Body Image and Cycling Clothes: An Unhappy Relationship

This is a blog post that’s been stewing for awhile. It’s been hard to get out of my brain for a couple of reasons. First, because the thoughts are all jumbled in there and I’ve needed to sort then out. Second, it’s a post which required some confession and I’ve needed to work up the courage. But after a discussion on Twitter yesterday  about the lack of cycling clothes for women inspired Sarah (@_pigeons_) to finally write her own body image post, I’ve decided to screw up my courage to write the post, because the more women who come out of the clothes closet and confess their body issues, the more women will not feel alone!

I’m a plus sized girl. Always have been, always will be. That’s just the way I am. I wear a US size 18 (UK 20/Euro 48). I have big thighs (made bigger by cycling!), big hips, a big waist (with a large tummy), big boobs.  And I would say that generally I’m able to convince myself that I don’t really care about my size. Except when I have to buy clothes. That’s when I feel fat. That’s when I start wondering how people see me, if they judge me because of my body, if people are disgusted by me. And I shouldn’t give a fuck! I’m a feminist, goddamn it. I know it’s society that makes me feel ashamed! But I can’t help it. When I think about clothes, and how I look in them, I always wonder how well I’ve hidden my belly and if guys who do see it are turned off by it.I know clothes that fit well and are flattering make a huge difference in how I look and my confidence. But damn, it is hard to find well fitted clothes when you’re a size 18 and have a large chest. When I know I need to shop for specific clothes (jeans, a dress, cycling shorts), I start getting anxious because I know it won’t be easy. I’ll admit- I’ve been brainwashed by society.

Today, as we were talking about cycling clothes for women on Twitter, I could feel myself starting to get emotional and stressed out. Buying regular clothes isn’t a picnic, but at least I know there are a couple of places I can rely on to have my size. When it comes to cycling clothes, forget it. I’ve never been in a cycling shop that has women’s sizes that will fit me. XL? Don’t make me laugh! I’m lucky if I can get my arms inside an XL, let alone zip it up. The male cut might be roomier in the chest, but there is no way it’s going to fit over my hips (trust me, I’ve tried). I don’t even bother looking at cycling clothes in the store, because I know they won’t fit.

This means I have to look online for my cycling clothes. And even online there are precious few options when it comes to extended sizes in cycling clothes. I hate buying clothes online- even everyday clothes. Even when they have good measurements, I still can’t tell how the fabric lays and stretches  or if the cut will be flattering to my belly and chest. Plus, if it doesn’t fit, I have to go to the trouble of sending it back. Buying cycling clothing online is even worse, because the sizing is awful. A nightmare. I spend days combing through sites, comparing sizing charts. I’ve even made a freaking spreadsheet. I need at least a 46 inch chest. Louis Garneau goes up to 3X. Sounds promising, right? Except their 3X is only 42 inches. Castelli? Their XXL is only 45. And let’s not ever talk about the high end brands. Rapha? 40 inch chest max. Even discounting the fact that there is zero standardization in sizing, how is sizing like that going to encourage more women to feel good about themselves on the bike?

sizes

My sizing spreadsheet

I know I’m never going to look skinny on the bike, but is it too much to ask to have flattering cuts, non-elasticized hems, and jerseys that don’t ride up?  And this is just the technical gear. What about all the new ‘stylish’ every day biking gear? Rapha doesn’t even have a women’s casual line. And besides Vulpine (which doesn’t have extended sizes), I’m hard pressed to even name another company that does casual riding clothes for women. And honestly, even if there were companies that did casual biking clothes for women, I wouldn’t even bother to look to see if they had something to fit me, because I know they won’t and it will just make me feel fat and ashamed when I see the sizing.

