Swimmers are almost always near-naked, so confidence is something that requires constant cultivation and attention.
I still remember walking on to pool deck at my first ever international competition.
Hundreds of athletes, prepped and primed for a week of racing; backs rippling, calves bulging, it’s an intimidating environment if you let the mind wander.
And mine was wandering.
I was constantly noticing the Italian and Spanish women’s seemingly perfect physiques during the warm up session. Having a less-than-impressive build up in training, I was not soaring on a cloud of confidence. After a few sessions, my coach had noticed my distraction and called me out.
“Why do you keep looking at what others have? You don’t have her back, her quads, her biceps, so why keep questioning your own capabilities?”
After my coach genuinely fired up over my wandering mind, I mean really fired up, it finally hit home.
I have a tendency to look out. I question my own ability because of others appearance.
So I devoted some time, alone in my room back at the athlete village, thinking about why I felt the need to compare myself to the other athletes. I realised a prime contributor was social media.
-Don’t get me wrong! I love social media. Hilarious videos, chatting to globetrotting friends, creating events…
When I stepped back, however, and looked objectively at the images I was scrolling through each day, I realised how aesthetically obsessed and self-absorbing they were.
My Instagram was basically a shrine to fit humans and food.
No wonder I can’t help but compare myself to other athletes, when the first thing I do in the morning is scroll through 50 images of women with six pack abs, bubble butts and DD boobs. I like Triangl swimwear, for example, so I followed their page. It’s taken me a while to realise that ordering a fancy neoprene bikini in the mail won’t instantly reduce my muscular frame and transform me in to a twig thin, beach goddess. What it will do, is damage my bank account and potentially my self-confidence.
My entire Instagram was a dedication to unattainable items or figures which did not reflect, in any shape or form, what I wanted to achieve.
I’m a competitive swimmer, I need some bulk and a high calorie diet to train, not a light ‘kale salad’.
There is a difference between being fit, and being aesthetically pleasing.
Anyone who knows top level international swimming knows there’s no ‘one fit’. There are always going to be people who sensationalise the tall, fat-less person, but I can’t tell you how many athletes out there are not astoundingly ‘cut’.
Big legs, big backs, big arms, and they put up big times.
My decision to follow ‘fitspo’ pages on Instagram did nothing but over-dramatize one body shape; a tiny, ripped torso, huge butt and even bigger boobs.
That in itself is ridiculous! Boobs are fat, and unless I go and get some plastic pumped on to the front of my chest I’m never going to get that way naturally.
So, after objectively investigating my social media, I chose to change my online environment. Big time.
I sifted through over 500 people I followed and removed every account dedicated to fitness, to food, to shops and boutiques, and replaced them with real athletes, travel, joke and quote pages (some find the whole, inspirational quotes thing a little cringe, I love them!). Overnight my social media went from a world of unattainable materialism to images of places I want to visit, quirky animals and top sportspeople, musicians, artists.
When I had first followed the ‘fitspo’ pages, I thought it would motivate me; instead, it fueled my inadequacies. I would never work out in the gym with half my bottom hanging out, or in a skimpy sports crop, so why internalise these images EVERY SINGLE DAY?
They do nothing but stoke an internal fire of inadequacy.
I recently watched Brene’ Browns ted talk, The Power of Vulnerability. Although the first half is mildly interesting, the second half of her presentation completely captivated me. After a number of social experiments she concluded that “these folks (the happy, the whole-hearted) had very, simply, the courage to be imperfect”.
When I consistently see images of ‘beautiful’ women, it translates to a need to self-enhance, to strive for perfection. But ‘beautiful’ on a platform like Instagram has no one definition, there’s skinny/strong, slim/curvy, natural/surgically enhanced, there is no one version of perfect. By cleansing my social media of these conflicting images, I am consequently less obsessed with what I eat, what I wear and who I am.
I stopped looking out and learnt to look in, and in doing so now enjoy seeing what MY body can do in the gym, in the water, without comparing it to a tiny squared image of someone else.