stands on it. And there is no question that is who I want my daughter to see