"Why on earth have I taken up a sport designed for slim-hipped yoga posers and sadomasochists looking for a quick hit?"Yuxin Li for Varsity

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of mental health in relation to body image. 

It’s a hot summer’s day and I’m running along a path that stretches far into the countryside. It’s still the beginning of my run, so I’m just warming up with a gentle jog - but I know that the activity won’t get any easier. Soon I’ll be drenched in sweat, baking in the midday sun and longing for the wind to caress my face. 

One of the reasons I push myself to run is because I find it  difficult – it makes me breathless, and my thighs rub against each other with each passing stride. But instead of focusing on these discomforts, I use my time running to reflect on my thoughts. I often think about why on earth I've taken up a sport designed for slim-hipped yoga posers and sadomasochists looking for a quick hit. 

"When you’re constantly aware of how much larger you are in comparison to your prepubescent peers, you do start to feel like you were born ‘wrong’."

Here’s the thing: I'm not a sporty person nor the type of girl who participated enthusiastically in PE, and I refrained from strenuous activity for fear of drawing attention to how unfit I really was. One of my proudest achievements was skipping the annual cross-country run because it conveniently clashed with my orthodontist appointment. 

Just to clarify, I’m not even that big. I can often find my sizes at most mainstream outlets, which many other curvy girls struggle with. But when you’re an insecure teenager whose body developed at a faster pace than everyone else’s, and when you’re constantly aware of how much larger you are in comparison to your prepubescent peers, you do start to feel like you were born ‘wrong’. 

The body I had – large hips, large breasts and bigger thighs – would become more commonplace as the years went by, but at the time I felt like a guinea pig undergoing some weird bodily experiment which my friends were saved from participating in.

"I realised that size does not have to dictate the activities you take up... curvy women can thrive in this sport like anyone else."

I was scared of engaging with my body because I believed that it would fail me. I resisted keeping fit because I didn’t think that physical activity was meant for people like me - people who have been told that they can’t run because they ‘don’t have the body for it’.

Fortunately, I have since developed a healthier relationship with my body and running facilitated this improvement. My ingrained presumption that curvy girls couldn't run was challenged when I saw Bryony Gordon as well as some of my fellow curvy friends take up running. I realised that size does not have to dictate the activities you take up. Gordon, along with plus-size model Jada Sezer, ran the London Marathon, showing that curvy women can thrive in this sport like anyone else. 

My running journey started with a manic 25-minute run in which I imitated Phoebe from Friends. I'd done haphazard sprints on unrelenting treadmills before, but I'd never pushed myself to see what my body could do on its own terms. I did the same route a few times before discovering a lovely countryside walkway frequented by runners. 

"I take pride in the fact that I can carry my whole body - once a source of self-loathing - for 5 kilometres without stopping."

I slowly started expanding my running time, going from half an hour, to forty minutes, to a solid hour. Although I've made enormous progress with this sport, I struggle with how people might perceive me when I’m out running. I must be a bit of a sight to them – a curvy woman, with large hips and a large bust, trying to run 5k three times a week. 


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So when I'm running up the final hill on my route, I’m also trying to outrun the limitations that myself and society have placed upon my body. I’m no Mo Farah, but I enjoy running. I revel in my weekly improvements and my occasional failures. I keep on running even when men make leering jeers at me. Most importantly, I take pride in the fact that I can carry my whole body - once a source of self-loathing - for 5 kilometres without stopping. 

I look forward to what lies over the hill – better self-awareness and greater empowerment, both of which came from something I never thought I’d succeed at.

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