Boobs, body image and barriers to exercise

When I was growing up I hated my body. 

I, like lots of other girls, carried a few extra pounds (still do now), and used to hide under baggy jeans and t shirts. I was a tomboy. Backwards caps, BMXing and big baggy clothes were the norm (not much has changed actually, apart from swapping BMXing for mountain biking).

I avoided PE like the plague and only wore skirts and dresses when made to by my mum. I hated having my photo taken, so used to pull stupid faces – which of course made me look far worse than I ever could had I just smiled.

I lived in hoodies and jeans, even in the height of summer. If I took my hoodie or coat off, I’d sit with it laid across my legs, hiding my tummy, because I couldn’t let anyone see my belly. I didn’t ever wear flipflops or sandals until I was in my mid 20s because I hated my feet.

Basically, me and my body weren’t mates.

Reading Festival 2002: we got the train up straight after picking up our GCSE results. You will never know how hot I was sat there in a hoodie and jeans in that heat!

Every now and then I’d get angry with myself and embark on a new ‘fat plan’ – often setting myself really unrealistic fitness goals and daily exercises, only to fail after a couple of days. Here’s a ‘mild’ one:

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Having a massive clear out and keep finding old diaries with big plans to stop smoking, get fit and lose weight. This is one of my masterplans in an entry dated 13/1/2003, when I was 16. (I started smoking at 14 so was hooked by then). Before this page, scrawled across two more, is one of many recordings of self loathing and hate for my body. I was overweight but not massively. But I was unfit and smoked daily, and ate lots of junk food and sweets at school and college. I played rugby a few times a week but it didn't make a difference. I hated my body but didn't know how to change it so every few months would get angry and write massive unrealistic plans on how to fix it – meticulously writing down everything I ate and what exercise I did – promising myself I'd do stuff like I wrote here every single day until I lost 2 stone or something stupid. Of course – it never worked, because I didn't stick at it for more than a few days and went back to the same vicious cycle. Nowadays, with social media, the Internet and fitness apps, initiatives like #thisgirlcan, and the Olympic legacy, it's easier to get inspired to be active and change your life the right way. The healthy way. I wish my young self had the knowledge and passion for being active that I have now. The first thing I would tell myself is that cigarettes and tea don't make a healthy breakfast! If you're just starting out with #fitness, keep at it, and take it slow. Don't go in all guns blazing like I did, find something you love, with people you like. Do it little and often, and learn to love yourself. Bask in those endorphins and don't beat yourself up about a few extra pounds. It's been an educational and reflective afternoon (and you should SEE the state of our bedroom!)

A post shared by Tess Agnew (@fitbits_) on

Before I carry on – don’t get me wrong – I’m not telling you any of this for sympathy – I had a brilliant childhood and great teenage years. I had lots of fun, made loads of friends and did well at school.

I just had massive hangups with my body, as I’m sure lots of women and girls still do right now, and if we can talk about them openly and try to help those going through the same thing that can only be a good thing, right?

The big issue: B( . )( . )BS

It’s still going on, too.

New research completed by the University of Portsmouth has found that almost half of teenage girls are avoiding exercise because of body worries and ill-fitting bras that cause pain and embarrassment.

More than 2,000 school girls aged 11 to 17 years took part in the study, which found that over half of them never wore a sports bra and were embarrassed about getting changed for sport, breast bounce during exercise and breast pain.

I totally get this – I used to hate getting changed for PE at school – so I stopped going. 

Professor Joanna Scurr, who leads the research group, said: “Previous studies of adult women have shown time and again that the same concerns are directly responsible for women no longer taking part in sport or exercise.”

With 90% of 14-year old girls in the UK not doing enough exercise to meet government recommended guidelines, it’s time to start talking about our bodies, getting the right kit and education into breast health, and encouraging more young women into sport.

We need sports bra fittings and more education on the correct kit to exercise in – like a gait analysis for breasts. Never underestimate the power of feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Because, really:

True story…

Live on BBC Sussex Breakfast

On Friday morning I was invited onto BBC Sussex to discuss the issue and share my own personal experiences.

As This Girl Can Ambassador for Sussex, it’s something I feel really strongly about as I know that if only I saw my body then like I do now – a machine to do the things I love to do – run, cycle, swim, box – rather than be so preoccupied with how I looked, I might’ve got into running and sport a lot younger.

You can find out more about the research here and listen again to my interview on BBC Sussex for the next 27 days by clicking the radio player below – skip to 2hr43.

I’d really love to know your thoughts and experiences on this so please come back and share in the comments!


Read more of my posts on body confidence:

Strong is not a size – and my thighs are fine, thank you. 
(That time I got fat-shamed in the street when wearing shorts)
How does exercise make you feel?
It’s not just my body that loves exercise, my brain does too. I learnt to love exercise not because of the weight I lost, or the changing reflection but because of how it made me feel.  
How it all began – how I got into fitness (and why I love it so much)
My journey from 20-a-day smoker to endorphin-loving fitness freak