August 11, 2016

Most women, and probably most men, have in mind an ideal body type which they would love to have. It will be a little different for everyone, but the chances are that there are some real similarities. For women, it’s likely to be a media-generated ideal that includes being tall, slim and well-proportioned. Throw in glossy flowing locks and flawless skin, with no sign of any dimple except when smiling, and this is what many will envisage.

While we all know that our ‘ideal’ may not be realistic for us mere mortals, it sets up a sense of dissatisfaction with our own bodies. We zoom in on the ‘problem areas’ while conveniently ignoring the areas about which we might be happy if only we could acknowledge them.

If you’ve been able to watch any of the Olympic Games telecasts, or indeed any other sporting telecasts, you might have noticed more than just the amazing skills and abilities of the athletes. Depending on the sporting outfits worn by athletes, you may also be noticing similarities of body types within a sport.

People are drawn to particular sports for a variety of reasons, but only those whose body type allows them to achieve at the highest level will be in events like the Olympic Games. Imagine a sumo wrestler entering a gymnastics competition, or a marathoner lining up for the shot put.

Basketballers, while usually thought of as being very tall, vary greatly due to the different roles that are required in a game. Cyclists have huge thighs. Gymnasts are short, muscular, and without a skerrick of fat to be seen. Marathoners are short and light. Rowers are tall and long-limbed, and usually with well-developed shoulders and arms. Swimmers are broad-shouldered and tall. Weightlifters are solid, even when taking into account their different weight classes.

The point here is that there is not a specific ideal body type.

These athletes, all at the pinnacle of their sporting lives, are vastly different. In fact, if you saw most of them walking on the street fully clothed you’d probably only really notice the basketballers who are over about 2m tall. All other athletes look unremarkable, simply because our communities are made up of people of all different shapes and sizes.

So if the peak of athletic performance allows for – in fact demands – a variety of body types across multiple sports, why can’t we all accept a similar variety? Why are we so worried about thunder thighs (hey, become a cyclist) or being too short (gymnastics, anyone?) or too skinny (try a fun run and see how you go)?

At the peak of their sports, elite athletes have it all together for achievement: they have skill and technique training, the right exercise patterns, perfect diets, sports psychologists, regular massage/physiotherapy/chiropractic care, and supportive families. They’ve self-selected on the basis of body type for their sport. (Some have to also squeeze in work, but many that we see on TV have lovely sponsorships to help them manage that pesky detail.) With all that going for them, it’s no wonder they achieve as they do.

Develop a new perspective regarding your own body. Think of what it can do, not the ‘flaws’ it has. A bit of cellulite will not prevent going for a run. If you feel self-conscious get a pair of baggy shorts and go for that run. Grab a tennis racquet and a friend and go for a hit and giggle. Join a rowing club, or investigate dragon boat racing. Go to the gym.

If you want to participate in sports, do so. If not, forget the competition but do get moving. Your body will love you and you may actually discover that your non-ideal body type is a blessing that you never knew.