Feeling Good: Biking and Self-Image

A magical moment occurred at the July 24 Spokane Summer Parkways event. A woman stopped by our booth, whisked her way through the rack of Nuu-Muus and Ruu-Muus, and announced, “I own two already; I’m getting another one because I’ve gained weight.”

Why magical? Because, as my 17-year-old daughter who was helping in the booth noted, one of the most frequently mentioned barriers to buying one of these wonderful exercise dresses was, “Oh, these are so cute. I’ll have to get one—as soon as I lose 10 (20/30/40) pounds.”

Yet here was a woman treating herself to a short blue flowered dress in size XXL because she had gained weight. She’s comfortable with herself and confident about how she looks in a Nuu-Muu. (She should be—they’re awesome and she looked great. More on that in another post.)

This reaction to a cute little dress reflects far deeper issues. We have been sold an airbrushed bill of goods on what women (and men, for that matter) “should” look like.

Facebook comment in response to the question, "How does riding your bike make you feel?": I'm 6 foot 1, and I weigh 255 pounds, with a 42-inch waistline. But when I ride my bike, I feel slim and athletic.

Women “should” have no apparent fat storage other than in a strategically located shelf just below the clavicle and some toned and lifted booty. When you turn sideways to look at yourself in a mirror, I’ll bet you instinctively suck in your stomach and straighten your posture (and you did just now as you read this, didn’t you?). We’re not even supposed to wear sleeveless tops after a certain age because the flesh might keep waving after we stop moving the arm.

Facebook comment in response to the question, "How does riding your bike make you feel?": Most of the time, much much better. There is a certain confidence that comes with using nothing but your self-power to get around. There are also times that I get passed (and passed, and passed) where I feel like I'm a giant blob pedaling around -- but even in those situations, better to be pedaling then driving :)

Another woman looking at the Nuu-Muus at the South Perry Street Fair said to my friend Betsy, who wears a size 00, “Of course it looks adorable on you; you’re a size nothing. But what if you have some junk in the trunk?” Betsy said, “Hey, Barb, turn around!” Yep, that’s me—comfortably cushioned and quite happy in my Nuu-Muu.

Facebook comment in response to the question, "How does riding your bike make you feel?": It makes me feel good to know I'm doing something active that I actually enjoy, rather than slogging to the gym to spend time working out on equipment covered in other people's sweat. The scenery changes all the time when you ride a bike; not so much in the gym. Besides, there's nothing like creating the wind you feel through your hair (okay, through your helmet) ~ to quote the founder of Terry Bicycles "Our wheels are our wings."

However, despite having worked mindfully to get past the body obsession fostered by too many issues of Seventeen, Glamour, and Mademoiselle consumed in my formative years, I still have “aha” moments, like the epiphany I had in one of Betsy’s yoga classes recently.

The two women on adjacent mats were larger than I am and fairly round—not the hot yoga body you will see on the cover of Yoga Journal. And here they were doing yoga in form-fitting clothes.

What I realized was that if I look at Betsy and see the flat stomach I don’t have, they look at me and see the waistline they don’t have, and somewhere there is a woman who can’t even leave her home because she can’t walk to the door who would look at them and see the mobility and grace that she doesn’t have. Except for that woman trapped in her home, though, any one of us riding a bike down a hill is light as a feather.

Facebook comment in response to the question, "How does riding your bike make you feel?": It makes me feel great! I love the speed of riding and knowing that I am the one and only thing creating that speed. I know that I am doing something wonderful for my body and, for the first time in my life, I love that feeling of being totally wiped out, like I couldn't push my pedals around one more time, but I find the energy to go just a little bit further. Plus there is the added benefit of learning some bike maintenance - of knowing that I could fix things if I had to and not have to depend on anyone else.

As my friend Kris pointed out in a blog post, we fear the adjectives we carry around in our heads to describe ourselves, but they’re probably not the ones our friends think of.

The comments illustrating this post are responses to my question on Facebook about how biking makes people feel. The people who responded are all shapes and sizes, and I couldn’t tell you their waistline measurement. I can tell you that they’re funny, interesting, and active. And I can tell you that they look happy when they’re on the bike.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • How do you feel when you ride your bike?
  • Are there body parts you obsess over?
  • Have you created self-imposed boundaries about things you “can’t” wear because of your size or shape?
  • Do you think you could stop should-ing on yourself? (Say that fast and you’ll hear what you’re really doing to yourself)
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13 Comments to "Feeling Good: Biking and Self-Image"

  1. BOB WOODS says:

    OMG! First my wife, now my padawan.

    I thought I was done with bikers after that bar fight in San Berdoo. But nuu-muus?

    Whatever happened to proper spelling, editor babe?

  2. Rachel says:

    Riding my bike has actually helped my body. It has toned my legs and butt, my husband happily comments about it regularly.

