Swimmers are almost always near-naked, so confidence is something that requires constant cultivation and attention. I still remember walking onto 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 other 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 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. However, when I stepped back 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 countless images of women with rippling abs, twig thin arms or artificially enhanced assets. My entire Instagram was a dedication to unattainable items or figures which did not reflect 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’.
Thick, thin, tall and short. There are numerous athletes with big legs, big backs, big arms, who put up big times. My decision to follow ‘fitspo’ pages on Instagram did nothing but over-dramatize body aesthetics. So, after investigating my social media, I chose to change my online environment. I sifted through over 500 accounts I followed and removed every page dedicated to fitness, food and boutiques that did not provide information or align with where I wanted to go. I replaced them with real athletes, travel and joke accounts. 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 ‘fitspo’ pages, I thought it would motivate me, it didn’t. I wouldn’t work out in the gym with half my bottom hanging out, or in a skimpy sports crop, so why internalise these images every day. By cleansing my social media of these conflicting images, I am consequently less obsessed with what I eat and what I wear. I stopped looking out and tried 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.