Breasts, Girl Power and Sport: Becoming Team Mel C!

A few months ago I got referred for a scan on my right breast. I had been experiencing some severe pain in that area for a while and there had been some tissue change, so it was a sensible precautionary measure.

Whilst rationally I knew there could be a number of explanations, breast cancer has been, and is, a reality for a number of women in my peer group and I challenge anyone to go through that process and not let their mind wander…I burst into tears when they told me the scan was clear and walked out of the treatment room in a daze and with a strong sense of allegiance with the other women in the waiting room.

Once again, life was put in perspective.

It turns out spending a lot of time with your face down, horizontal in water in a swimming costume and running along mountain trails does make you fitter.

Face down and horizontal in water
Face down and horizontal in water

It also turns out that when you have assets of a certain measurement, without the right support, all that activity can put the muscular tissue around the breast under a lot of strain; and that was a contributing factor in the pain I had been experiencing.

Having the right support is essential. I got re-measured for a bra immediately and Shock Absorber is now my new best friend.

At the start of the Mont Blanc Cross Half Marathon last weekend and fully supported by Shock Absorber!
At the start of the Mont Blanc Cross Half Marathon last weekend and fully supported by Shock Absorber!

Not long after all that, I saw the email from Human Race about the Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon with Breast Cancer Care at Eaton Dorney.

Unsurprisingly, it resonated with me, and when I saw the competition to be part of team Melanie C’s triathlon relay team, it was too good an opportunity to miss!

I have never won a competition before (unless you count the can of shandy I won on a scratch card back in 1986), so it was extra specially exciting to get the call from Human Race, letting me know I had been successful.

To say I am proud to have been chosen as the swimmer for team Melanie C is an understatement.

She is a Spice Girl, which is mind-blowing, but more than that I love her strength and positive attitude. She’s also not just ‘sporty’, but an accomplished athlete.

A couple of weeks ago, on what rates as one of the most surreal days of my life, I was introduced to Melanie C for the first time live on the One Show. I also got to meet Kelly Koya who is the lovely cyclist on our team.

The One Show: Team Mel C meets for the first time!

 

I read recently that 1/3 of young girls believe exercise is socially unacceptable.

Talking to Kelly and Melanie about how exciting and rewarding sport can be, it’s really sad to read statistics like that. But it’s a reality and one that has to change – women’s health and well-being depends on it.

Team Mel C triathlon training with Kelly Koya
Team Mel C triathlon training with Kelly Koya

One of the reasons for such statistics, is that young girls and women can feel self-conscious and nervous about doing sport.

On The One Show, Melanie C talked about that and how the women only triathlon is an opportunity for women of all ages, shapes and sizes to experience sport in a fun and social environment. I am so proud to be part of that!

Sport empowers, but it’s very true that getting started (then re-started and restarted again in my case…) can be intimidating.

When I exercise, my face goes bright red, and I sweat – a lot – and sometimes when I am trail running snot runs from my nose (it has been known to happen when swimming too…)

Post swim: messy hair, puffy eyes and feeling great!
Post swim: messy hair, puffy eyes and feeling great!

Many years ago I had a pretty athletic figure and whilst it’s in the process of making a comeback, I felt incredibly awkward when I started exercising again: Unable to jog for 10 minutes and so very conscious of the cushioning I had acquired shifting over my natural frame, my thoughts raced across a spectrum of insecurity and frustration at how I had ‘let myself go’, through to pride and excitement at being on a healthier path and feeling just a little bit like Jessica Ennis…

It’s funny in a way that the self-conscious me back then developed such a passion for open water swimming, but as I wrote on the South East London Ladies Swimming Club blog, one of the things I love most about open water swimming, is that, “for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant.” – I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume!

Swimming - it makes you happy!
Swimming – it makes you happy!

Sport, and in particular open water swimming, has changed my life and helped me meet some big challenges in the last few years. Being on Team Mel C is a wonderfully positive part of that journey and I am sure I am going to learn a lot from the experience.

I am incredibly proud to have the opportunity to race alongside Kelly, Melanie C, Team Pendleton and all the other participants on July 13th and celebrate women in sport.

From beginner to elite, whether you’re swimming, cycling, running or simply jumping up and down and shouting in support of participants –  it’s going to be a great day – I can’t wait!

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

How To Feel Good [Nearly] Naked

When you go swimming, unless you are wearing a wetsuit, you are pretty much naked.

Even if you are wearing a wetsuit, at some point immediately before that you were pretty much naked and/or invariably getting changed in a public place.

Regardless, wetsuits don’t really hide your body, they just vacuum pack it into a more pronounced silhouette.

Post swim: messy hair, puffy eyes and feeling great!
Post swim: messy hair, puffy eyes and feeling great!

So surely my social conditioning is strong enough that swimming is when I should feel at my most self conscious?

Apparently not… I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume.

In fact, just the idea of asking that question makes me laugh (NB it is of course an eminently sensible question in the context of trying on jeans).

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Like a lot of men and women I have gone through different stages of body image love and loathing.

I think we all find our own path through that, but one of the things I love most about the open water is that for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant.

I have noticed a lot of chat on social media recently about the representation of sportswomen: charity calendars featuring glamorous female athletes challenging the stereotypes of their particular sport, pre-surfing dances that have been felt too provocative and apparently tongue in cheek ‘extreme’ sports videos that emphasise the multifaceted ‘assets’ of female athletes, just before they embark on their dare devil adventures.

I know what I like and what I don’t and what inspires me. I switch on or off accordingly. I hope that where things make me feel uncomfortable, the women involved and their audience have fully understood the nuances of power and control that are choreographing their representation and the different messages that can send.

Of course you can be intelligent, feminine, beautiful, funny, sexy, stylish, fit, healthy AND good at sport. And I am well up for celebrating that – Hurrah for fit and healthy bodies rather than emaciated, airbrushed role models!

But it also reminds me of open water swimming’s silence about body image, which for me has become a more powerful voice.

By way of illustration, here’s a non airbrushed picture of me in a swimming costume just before the start of the Lake Zurich Marathon relay, dancing and not caring that I am nearly naked.

It was featured in Women’s Fitness Magazine, so I imagine it means a fair few people have now seen me dancing in a swimming costume and not caring that I am nearly naked.

If someone had asked me a few years ago, ‘would you be happy to have a picture of you in a swimming costume in a magazine?’ I doubt the answer would have been yes. But times change, and for me one of the joys of getting into open water is its innate capacity to be an antidote to modern day pressures about body image.

Long may it continue!

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises  we’re building a swimming collective on a mission to increase visibility, access and participation of women in swimming.

You can get involved  FacebookTwitter , Instagram and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

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