Jenny Tough and Emily Chappell: Body Image Discussion

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Emily Chappell and Jenny Tough are two of the most accomplished endurance athletes, having won insanely challenging races such as the Transcontinental and Silk Road Mountain Race. In the latest episode of This RIDER, they take a brave approach to discussing their relationships with body image.

As part of the This RIDER series of films, this episode allows the pair to openly discuss their relationship with their bodies and hopefully help change the way people talk about their bodies.

“We realised that the thoughts plaguing our own minds were not actually unique to us – that there is a widespread problem here that should theoretically be easy to fix. We wanted to start being part of that fix,”

Jenny Tough
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A post shared by Jenny Tough (@jennytough)

Whether you’re into ultra-endurance events or not, it’s hard not to be inspired by these two women. This makes it even harder to understand how two highly achieving women can be so conflicted with their bodies.

“I believed for most of my life that I was ‘one of the fat ones’, and I mostly trace it back to the way women talked about their bodies when I was growing up. I can’t think of a single woman I knew when I was a child who didn’t hate her body and wish it were smaller. There were absolutely no role models for a healthy and neutral relationship with one’s physical form.”

Emily Chappell

Emily and Jenny have worked with Canyon to create this Body Image Discussion Guide, which is well worth a read, whether you’re an individual or working in the cycling industry.

A word from Amanda

In the spirit of bravery, I’ll briefly add my position on body image in sport. A few years ago, I had an eating disorder that was fuelled by a severe anxiety disorder and a bout of depression. I starved myself, I would bonk on a short easy ride out the door, and I would challenge myself to do as much as I could with no fuel. Suffering from PCOS, I naturally carry more weight and find it nearly impossible to shift any extra pounds that go on. The only way to get myself where I thought I needed to be, weight wise, was to abuse my body.

Credit: Chipps Chippendale

Fast-forward to today, I am settled into a healthy eating routine. I pay attention to how much fuel all my XC endurance events require, and of course I am heavier than I was. It will always be in my mind that I could be slimmer, I could lose the muffin top my knee pads give me at the water-retention time of the month, but I wouldn’t be able to go on the adventures I do now. It is a constant inner battle to make the right choices. I’ve had meltdowns before events when I’ve weighed out all the energy drink I need, or packed enough bananas and biscuits to see me through.

Let’s keep this rolling. Watch the film, share it, and replace any toxic social media accounts with some positive ones! Here’s a few to get you started:

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A post shared by Celeste Barber (@celestebarber)

Thanks to Emily and Jenny for publicly addressing this.

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Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 25 total)
  • Jenny Tough and Emily Chappell: Body Image Discussion
  • Hannah Dobson
    Full Member

    Just want to give props to Amanda for making time to write some excellent, honest and important words here in the midst of a very busy deadline week. #colleagueappreciation
    😘

    Sandwich
    Full Member

    As a father to a woman with body image problems in the past I salute you all.

    highlandman
    Free Member

    Thank you for publicising this matter and drawing in more attention. The sentiments expressed by the two riders ring so true with many, many conversations that I have year after year with my ultra runners at events. So many live on a wee knife edge with anxiety, performance, body image and nutritional needs pulling in opposing directions. It isn’t just women, although at present I think they are (in general) better at speaking about this than we men are.
    Runners’ states of mind can be fragile; mental illnesses are commonplace and for a few people, ultra running is another aspect to a complex life already containing self harm. And yet, for many, ultra running is also their life saver, their focus and a source of self worth as well as self criticism.
    On a more prosaic level, many ultra athletes need to have food stores on board, not everyone can absorb the vast calories needed to perform over multi days and folk can rely on that prior build up. In long races, I’ve seen runners lose over 10% of their starting weight. The natural post race or event response is then to put weight back on, often accompanied by guilt after just a few days… Then perhaps injury, new illness or post covid lurgy gets added to the mix, weight goes on and anxiety over image accelerates and feeds depression.

    The classic perspective might be that ultra athletes are wiry, tanned and toned. The sports press (again, in general) certainly promotes this skewed perspective. However, in reality athletes come in every gender, shape and size imaginable; for the unknowing, it can be hard to appreciate what folk are capable of.

    johnjn2000
    Full Member

    That bit with Simon Cowell is utterly disgusting. How has this not followed him around like a bad smell for his entire life? I haven’t watched the main article yet but heading over now, nice work STW and the riders for tackling this.