There are two issues at play here: body confidence and lack of options when it comes to cycling clothes. And I think the latter is affecting the former. When, time after time, I’m confronted with sizes that don’t even come close to my measurements, the message seems to be “We don’t want you size here. Your size isn’t normal and we can’t accommodate for it.” How is one supposed to remain body confident in the face of that?? Whether it’s technical or casual riding gear, time and again, I’m reading the message that my size isn’t “normal.” Even if I didn’t think of myself as fat, it would be hard to keep convincing myself of that when the only size that MIGHT fit me is an XXL, if I’m lucky. And even though I know they’re just arbitrary letters and numbers that don’t really mean anything, I can’t quite stop myself from feeling ashamed of my size.

Could I be thinner? Yes. I could do things to help me lose weight. I eat like shit and I don’t work out enough. If I improved my diet and rode my bike more often, I could lose a size or two. But I am always going to be plus sized. I’m always going to have big thighs, big boobs, a tummy, a large waist. When is the cycling industry giong to start recognizing that most women who ride bikes aren’t built like guys- they have curves, they have pooches, they have roundness. Women want flattering cuts to maybe help disguise some of the bits they don’t like. Or at least a cut that acknowledges they have HIPS and a WAIST. I’ve worn enough plus-sized, box shaped shirts to recognize the importance of defining a waist. I know I need to keep working on accepting myself, but it is hard to accept myself when it seems no one in the fashion industry or at the cycling clothing companies does.

But in an ironic twist, I don’t really care when what I look like when I’m on the bike. There is no where to hide when you’re wearing technical gear. All of the lumpy bits are out there. But for some reason, I don’t care. Even if shopping for cycling gear stresses me out to the max, once I’ve got it on and I’m on the bike, I feel comfortable. I feel strong. And I think, in the end, that’s what makes it all okay. I know many women aren’t like me, so I’m grateful I stop caring about how I look once I’m on  the bike. And as long as I feel strong on the bike, I guess that is what is most important.

RAGBRAI '13

At RAGBRAI ’13 with my dad and brother

So much thanks to Sarah (@_pigeons), for being brave enough to write her post. Also thanks to both Sarah and Jen (@_gavia_) for the great conversations which inspired these posts! Give them both a follow!

Update: Sarah has curated two posts on cycling clothing for larger women- Part 1 for plus sizes, Part 2 for XL and XXL sizing. AND Tina over at Wheel Women did exactly what I hoped this post would inspire- she wrote a blog post about her body image issues on the bike as well! Check it out here.

Fangirl mode, engage!

Recently I had the opportunity to fulfill a fangirl fantasy- I got to meet and have dinner with Ted King! Ted King is one of my favorite American cyclists for a variety of reasons- he’s funny, he has an awesome blog, he rides for one of my favorite teams (Liquigas-Cannondale), he’s cute, he’s tall… lots of very legitimate reasons make him my favorite, clearly. A Twitter friend alerted me to a dinner that was being put on by a LBS in Virginia. For a fee, you could have dinner with Ted King! Even though the dinner started later than I would’ve liked and was all the way in Virginia, I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t go! A couple of days before the event, I found out the Joe Dombrowski was also going to be there (he’s a young American rider who just got signed for a major pro cycling team, Team Sky).

I was actually really nervous- I don’t do well around strangers. It’s not that I’m awkward, it’s that introducing myself to strangers and making small talk with them is a bit stressful for me and wears me out. I prefer to avoid it! I was the first to get there and luckily my other Twitter friend Steph was the second one there. In the end, there were only about 13 people- it made for a really nice night! When I finally got to talk to him, I thought I was very charming ;) We talked about RAGBRAI and I think I convinced him to ride it once he retired! Hey Ted, if you ever need a RAGBRAI team to join, I’m sure I can find one for you to join!

