Don’t you hate that question? How many times have you asked yourself when you put on your new cycling gear? Okay, okay I hear you say…’no lycra necessary’ right?
One of the reasons I use that little line with Wheel Women is because I know that so many women feel really put-off not so much by what lycra is and how it looks or feels, but because of what it represents to them. Think about it – when we think lycra and cycling, we think guys-in-lycra-going-fast-and-yelling-at-us-and-telling-us-we-have-no-place-in-cycling. So it is really the analogy we instantly make about what lycra represents…but there is more to it than that.
This week the whole lycra thing was at the front of my mind for several reasons: first, I was handing out the team jerseys for our Around The Bay ride, and second, I was reminded of the ‘lycra-lesson’ this week with two brilliant and honest blogs from Sarah Connolly (http://prowomenscycling.com/2013/10/09/trying-to-find-cycling-clothing-as-a-curvy-girl/) and also from Anna the @Blooming Cyclist (http://masteringtheuphillshift.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/body-image-and-cycling-clothes-an-unhappy-relationship/). Their articles struck a BIG chord with me.
I cannot even begin to say how it feels to read two blogs which touch such a raw nerve and make me feel like standing up and rejoicing at the same time. Both Sarah and Anna talk about their plight as cyclists that do not fit what the media or the clothing companies would see as ‘typical’ size 10 woman with an ‘A’ size chest and tiny-hips-like-a-teenage-boy molds! So who does? I can honestly say that I don’t think there is one woman in our group who fits this ‘typical’ mold. So who the hell are the cycling companies and clothing manufacturers doing this for anyway – the guys?
I buy cycling clothes a lot, because I wear them a lot…like you hadn’t noticed! But when you are on the bike as a job and need to wear gear which feels comfortable and works well, I tell you it is a REAL challenge to find things which fit my body shape. Size 42″ chest and big in all the other bits except maybe for my little finger…no hang on, I wear Large size gloves too!
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gone to buy a great looking jersey, only to find the measurements stop at size 38″ in the chest. Or I when I do order thinking an item will fit, they turn up looking as if they may as well have sent me a hessian bag cut in a prefect box shape! And that’s just the top half! The leggings and knicks turn up and pinch my thighs into looking like the ‘sausages’ on a string of short frankfurts, the waist bands have skinny elastic and only serve as an external lap-band procedure and as I peel the knicks on, the stitching unravels down the seams only to expose the feast of cellulite beneath. And that’s on a good day!
Buying cycling clothes can be a humiliating experience for a woman who is, well, real sized! There are so few companies out there making clothes which fit a woman with my size bust and I long to be able to wear some of the really pretty little things I see advertised. But you know what, when I pull on my cycling gear I usually feel pretty good – I don’t fit into the the mold a cyling company designer-guy wants me to look like. I fit into the mold that says I am a real (wheel) woman on a bike having a great time.
I know I’m not skinny and I never will be, nor have I ever been skinny – I’ve never worn a size 10 anything. I was thinner when I was younger and hadn’t had the adventure of children, but I also never did any serious exercise then other than dancing at nightclubs! But now, in my 50’s I am fitter than I have probably ever been, I STILL have a 42″ chest, I can ride 120-150km stretches with no fuss at all and I feel really great…the scales would tell me otherwise I’m sure. But I still do feel fat, and I am reminded of this everytime I want to buy cycling gear, not when I am actually wearing it.
I make a habit of never looking on the scales, so I have no idea how much weight I might have lost since starting to cycle more seriously. For me, this is not about the numbers but about how I feel – and it should be for you as well. It doesn’t matter whether your chest size is a 42″ or a 32″, if you feel confident in your body, then terrific! Sure, there is a balance between not watching the scales and actually being unhealthy, but if you are super fit you STILL might not be a size 10, so I wish the clothing companies would get over this desire to make us look like svelte little things. You can still be a size 8 or 10 and be seriously unfit and unhealthy.
I do feel self conscious in my cycling gear at times, especially when I know the bumps bulge from the bra, or the hips explode at the sides, or the tummy decides to show it’s happy face by sticking out for the day. But I have to deal with that because there ain’t nothing’ gonna change (unless I diet, and that means no wine or chocolate) – I won’t grow another 6 inches, and I won’t have a flat chest ever. Most men would no doubt think I am not a serious cyclist because of my weight and shape, but they think that only because of their perception of the perfect woman.
And here’s a few of the things I’ve heard while I’ve been in lycra, and not all came from men:
‘Oh my god, look at that…fat women should not wear lycra’
‘Some people should just not wear lycra’
‘Lycra is just not made for fat women’
‘Jesus…what the f$#@ is that! A whale on a bike?’
So you might expect my ego to be a little shattered by all of this, but actually no, it isn’t. And some may say that I’m not fat, but it’s how I feel. I accept that I am not thin, and I accept that any woman who comes to our rides might be tiny, skinny, lumpy, curvy, busty, bulging, overweight or wishing to have my boobs! The fact is, everyone of you is real, and gorgeous because of who you are and what is contained within the lumps, bumps and physical foibles, not because you have the perfect measurements.
Thank you Sarah and Anna for saying what you said with such incredible honesty. I am with you on this BIG TIME!! You have become my unsung heroes of women’s cycling and bike riding.
So to end this purge, I shall leave you with a quote from what a woman said to me just last week when she saw me in my cycling gear:
‘Oh my god, have you lost weight? You look HOT HOT HOT…you always wear big clothes that cover you up but you look so fit and fabulous in that, I can’t believe it!”