I analyzed the minuscule piece of neoprene with marked skepticism. I knew wet suits were supposed to stretch, but this suit looked as if it would cover a single arm.
“Are you sure this is the right size, Woody?” Having provided him with my height and more importantly honest weight, it seemed appropriate to be on a first name basis.
“According to the fitting guide, this is the suggested size. If it doesn’t fit correctly, we can try another suit.”
I retreated to dressing room to try my hand at sausage casing.
I placed a plastic bag over my foot before slipping in through the leg of the suit- this was supposed to make it easier to put on. I managed to get the suit to my upper thighs before discouragement set in. I kicked and stretched and pulled until somehow I got the suit up and my arms through the arm holes. I waddled out of the dressing room and asked my husband to zip me up- which he did, with the assistance of my mother-in-law. A garment that requires multiple people to squeeze you in to it does not do a lot for your confidence.
I glanced in the mirror. The openings for the arm holes crossed in the middle of my breasts, which were spilling out of each side. I turned my back to shield myself from customers and tried to maneuver them back in. My efforts were to no avail. That was just how the suit was cut.
Woody inquired as to the fit. I have never worn a wet suit. Was I supposed to feel like my body would undergo a hot death by suffocation? Woody assured me the suit should fit snugly. I pointed to my chest area.
“I feel like this is a little bit constricting.”
Woody suggested I try the next size up. Which I did. It fit slightly better- only a third of my breasts were spilling out the side. I assumed that this was just the cut of the rental suits and determined I would just have to make the best of it. I was reminded that most people are not going to look at my body and think “triathlete.”
I am sure that I am not the first woman to have a problem getting a proper fit for a wet suit. If I were to purchase a suit, rather than renting, they would no doubt have a version that was made specifically for a woman’s curves. But at a triathlon shop, they are going to stock the sizes and styles that fit the majority of triathletes. Apparently, my build is outside that norm.
Training for my upcoming triathlon has been an exercise in getting comfortable with my insecurities, both physical and mental. I had to learn to swim beyond my normal floating in the pool. Like a toddler at swim lessons, I had to be encouraged to put my face in the water and blow bubbles as I swam. I took up mountain biking- a sport I had long ago tried and relinquished to my husband- to get fit for the biking portions. But one of the greatest ongoing challenges is accepting my physique as an athletic body.
I am perfectly comfortable describing myself as chubby. I have been called curvaceous. Once, I even had a gentleman yell “cornbread” as I was jogging along the street (had to look that one up on urban dictionary). I am ok with all of those terms. I am chubby. I have curves.
A friend was trying to introduce me to another friend over email. She told the woman I was a runner. It made me uncomfortable. I felt the need to emphasize what a slow runner I am. I probably even mentioned being overweight.
Why do I feel the need to shame myself? I run several times a week, every week. I participate in races regularly. My mile time is around eight and a half minutes. Running a 5k is no longer an issue. I may not look like most runners, but I fit the criteria for being a runner. Why do I negate the facts, like a woman deflecting a compliment by pointing out an imperfection?
Part of it might be societal. Awhile back, Maria Kang came under fire for her “What’s Your Excuse” photograph.
I thought the photo did a huge disservice to women. It didn’t offer encouragement or take into account the differing circumstances of each woman’s journey in motherhood. But I was more bothered by her comments, such as “you can just tell by looking at someone if they are fit or not. I know this from being in the fitness world and working with people. It’s instinct”
Race after race, I show up and look around the starting line. I notice women in cute running outfits who are half my size, and there is a part of me that envies them. I would love to not feel self conscious about my appearance.
But, over the course of the race, I will notice many of those women walking in their cute outfits while I pass by them. Are there thin women passing me right and left? Absolutely. But there are also women of every size both ahead of me and behind me. You cannot judge a book by its’ cover.
So I admit it. I am a runner. I am a mountain biker. Heck, I am even becoming a swimmer. But I am not over every hurdle on my race to athletic confidence. I know at events like these there are photographers at every corner, waiting to snap my picture for later sales. I shouldn’t look at them. I don’t purchase them. But I can’t help myself.
When I see myself squeezed into that ill fitting wet suit, will I beat myself up for my paunchy stomach and flabby thighs? Or will I be thankful for this body, the one that gives me the ability to earn the title of triathlete, flaws and all?