Playing water polo for Stanford University is not an easy task. Besides spending hours in the water wrestling with other strong women, then watching videos of our mistakes and other teams' successes which is both mentally and physically exhausting, we spend a lot of time in the weight room. Though weight training may not come as a surprise to anyone who understands its amazing benefits, it is difficult to deal with the affects it has on the female body.
During my college career I have listened to numerous athletes, not just water polo players, complain about their body image. No, they didn't think they were too heavy nor did they just want to lose a few pounds. These athletes were upset about their muscular and "butch" bodies. I cannot count the number of times I heard someone say, "I can't wait until I'm done playing so I don't have to look like a man anymore." This always shocked me.
Growing up, I was much taller and heavier than most girls my age. My parents always told me I would become a strong and tall woman, but I didn't care, I just wanted to look like everyone else. Eventually, when I began to play water polo and lift weights, my body shape changed and I began to replace some of that fat with muscle. However, I still always felt like a heavy kid at heart. I looked at myself in the mirror and instead of seeing my toned body, I just saw a big girl.
Even throughout my first two years at college I was reluctant to flirt with guys and automatically put myself in the "friend zone" because I thought guys would never want to go out with a big girl like me. Yet as I heard more and more of my fellow athletes complain about their muscular bodies, I began to embrace mine. I thought of all of the benefits my height and strength gave me. Because of my size I have a presence when I walk into a room, I look good in clothes that fit my athletic body, and most importantly, my size allows me to out-muscle girls in my sport.
Contrary to what I thought, my size and strength are attractive to men. Women like me are especially attractive to men who understand what it means to be an athlete and live an active lifestyle. As I prepare to graduate, I continue to surround myself with people who share the same love for living active lifestyles. I definitely couldn't do it all on my own.
So now that I have come to love my body for the bigger, more muscular, athletic body that it is, I hope to inspire other women to do the same. No matter how big or small, muscular or thin we are, we must learn to love what we look like right here and now. When I hear another athlete talk about her thunder thighs, I tell her how good I think she looks. With affirmation and support, we can make other women around us continue to fall back in love with the athletic lifestyle.
More importantly, if we continue to look in the mirror and see ourselves for the beautiful, athletic, and healthy women that we really are, we will encourage others to do the same. So no, playing water polo and living an active lifestyle are not always easy, but they are most definitely worth the effort.