Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wonderful You Wednesday: Celebrate the Unpretty

Welcome to Wonderful You Wednesday at My Life as a Trimommy.  This is an ongoing series where I will have a post by myself or a guest that focuses on body image and self esteem.  gger is Lisa Barnes, a local ironman triathlete, spin instructor and more.  Check out her blog, The Spinster Chronicles.

Celebrate the Unpretty

My roots in running had nothing to do with empowering me as a person. I didn’t run to be stronger, more fit, or as part of my plan to become a good triathlete.

I ran to impress boys.

I cringe when I type that sentence, as I can vividly recall the first summer I started to run. It’s a simple story—girl meets boy, boy has no interest in girl because she’s fat, girl seeks to change body so to attract said boy in the future.

This was the theme behind thousands of my strides through the summer of 1991.  It would be another two years before I started to think of myself as a runner, and two more after that before I received any recognition as a talented athlete. With
a steady winning streak in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter relay and 1600-meter relay races in varsity track, I began to assume an identity that empowered me as a person.

Skinny girl? Guess again. “Girl meets boy” dissolved from my imagination and was replaced with “Girl meets challenge,” and I became hooked on the pursuit of personal progress, setting goals and making my life meaningful through fitness.

What happened over the next ten years has probably saved me from taking a lot of bad turns in life. I became so focused on becoming a better runner, that I passed by opportunities to do things that most people considered fun. Parties, booze, drugs, casual sex, etc. I knew early on that I had an addictive personality
and learned later on that I was lucky it latched onto running before it got a chance to meet vodka, cocaine, cigarettes or online shopping.

Though running has been a tool to help me get over many boys (I managed to avoid drugs, but I still dated my fair share of losers), it has never regressed into an activity I engaged in to attract boys. I’ve come to love running for the way it makes me feel on the inside. Having nice legs and a strong core have become
welcome bonuses to being a runner, but I don’t think of it as something I need to do to be attractive.

As with any sport, triathlon and running have exposed me to absolutely perfect specimens of both men and women. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that when I notice a perfect pair of calves hammering a multi-thousand dollar bike past me on the road, I take notice and do a quick evaluation of all the ways my body (and bike) 
are not at that level…but I’ve come to appreciate that the beauty of sport is not skin deep. A great tan,  perfect abs, lean limbs and the gentle shift of a perfect breast as a woman glides over asphalt like a gazelle are not the only ways to appreciate how training and racing can make us look and feel. Too often I feel that we (as triathletes) get wrapped up in the cosmetics of our sport—and then judge ourselves based on unrealistic (and much too limiting) criteria as to our success in swimming, biking and running.

To me the beauty of triathlon is to see a force of energy make its way over the earth despite the obstacles that might stand in its way. It makes no difference to me if that energy is trapped inside the body of a twenty-something girl, a 250-lb woman or an eighty-five year old man. No matter what you were born with, you must have the will to coordinate your head and heart, your senses and your sanity in a way that will permit you to keep stroking, pedaling and striding. Even more so when you have to this through wind, hail, rain, snow, and scorching sun.

It took me a long time to appreciate the body that I have. No amount of running or triathlon was ever going to give me the body that I thought I needed in high school to attract the “popular boys” (most of which have beer guts at this point, I might add). I’m always going to be pale by default, with a disproportionate bottom and top, and the boobs of a twelve-year old boy. I’m always going to have arms that I would swear were actually the upper thighs of strength-training midgets. My nose is big, my calves are wider than I would like them to be and I can’t seem to pull my hair back into the kind of pony tails I see in fashion magazines, but I’ve decided that none of that matters. Because none of that compares to the feeling of crossing a finish line that at some point in the past seemed like an impossible feat. It used to be the one at the end of the 5K. Then the 10K. Then the half- marathon, the marathon, my first sprint triathlon, and two Ironman races in Lake Placid.

I started a tradition a few years ago. Many races hire a photography service to take pictures of people while they’re on the course. After the race, they send you a link to view the photos and you can purchase them. Most of the time  my pictures come out horrible. My face always has some blend of freakishly contorted muscles, my form is always a nano-fraction off from where it should be, and there is always (I repeat,  ALWAYS) some kind of flabby area that seems to be very prominently displayed in the photo. Let’s just say that these photos hardly match up to the image I have in my head of how I feel I most look as I’m pouring my heart and soul into a race.

But I buy them anyway. And I frame them and put them up on a wall in my apartment (not in a highly traveled area, but displayed nonetheless). 

I do this because the lack of perfection in those images is a testament to the beauty that I can feel manifesting itself on the inside. The energy exchange between head and heart. The little voice in my head that is constantly churning out the “can-do attitude” and the encouragement that I need to put one foot in front of the other all the way to the finish line. That is what I see when I see my lip curled unattractively over my teeth, or my shorts riding up in an unflattering way. I see a woman at work, on a mission, beautiful because she’s “going”—
and she’s going to keep going until she gets to where she wants to be.

When we cross the finish line…we’re all rock stars and supermodels, aren’t we? Is there any one of us out there who have completed a race, met a goal, checked off an event on our “bucket lists” and haven’t felt like the most beautiful and important people in the world?

Accomplishment is wonderful, and accomplishments are for all of us…big, small,  tall, short, young, old, brave, timid, veterans, newbies, males, females, strangers, friends and everyone in between.

It may be Wonderful You Wednesday here on Kelly’s blog, but you can be wonderful everyday if you choose to be. Set goals, let yourself settle into the body you came with and ask it to come with you on an adventure to the finish line.

Remember to smile for the camera.


  1. Very Nice Lisa!!! You look awesome in that pic!! :)

  2. It's funny because I just got my Iron Girl video the other day and the first thought in my mind when I saw myself running out of the water in my wetsuit was "I look fat!" Why do we do this?!?! We all look like seals in those things and have you ever seen a skinny seal? I had decided that I wouldn't post my video because I didn't want the world to see it, but you have now changed my mind. I'm a beautiful, strong seal and proud of it!

  3. Fabulous! The simple fact that you are rockin that Iron Man shirt is wonderful! Very proud to see women in this race and looking so beautiful at that! Inspiring!

  4. I love, love, love this post! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  5. I do always look aweful in those pictures they put up of me. I have never ordered one. I might after reading this.

  6. And I also have the chest of a 12 year old boy. And I joined track in high school because of boys, but not to get skinnier, because they were cute and I wanted to run with them.

  7. I love this post!! very encouraging! Thanks for posting!

  8. Wonderful post-the Wednesday Writers have become one of my favorite parts of trimommylife.

  9. Great post and GREAT picture.. you look powerful and strong in this!! Amazing!!


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