When following these guys as professional cyclists, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually just ordinary people. Like any celebrity, they get built up in your mind and seem larger than life. If you ever get a chance to meet someone you look up to, it brings them back down to earth. Some people do get changed by fame, but many stay pretty much the same. Sometimes it wasn’t until he say something about Liquigas or a big race or a teammate that I’d be reminded that he was part of the world I only read about! After dinner, there was a question and answer session with Joe and Ted. People asked a lot of questions to Joe about his move to Sky and his time on Livestrong-Bontreger. It made me realize that being an armchair fan is a lot different than actually being in the races, doing all the work. He talked a lot about how awesome it was to get invited to Tour of California and Utah. And I thought, wow, all we thought about when we heard that news was how there must be something dodgy going on for that team to get invited over some of the domestic teams. But for Joe, he has no idea (nor does he probably care) about why they might get invited to races- he’s just excited at the chance. And who’s to say that Joe would’ve gotten picked up by Sky if he hadn’t been at those races, holding his own against the big boys. The best thing to come out of the evening was just a reminder that most of these guys we follow and maybe even look up to, are just regular guys- you’ve got jerks, shy guys, funny guys, and super nice guys. So just like real life, we shouldn’t expect them all to be someone we could be best friends with (or boyfriends. Just sayin’).

That pesky business of women and bikes

Ages ago I went to a forum put on by WABA, a bicycling advocacy group in DC, about female cyclists and how to get more women onto bikes. Now, I’ve never really identified as a “female cyclist.” I consider myself to be a cyclist who just happens to be female. The only barriers I experienced when getting into cycling were ones I created myself and I’ve never felt discriminated against or dismissed on my bike because I’m a female. I’m not saying there aren’t barriers for women getting into cycling because I didn’t really face any or that women who cycle aren’t discriminated against or dismissed because I’ve never felt that way. But for me, at my level, I’ve never felt dissed or dismissed because of my gender. Buying a bike had always been on mind, it just took awhile to work up the nerve to go to the shop and I’m a comfortably moderate cyclist who’s impressed enough with my own achievements that I want others to marvel at my work on the bike too. But as a cyclist who’s female, I thought I should attend this forum, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Truth be told, I didn’t take too much away from the forum. Mostly the panel talked about why there aren’t more women cycling, with only a bit of talk about how to change that. To me, it felt just like a rehashing of known issues.

I felt very similar when I went to a round table discussion at cross nationals in Wisconsin about women in cycling. There was a lot of talk about why women weren’t in cycling, but not a lot of talk about how to increase participation. I did learn some interesting things about what it means to be a female pro cross rider.

  • They don’t care much about an increase in prize money. To get that money, you have to win and even if you do win, it will probably just be used to cover your travel expenses to get there.
  • What they do care about is sponsorship. If they have sponsorship, they don’t have to pay for travel, gear, support, or entry fees out of pocket. Then they don’t have to draw on family funds to support their racing.
  • They are only able to race if they’re in a relationship that respects and supports their racing habit. That support can come through being the primary bread winner, being handy with a bike wrench, watching kids while the mom races, etc.

Now, while I’m not interested in racing, nor am I much interested in getting women involved in racing, I was interested in the parallels I heard at the WABA forum. There was a lot of talk at both places about how time and intimidation were two big factors to overcome when it came to getting women involved in cycling. Time is not something I can help with. That’s a social problem, with the expectation that family and home is a woman’s responsibility. But I can help those women who want to find time, but aren’t sure were to start or are intimidated and overwhelmed with the choices and environment. I can do that by sharing my experiences.  I’m going to break it down into three posts, because I don’t like huge blog posts- the intimidation factor, the “too many choices!” problem, and my continuing struggle with saddle. I’m doing this mainly because I’m tired of just talking about it and want to try to do something, even if it’s something as small as writing a blog post. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help other women overcome barriers either put in place by themselves or society and get them on bikes!

For the Love of Twitter

When I say I use Twitter, the usual reaction is “Oh geez, one of those people, thinking every minutiae of their life should be disseminated in 140 characters.” As is the case with most things, getting people to change how they stereotype things isn’t easy. So, sometimes I just let it ride and say, “Yep, I know my 600 followers hang onto my every ‘going to the bathroom now’ tweet!” Other times, I try and take the time to explain to them what Twitter means to me.

I’ve explored this topic before, but from a “how to use Twitter to watch pro racing” angle. Twitter is an invaluable tool to helping one enjoy pro cycling to the fullest. Now that’s it’s been a little over a year since I started using Twitter seriously, I’ve discovered how it’s so much more than just a way to enjoy pro cycling. It’s also a place to make friends and find motivation.

