A surge of excitement rushes through me as I scroll through the Instagram pages of professional steeplechasers Emma Coburn, Colleen Quigley, and Courtney Frerichs. Their posts, from their ab workout videos to their track victory pictures, inspire me to have a stronger physique and be better runner. Even more than that, I see their smiles after a triumphant race or a gruelling workout, and I desire for that same pride in what my body can do.
Track and field is not the only sport, though, in which physical strength has translated into confidence. From soccer to dancing, girls are striving for strong bodies that mobilize them to thrive in their sport. However, this physical strength goes beyond the game; the confidence that follows working out is even more powerful than the appearance itself. This begs the question of how women feel confident in their own skin, and what body type for women is accepted.
Lexi Jo Alm, junior, has been an athlete her whole life, and she believes that confidence from working out goes hand in hand with appearance.
“When I was younger, I remember feeling proud of all of the things I could accomplish by being strong. It is just the same now. There are always times when I feel inferior because my build isn’t a certain way, but for the majority, I feel empowered and beautiful when I am muscular and strong,” said Alm.
Hanna Ottsen, junior, is a soccer player who embraces strength like Lexi Jo, in the feeling of it, while also recognizing that every sport tends to mold a specific body.
“For me, I love feeling strong, but being muscular is not necessarily how I do this. To me, it’s about reaching a new max when I’m lifting, or hitting a little harder when I’m boxing, or going in for a hard tackle in soccer. It’s more of a feeling of strength instead of looking the part, though I do think that there tend to be different body types for athletes unique to their sports” said Ottsen.
Ruth Connelly adds that being strong is about more than just brawn.
“Being strong is never just physical, but always mental as well. You can be the physically-strongest person, but if your mind says you can’t do it, your body will struggle to accomplish that task,” said Connelly.
Even with these body types for different sports, though, the question of whether being strong or skinny in appearance is more acceptable still looms ominously. To Hanna, though all body types are being more embraced, the prominent body promoted by our culture is still skinny.
“I think the current image of beauty tends to be skinny like models, and it’s especially hard for teenage girls to get over that image. However, I think our culture today is continually accepting more body types. To me, I see strong women as beautiful, but it’s still hard fight the message that thin models represent what beauty looks like,” said Ottsen.
Alm, like Connelly, adds her insight from a dancer’s point of view.
“In my field of activity, dancing, there are dancers who look incredibly thin and those who are very muscular, and I am unable to discern which is more beautiful. I think we are slowly drifting from the time of skinny being on the pedestal of beauty to a time where we can love other body types, not just the strong one. And I love that, especially because I’ve never been that super skinny girl,” said Alm.
“To me, being muscular is not necessarily the new beautiful, but it can be a component. All women are different- some need strength to feel confident in who they are, and others need to be skinny. Whatever makes you feel confident and comfortable in your own skin is what makes you beautiful,” said Connelly.
These three athletes, though each of their views differs slightly, are inspired by professional female athletes.
“The most prominent American female athletes are strong women, inside and out, making them role models for true beauty. Personally, I think of women on the U.S. Women’s soccer team, or women that have gone to the Olympics, and all that they have done to get there. That gives me perspective that they were probably just like me at some point,” said Ottsen.
Luckily for some female athletes at Westminster, an inspirational pro athlete is incredibly accessible. Jennifer Meyer, girls cross country coach and distance in track and field coach, shares her insight in her past years of being a high school, college, and professional athlete.
“Although my athletic confidence has gone through phases of better and worse, I have always felt I could achieve great things if I put my mind and effort to it, so even in times of lower confidence, I did not suffer terribly. Feeling empowered and being empowered to move towards a goal fosters both physical and mental strength. For young women to feel strong and empowered, it would help to set goals and then put a plan in place to achieve those goals. One way to do this is to communicate their goals to their family members so that they can support them,” said Meyer.
As a distance runner, I completely attest to the admiration of Olympians and professional runners. Also in the distance-running world is the skinny body type, the physique that most runners gravitate towards with enough training, but it appears different on each runner based on their own build. All of that is to say that female athletes, with their fire to push their physical and mental limits, are challenging and reshaping culture’s stereotype of an ideal female body.