    Pete
    Full Member

    Superb article and a very interesting post by highlandman.

    Was at the start of the Dragon’s Back at Conwy on Monday morning supporting an athlete. I’ll send her a link to this. She’s a very strong minded individual (comes with territory 🙂) and it will be very interesting to hear her views.

    spawnofyorkshire
    Full Member

    I’m a man with terrible body dysmorphia issues. I’ve got such a skewed view of what my body looks like that i always see the ‘flaws’ even if ostensibly there aren’t any. Yo-yoing weight, levels of fitness, a crap metabolism*, mental health, and illness don’t help.

    I am better than i was but have some real low points with it still. I’m working back to a healthy weight (down from 102kg at xmas to 92kg – I’m 6ft). I’ve been getting there with a healthy diet and exercise. Noom has helped in breaking some bad mental habits around food. Although i’m still a stress eater and being in charge of energy at a decent sized university is playing hell with my stress levels at the moment!

    *or very good metabolism if you look at it from a retaining energy from food point of view

    pjay
    Free Member

    Haven’t had a chance to view the article yet, but I’m sure it’s great.

    There seems to be quite a movement growing in cycling around body image/inclusion at the moment, we’ve had

    Fat C*n’t? Actually Fat Can


    and

    Shimano: All Bodies on Bikes


    and I’ve posted a links about Mirna Valerio, Salsa sponsored rider, before https://www.salsacycles.com/journal/articles/two-wheeled-trail-angel

    I can’t help thinking though that some sort of coordinated approach to this from national and international cycling organisations to secure decent funding for infrastructure and to enable prospective cyclists to access bikes. There’s the growing problem of weight related health issues and mental health that I’m sure cycling could help address (and I think that there was a thread on here about one health authority prescribing cycling).

    oldnick
    Full Member

    Another useful article that helps me be a bit less crap at being a human. Cheers STW 🙂

    thegeneralist
    Full Member

    Bit disappointed with the vid TBH. It started to make some interesting points and I thought they were going to expand on them, but never did. I guess they had to stick to a certain time limit and keep things not to confrontational/ difficult.

    What it said was good, it just didn’t say enough.

    Would love to see a more depth video/article about this to learn more. Anyone got any other links?

    Steve
    Full Member

    Noom has helped in breaking some bad mental habits around food

    Be interested in your experience with Noom, or anyone else’s. I have an unhealthy relationship with food and Nooms advertising suggests it might be a better long term solution, so would appreciate any experience of it.

    markgraylish
    Free Member

    Bit disappointed with the vid TBH.

    I enjoyed the scenery (anyone know whereabouts in Slovenia that was filmed?) but, to me, not quite sure what the message was supposed to be.

    They seemed to imply that in the past they’re felt pressure to lose weight to succeed but now they’ve turned that around. But have they retired from top-flight competition??

    I get it that social media puts pressure of some/a lot of people to lose weight to look better but, for endurance athletes*, a better power-to-weight ratio than your competitors is crucial for success. So excess weight cannot be ignored…

    *Use your own definition of “athlete” but my definition of athlete is someone who makes a significant proportion of their income from competition i.e. not your average weekend warrior or at grass-roots level…

    nedrapier
    Full Member

    Loved seeing that, brought a tear to my eye.

    I’m seeing more and more of this discussion, which is great. Family members have struggled, one to the point of suicide attempts (one very nearly successful) and psychiatric hospital. It’s bloody horrible.

    Would love to see a more depth video/article about this to learn more. Anyone got any other links?

    45 mins. Different lens, same story. Came across it via Hazel Findlay, brilliant british trad climber who’s gone through the mill of weight loss for performance gain, missed periods for years, had it all taken as “normal for an athlete” by doctors (I think Evie Richards said she was told the same?) She’s since put herself through formal study, puts out a lot of stuff on menstrual health, nutrition for performance. “Curious Climber” podcast is worth a listen.

    nedrapier
    Full Member

    I enjoyed the scenery (anyone know whereabouts in Slovenia that was filmed?) but, to me, not quite sure what the message was supposed to be.

    a good slice of it was the climb from Kranjska Gora in Austria over the pass to Slovenia and the Soca Valley

    But have they retired from top-flight competition??

    no. they’re winning races. very hard races.