Not only is Twitter a place to participate in pro cycling, it’s also a place to discuss the many facets of cycling. You can use Twitter to follow along while races are happening.  You can dissect race results and tactics when they’re happening and when they’re over. You can follow breaking news and developing rumors. You can discover cyclists to obsess over. You can dish over all the hot cyclists!

Twitter isn’t all good, all the time. It’s easy to get lost in the minutia- any event, race, rumor, comment, is discussed and argued and picked apart down to the smallest detail. It’s often easy to get caught up in the negative sides of the sport (the doping, the cynicism, the corruption). And as anyone who’s spent any time on Twitter knows, it’s impossible to win an argument in 140 characters, so it often devolves into name calling and insults. As a person who doesn’t deal well with lots of negativity, I have to be careful to not let myself get sucked into that part of Twitter.

But, Twitter is more than just racing and tactics and rumors. I have, dare I say, made friends on Twitter! Some scoff at this idea, saying you can’t be friends with people you only know as a Twitter personality, or asking how do I even know that these people are real. In truth, I have no way of knowing if these are real people. They could all be robots, or impostors, or scam artists. But my trusting nature and the length of time I’ve known many of these people leads me to believe they are real. And the fact that I’ve meet a few of them in the flesh (@cyclebordom, @iowakathy, @theepicride) helps reinforce this idea. But the main reason I think they’re real? They care about me. They care about the ups and downs of my life. When I tweet that I’m having a shitty day, they reply and want to know what’s wrong and hope I feel better. When I tweet that I had an awesome ride and feel great, they reply to say congrats or ask about the ride. When I tweet sometime discussion worthy, they’ll engage me in conversation and debate. Those are the things that convince me they’re real people.

However, the best thing I get from Twitter? Motivation. I don’t have many people to share my cycling obsession with in the real world and on Twitter I can be as cycling nerdy as I want and my Twitter friends will share that with me. They want to know about my rides, my progress, and my adventures, so I want to ride to have something to share. When I started following cycling, I didn’t have a bike. The more I got into Twitter and saw how much those I followed loved their bikes and riding, the more I wanted to be part of that. Once I got my bike, I wanted to share how I felt and my Twitter friends were there for that. If I’m ever feeling sick of my bike, or I don’t feel in the mood for riding, I just hang out on Twitter for awhile, and I remember why I love it.

To be riveted by all my bathroom journeys, follow me @bloomingcyclist.

 

A Tragic Comedy in 6 Acts

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to tell you a story. This story doesn’t have anything to do with biking, but it is such a story, that if it hadn’t happened in my presence, I would not believe it. And it is too good not to share.

Let me set the scene. The location: Charlottesville, VA. The main characters: Rachel and a ’99 Cadillac Catera. The supporting cast: Myself, Shannon, Adam (a Mellow Mushroom bartender), The Ponytail and The Accent (AAA guys), and a helpful motorcyclist.

Act One

Shannon, Rachel, and myself drive down to Charlottesville early Saturday to look at apartments. Rachel, my current housemate, will be moving to Charlottesville in a few months time. We look at apartments, eat lunch, explore the University of Virginia campus, take shelter when the tornado siren goes off, have coffee. We decide it’s time to go.

Tornado weather at UVA

Act Two

The plot thickens. Rachel cannot find her keys. We start retracing our long, circuitous path around Charlottesville/UVA to make sure they haven’t miraculously fallen out of her purse and are still sitting on the ground somewhere. To no one’s surprise, our search is futile.

