Recently I submitted a piece about ’embracing strong’ for Dominique Jackson’s campaign on her site, Nikki’s Haven. A talented athlete herself, Dominique began her campaign as a result of the dismay she felt at the body shaming that overshadowed Serena Williams’ amazing run of form. A contact of mine emailed me the link to her campaign saying ‘I think this may be of interest to you’ – and boy was she right.
It was a pleasure to be a part of this project where ‘strong’ is an attribute to embrace and celebrate. I loved the piece that I wrote so much that I asked Dominique if I could re-publish it, so here is my piece on ’embracing strong’:
I have always been big. I was a big child in an otherwise normal weight and sized family, so of course, with the best intentions possible, much time was spent trying to work out what was ‘wrong’ with me. So as a child sport always appealed to me, but I was either not confident enough to have a go, or the sports I always did play had an undertone of ‘get her active and she will lose weight.’
‘Big, strong, and female’ was never something celebrated when I was growing up. A female who presented all of these attributes was usually classed as ‘butch’ or regarded as ‘masculine’. ‘Ball breakers’ is a term that comes to mind when I think back of how these women, women such as myself now, were discussed in general social discussion. So in sport in particular, there were very few older role models that I could look at as a child and say “wow, look at her, she is big but she is strong and aggressive in her chosen sport, maybe there is a place for me in sport – maybe, if I push harder, I can be like her too.”
I think there comes a time when you need to make peace with yourself before you progress and realise your true power, both physically and mentally. In my own experience, I did not start realising my own potential physically and life-wise until I made a conscious decision to simply tune my body, as it was, for performance in triathlon rather than aspire to weight loss goals any longer. The work that your body does for you day in, day out to keep you alive let alone allow you to perform in a sport is something that should be always appreciated and never suffer the disrespect of ‘comparison’.
I made the decision to promote my profile as a larger athlete because I wanted all of those 12 year old versions of me out there to have someone relatable to them in the sporting realm. I want them to know that there is a place in sport for them, and to never be ashamed of their physical or mental strength. We have lived long enough in a society where big, strong and powerful men flourish and are celebrated and where women with the same attributes are having their achievements cheapened and being classed as masculine. As a female I believe the concept of femininity is something sacred to us as women and we therefore have the right to determine what attributes we believe best represent us. To me it is a subjective concept that is as unique to each of us as individuals as our DNA is.
There will come a time soon hopefully when society will stop encouraging us to be the smallest possible versions of ourselves; people will stop suggesting that we try not to be too strong, too smart, or too powerful for a fear of no longer being appealing. Where the suggestion of ‘smart is the new sexy’ ceases and we simply aspire to be smart. Or ‘strong’ stops being the new ‘sexy’ and we simply aspire for our bodies to function at an optimum level for whatever we choose to perform in. The tide is turning and I personally am honoured to be a part of it, not only for the sake of all of those 12 year old me’s out there, but for the sake of my daughter.
I want my daughter to grow up fearless. I don’t want her to feel that she can’t go out and be the strongest, most powerful version of herself for the simple fact that it may intimidate others. I don’t want her to aspire to being ‘enough’; I want her to know that she, in her own unique right, is enough, and will always be enough.