I’ve had an up and down relationship with food and fitness over the course of my adolescent to adult life, as I’m sure many women can relate to. I was a pretty active child, but sport was a leisure activity that never came naturally to me – I spent a lot more time reading or drawing than I did running around outdoors. When puberty hit at age 10 and I gained weight around the hips and my chest, it coincided with excruciating pain that I later learnt was the beginning of endometriosis, which my doctor and I decided to control with a contraceptive pill (in the clarity of hindsight, this probably didn’t help with my weight gain at that time). In later high school, where one of my friends was a full-time dancer (with her own eating issues), I began to worry about how I could no longer see my ribs and that my thighs touched, and I began using apps on my phone to count calories and exercise, celebrating more the larger the calorie deficit.
There was a time when I’d go hungry and then sneak chocolate bars into my room because I couldn’t think clearly and all I wanted was sugar. Food and then punishment exercise was a comfort to me during my college years, spiking during a time when I suffered depression and PTSD at the end of Year 12 from a very unlucky (and unpreventable) instance of physical assault at my local mall. During my gap year, that took a turn for the better, when I decided to take up running, not as a means to lose weight but to get a clearer head before starting work each day as an au pair. I realised pretty soon, though, that on bad days when my self-esteem was low, exercise became a punishment again, became tied up with feeling guilty and ugly, and I’ve had a real journey trying to fix that.
I recently attended a screening of Embrace
, an Australian documentary about body image issues, particularly how women view and treat themselves, which was hosted by Jemma from A Stylish Moment
and Georgia from GH Nutrition
. As a psychology student, I definitely knew that body image related issues and disorders were hugely prevalent within the Australian female population, but it only really hit home as I was watching the documentary how little I actually loved and looked after myself. And that so many other girls and women were in exactly the same boat. I vowed, as I left the cinema that evening, that each decision I made in terms of exercise and food from then
on would be focused on loving myself, looking after myself and accepting myself exactly as I am. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be better – get stronger, feel healthier – but when exercise becomes about getting a particular (unattainable, in my case) physique, going hungry or feeling like you need to be punished for how you look, our society’s pressures need to change. It’s going to be a long journey, but I want to move and FEEL good, both in my body’s abilities and in my mind. I want to love myself, and I believe that every other woman should have that privilege, too.
To try to break my cycle of association between exercise and negative body image, I’m bringing exercise together with something positive. I’m running the Canberra Times Fun Run in September to raise funds and awareness for Beyond Blue, a non-for-profit that helps sufferers of depressive mental health disorders (like depression, anxiety and body image issues) and aids the prevention of suicide and self-harm. I challenge you, too, to get moving and join my Team Life By Ronja to raise money for Beyond Blue. Women (and men!) should have the right to feel good about how they look and move, no matter their size or shape or whether they fit the stereotyped ‘perfect’ body. Girls, make your move.
Girls Make Your Move is an Australian Government initiative about inspiring, energising and empowering young women to be more active regardless of ethnicity, size or ability. Why girls? Studies show that young women are twice as likely as boys to be inactive and that they experience more barriers preventing them from being as physically active. Follow along and show your support on social media with the hashtag #girlsmakeyourmove.
The Canberra Times Fun Run (5km, 10km, half-marathon and marathon) is on 3rd September 2017. Find out more on their website HERE, and join my Team Life By Ronja to make a difference HERE. Don’t forget to follow my training journey on my Instagram @ronjabear or tag me to share yours.
*Photo credit Rohan Houghton.