    I get it that social media puts pressure of some/a lot of people to lose weight to look better but, for endurance athletes*, a better power-to-weight ratio than your competitors is crucial for success. So excess weight cannot be ignored…

    Yes, combine the social pressure with the performance aspect – if you’re the type to be driven to train hard, do whatever it takes, you might be obsessive, you might take an unhealthy view of what’s “excess”, and end up very unhappy and very unhealthy.

    *Use your own definition of “athlete” but my definition of athlete is someone who makes a significant proportion of their income from competition i.e. not your average weekend warrior or at grass-roots level…

    How many young men and women, girls, boys are training for competition in cycling, climbing, gymnastics, swimming, diving, dance, athletics at grass roots level, hoping to “make it”, looking for an edge wherever they can, looking at the shape of the peopel at the top of their sport as inspiration for how to do it?

    theotherjonv
    Full Member

    for endurance athletes*, a better power-to-weight ratio than your competitors is crucial for success. So excess weight cannot be ignored…

    Can’t be ignored, but it’s not the be all and end all. Having a positive attitude about what your body can do rather than what it looks like is far more motivating.

    highlandman
    Free Member

    My own definition of ‘Athlete’ includes everyone who turns up to run at an ultra marathon. Everyone. If you can run these distances, I don’t care what body shape you have, you’re an athlete in my book.
    I also agree with @theotherjony above; hence my point above about shape. There are several very good runners indeed in the Scottish ultra scene who everyday society would look at and consider to be decidedly chunky. Yet they can far outrun me.
    Back to the points of the film and this thread/article; inclusivity and communication. I’d love to see more open discussions on nutritional health, mental health, body image, relationships with food and sporting aspirations. They’re all linked up and talking about it, even here, might help someone recognise something of themselves and help open up their ability to discuss their own struggles.
    Sean. Race medic, Scottish ultra community.

    Steve
    Full Member

    Great to see so many people beginning talk about these issues openly.

    Daughter is part of a display gymnastics squad who represent British Gymnastics at international events (kind of like cheerleading) and was identified as “obese” at the primary school weigh in.

    We’ve never told her that. She’s active, happy (for a teenage girl) and doesn’t need that label and baggage. She’s surrounded by skinny squad members who nibble on cucumber and carrot sticks as their only meal when they are at events, while LittleMissMC will have a “proper”, balanced packed lunch.

    Yes, she might not be able to do some moves and tumbles. But the skinny ones probably aren’t so great at the bottom of a pyramid or performing lifts. It’s great to see that within most display squads there’s at least one who doesn’t look dangerously thin, and I’m glad she’s part of such an inclusive sport.

    matt_outandabout
    Full Member

    “….the mountains don’t care what you look like or how you identify. And when you have a wilderness helping you reflect on what is or is not important. You can just forget about these threads of our culture that need to define you and box you. You are just you.”

    ^ this.

    desperatebicycle
    Free Member

    All they need to do is get past middle age and into their 50s, then you cease to give a shit about such stuff! (Only partly joking)
    I’ve had a couple of issues about myself, I think every day I heard the voice of a kid from when I was about 14, taking the piss out of me. But I really don’t give it any thought any more. Well, not til this article brought it all back up again 😥

    nedrapier
    Full Member

    Yes, that got me too, matt. Reminded me of this:

    …a man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by. The Alps and the glaciers together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only remain within the influence of their sublime presence long enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work.

    – Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

    spawnofyorkshire
    Full Member

    Regarding NOOM
    I’m not fastidious about following it, but it’s helped me to recognise some of my thought processes and habits around food.
    I’ve paid for it and do follow the ‘Courses’ which are based around CBT. Regularly weighing myself has helped to see the general progression downwards, I don’t do it every day, but it’s helped break the negative thoughts if i have a ‘bad day’ weigh in.