    In addition to looking more toned, I feel stronger and that brings a feeling of power and energy with it. I may still have cellulite (and I know it’s never going to go away), but those legs easily take me up hills I used to dread a few years ago!

    I like to focus on the parts of my body I like and forget about those I don’t. In yoga I love the way my calves look as they bend around into different poses, and I just don’t even think about what extra curves those same pants must be showing off around my butt.

    I also try to accept my body as it is: normal, and aging a little every day. It was easy as a teenager. Then I became pregnant and showed off my curvy belly with form-fitting maternity clothes. Then the nursing years of finally having “normal” sized breasts but that post-birth belly. Now I have sad, post-nusing breasts. Lines begin to form and soon there will be wrinkles and gray hairs, and I’ll probably gain some weight. I almost never wear makeup (sometimes for portraits or events, like my wedding). It’s all just a part of who I am from one moment to the next… and a part of my journey through life.

    My husband finds me beautiful. My boyfriend finds me beautiful. Sometimes I find myself beautiful and the other times I’m at least average and passable. Who else even matters?

    Besides, more of what makes a person truly beautiful is their outlook and personality. Ask any man: a woman who smiles is a beautiful woman. My bike certainly makes me smile, and it makes me more likely to smile at other times too.

  3. Ha! Hi, Bob–thanks for stopping by.

    Don’t blame me on the spelling. It’s the very clever women from Bellingham (formerly your stomping grounds) who founded the company and came up with the name as a play on muu-muus. Even better, they have Ruu-Muus with pockets (because you’re a ‘roo when you wear one).

    No matter how it’s spelled, they’re wonderful!

  4. Great post: http://www.feministfatale.com/2010/07/feminism-and-cycling-the-untrammeled-woman/. Worth quoting part of it at length:

    “My first bicycle commute was from West Hollywood to Silver Lake and I remember being nervous because it was five miles. In time, however, the rush of endorphins improved my mental health, and not too unlike the women who took hold of the handlebars in the 1890s, I experienced a renewed sense of freedom and empowerment. Not only could I conquer distance, I could conquer it all with the sheer force of my body.

    So how could I continue to loathe a body that can move me five or ten or a hundred miles in a day? For years I’d struggled with the symptoms of a national epidemic, the result of a culture infected with exploitative advertisements, a media-manufactured illness of insecurity.. I had starved myself, poisoned myself, exhausted myself, punished myself, and no matter how low the scale dropped, I could not escape the big thighs I inherited from my mother and her mother before her. My whole life I had been at war with them.

    The more I rode, finally graduating to a sleek pink road bike, the more I came to love my thighs, the pistons of my bike-body, propelling me forward, sometimes for hours and miles on end. My legs and I climbed hills, rode across the night, raced other cyclists, and ducked between close calls. My hems peaked – I was proud of my big legs, they were cyclist’s legs, they were powerful legs. Dimpled with cellulite and prickly with hair, they were beautiful, and after training for and completing two century rides in the space of a couple of months, no one could tell me that my weight or my shape was unhealthy. Through cycling I learned to revere and respect my body, and at last, came to peace with it.”

  5. [...] told a Nuu-Muu-inspired story about how body image can hold us back or we can free ourselves. They seriously, seriously, look good on women of all sizes. One woman who tried on a size XXL at [...]

  6. Erika Prins says:

    1. Ruu-muus! <3 That is so cute!

    2. I have been much chubbier than I am now, and also much more toned, but the one thing that stays constant, as long as I'm not taking care of myself, is a negative self image. I even managed to find fat to disdain — on a bad day — when I ate strictly vegan and trained for marathons each year.

    Biking (and running, which is much, much more difficult to wrap my brain around when I'm already feeling oafish) make me feel like my body looks great, no matter where I am on the spectrum. Not just while I'm doing it, but for the whole rest of the day and beyond.

    I learned a few years ago that the only way to feel truly great about my body is to shift my focus off how it looks and onto what it can do.

    3. I stripped down in public and tried on a nuu-muu at Summer Parkways this year and was pleased to find that it hugged all the right places and gave some grace on the places that needed it. Everyone's body is different, but this seems to be the case for every nuu-muu-clad body I've seen.

  7. [...] Feeling Good: Biking and Self-Image: How biking has changed the way I view my body [...]

  8. [...] I’m not talking about trying for an unrealistic uber-skinny body, mind you. I’ve already blogged about the notion that a healthy body image isn’t tied to fitting into a specific dress size. [...]

  9. An important piece to read about how we run ourselves down and how society reinforces that tendency: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/10/body-image-anxiety-eva-wiseman

  10. [...] of that than driving. The rewards of mindfulness, health, weight loss, a feeling of strength, improved self-image, and more can all be yours if you ride. I’m all for mindful driving, mind you, but have a [...]

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The quest for the intersection of Style and Comfort