Act Three

Rachel calls AAA. She’s going to have them unlock her car and make her a new key. It will be an hour before they get to her car, so we head back to the Mellow Mushroom to hang out. While there, Rachel gets a call from AAA. Apparently her car is a…special needs car. It has a special type of key and they said there are no locksmiths in the area who can make her a new key. This makes things a lot more difficult. She has a spare key in Maryland, but how to get it? Have our other roommate in MD FedEx it down to C’ville? But this means we’d have to stay overnight down here. Take the train back to DC, get the key, train back? With only one train in the morning and one in the evening, we’d still have to stay overnight. Plus no trains on Sunday. Have someone come get us? The only people I’d ask to do that for us was already in C’ville. We go around and around. We decide to have AAA send someone to unlock the car so we can make double sure the keys aren’t in the car. We then go back to Mellow Mushroom to hang out until they come. While there, we make friends with the cute bartender, Adam. He says he’ll try and find someone who can hot wire the car. No luck. While at the bar, Shannon comes up with the great idea to rent a car. Genius, Shannon. Why’d you wait until now to bring it up?

Act Four

The AAA guys finally arrive. They are two creepers, one with a unacceptably long ponytail (aka TweedleIncompetent) and one with an impenetrable Southern accent (aka TweedlePervert), both with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. As the ponytail gets to work on the door, the accent tries to get us to drink, all while generally being creepy. The ponytail is having a hard time with the door. He’s working and working, making lots of dissatisfied noises. He soon reveals that this car is unnaturally hard to break into. Good for car security, not good for us, but fits perfectly into this unfolding comedy. The accent’s job seems to be to try and get us to drink while making inappropriate comments. He soon notices a girl wandering around in her sports bra/workout gear in an apartment. He points this out to us. We are not impressed.

Myself and Shannon amusing ourselves while the Tweedles work.

The ponytail then tries a new method to unlock the car, this time with the back door. He finally succeeds, but the second the door is open, the alarm goes off. And of course we can’t shut it off because the keys with the remote is lost. Then we realize that the driver’s side front door won’t open- the lock the won’t disengage. Which is where only key hole is. Which means it will not open and the alarm will not go off. While Rachel kneels on passenger seat to try and get the driver’s door open, the accent remarks that “She’s got nice hindquarters for a New Yorker Yankee derrière. Is she from upstate?” to me and Shannon. We are not impressed.

Act Five

We leave the Tweedles and take a cab to the airport to pick up our car. I drive. We get back to DC at about 12:30am. I can barely see, I’m so tired.

Act Six

Rachel heads back to Charlottesville. Once she gets back to her car, she realizes that the key won’t open the door. No surprise. Then she realizes that not only does the alarm go off every time the door is open, starting the car doesn’t stop it either. It does go off after about 4 minutes, but that’s 4 minutes of sitting in the car with a car alarm screaming. As she waits for it to shut off, helpful people walk buy, offering advice such as “if you hit the button, it’ll turn off.” Once she gets going, she realizes she’s a prisoner in her own car, as when she opens the door, the alarm will go off. However, her empty gas tank and empty stomach, intervene. Climbing out passenger side door to get gas sets off the alarm. Which causes the station to shut down her pump. So her alarm is going crazy and she walks into the store to pay in cash while people judge. And just like the honey badger, she doesn’t give a shit- they have no idea what she’s been through. While she is in the store, her alarm shuts off, but crawling back into the car sets it off again. This time she doesn’t wait for the alarm to stop before driving away- she’s made enough friends here already. As she’s sitting at a stoplight with the alarm screaming, a man on a motorcycle rolls up beside her, motioning for her to roll down her window. She does. “Try pressing the button on your remote.” Thanks.

Epilogue

The car sits in our driveway unlocked. This is fine because the alarm still goes off whenever the door opens, deterring any thieves. Which is what we assumed happened this morning at 6, when the car alarm went off. When Rachel goes to drive it to the dealer, first she can’t get it started, then she can’t get it to drive, then the alarm starts going off randomly while she driving.

Rachel is distressed that her car wont start

She makes it to the dealer. And now awaits her fate.

Despite the drama, the trip was a success, as Rachel did find an apartment and discover that Charlottesville will be a lovely place to live for a year. And neither Shannon or myself begrudge Rachel of depriving us of a nice, calm weekend. Seriously.

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