    It’s helped me get thoughts in order about what i need. Mostly to feel full when i eat, I can achieve that with using veg and low calorie density foods rather than carbs or sweet things.
    I still eat over 2k calories a day and adjust upwards based upon my exercise that day. I don’t calorie count each day, but i have a good idea now what i eat.
    I’m a kinesthetic learner – i need to be able to put things into practice and it has helped me with doing that.
    A big one for me is not beating myself up if i go out for a meal or have a couple of pints

    markgraylish
    Free Member

    My own definition of ‘Athlete’ includes everyone who turns up to run at an ultra marathon. Everyone. If you can run these distances, I don’t care what body shape you have, you’re an athlete in my book.

    Sure, with sufficient training, conditioning and the ‘right attitude’, a few extra kilos won’t stop “athletes” from completing such events but if you’re at the pointy end of the field and expecting to win (and earn a living), then there is absolutely an ideal body shape/weight which is optimum to that goal and those outside that ideal will be at a disadvantage to their competitors inside that ideal.

    So this is why the video is confusing me. I have no problem with promoting inclusivity but I’m not sure whether that message is somewhat diluted when it’s coming from such successful pro-athletes as neither of them appeared “overweight” to me so seems to reinforce the my argument.

    Bluntly, if the video had been produced by a couple of fatties and showed them competing and finishing a demanding event, then, IMO, that’s a more powerful image…

    theotherjonv
    Full Member

    So I think you’re missing the point then. Despite both being successful athletes, both struggle to believe that they can be successful or deserve that success because their own self image, other’s opinions, just looking at other athletes, says to them they are ‘not the right shape’ to be successful.

    Which is clearly bollocks, look at the results. Like I said before, celebrate what it can do, not what it looks like.

    I guess my thinking is that they’re not ‘promoting inclusivity’ specifically. I’m reading the point as being that the first acceptance of inclusivity has to be your own acceptance of yourself, and not excluding yourself because of your own self image or damaging yourself to meet (unrealistic / unnecessary) self image expectations.

    It’s not well phrased but I hope makes sense.

    markgraylish
    Free Member

    So I think you’re missing the point then.

    Absolutely! But that’s my point – they don’t really make it clear what their point is!

    Sure, the scenery is superb* and it’s a well-produced video but the message itself seems to have passed me by…

    *If the video was sponsored by the Slovenian tourist board, then congratulations – you’ve got me interested!

    Steve
    Full Member

    Regarding NOOM

    Thanks for that

    nedrapier
    Full Member

    But that’s my point – they don’t really make it clear what their point is!

    It was obvious to me, but maybe because I was more familiar with the narrative before I watched it. I’d imagine it was pretty clear to it’s target audience, who are very familiar with it.

    There’s this post from Jenny Tough, immediately below the video on the link you followed at the top of the page.

    “It was earlier this year that I was able to reach a place where I could admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. It took a little longer to admit it to anyone else, but as of the #mybodyatitsbest film* with @emilyofchappell** launched last week, I have now admit it to the world. I’m okay with this, but it took a long time to get here.

    It started as a teenager. Media set unrealistic standards about what women had to look like. Even within sport, where I threw all of my efforts, athletes were only athletes if they looked that way.

    I got into running, eating less and less each marathon I trained for. It worked for a little while – until it didn’t work any more. So I ran more. I ate less. I made strict rules. I didn’t have a period and I didn’t worry about that.

    Throughout all of this, I was praised for how hard I worked. No one saw signs of a deeper problem – they saw someone dedicated. I was never “thin thin”, so there was no red flag***. I exercised 2x day, and was admired for it. I succeeded in my sport and saw no reason to change.

    Recovery and injuries were problematic, I didn’t have a period in over a decade, and I endured anxiety around food and my many strict rules… but nothing was out of the ordinary.

    And that’s just it. _Nothing was out of the ordinary_. All around us are wonderful people who, below the obvious surface, struggle with body image and adopt unhealthy or even harmful habits that can last a lifetime without intervention.

    I only decided to change because it all stopped working. I only decided to tell all of you this because I don’t want anyone else to ever think about themselves the way so many of us do or go through the things so many of us have put ourselves through.

    It’s not worth it. But YOU are worth everything. To all those struggling with their body image, know that there is nothing wrong with you – there’s just a shitload wrong with our culture. But we can fight it.

    *link in bio
    **simply the best friend a girl could wish for
    ***6% of people with eating disorders are underweight

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