IRIS Ambassador Katharina Möller speaks to IRIS about her experiences with body image, being healthy and body confidence as a triathlete competing in the German National Team.

IRIS: Hi Katharina! Where are you currently so our readers can imagine your environment?

Katharina: I am currently at high altitude camp in St. Moritz (Switzerland) preparing my season. Preparing? It’s june, the season is well underway, but due to an injury it took and still takes me longer this year to get to the start line fit and healthy. Injury is part of professional sports and linked to the topic we are going to talk about today; body confidence!

Katharina’s experience of body image and body confidence

Being a competitive athlete my body has always been judged by myself and others. My first memory of having an opinion of the way my body looks was when I was about ten years old. Not in a negative way, people described me as muscular, a little powerhouse („kleines Kraftpaket“, as the German says;). Back then I liked that! It made me feel superior.

The first time I experienced negative perceptions about my own body was when I was about fifteen years old and someone pointed out my broad shoulders. “Teenage-me” did not want to be different or associated with a stereotypical masculine trait. Fortunately it didn’t phase me (too much!) as I had success as an athlete and could base my body confidence on positive performances.

But, month after month, heightened by being on social media, I think my brain started to make a direct connection between how my body looked and my performance output. And here lies the problem in my experience. I don’t train to look a certain way. I train to perform my best in races. The way I look is a byproduct of my training. Add being a teenager with a developing brain to the mix – it was a lot. TO comprehend, the articulate, to navigate.

Little me liked her body because it was strong and fast. It allowed me to do all the things I wanted. You see, the problem arose when I started to take into consideration what others thought of me and how I looked. Well, then just don’t care about what other people think/say. Easier said than done, right!?

Another factor impacting my body confidence: injury – I teased the link to that in the beginning.

A huge part of my identity is based on my athletic career. Not being able to race and train inevitably changes how my body feels and looks. And as I define myself through sports, I define myself through my body too. So I try being gracious with my body, allowing it to recover properly as it is essential to having a long and healthy atheltic career.

I like to think I have a good relationship to my body these days, but I do catch myself slipping sometimes. Prime examples would be hesitating to post a picture because I felt like I did not look fit enough (iekh) and thinking I had to change something about my weight once I didn’t perform up to my standards.

So now you have a detailed insight into my thoughts and feelings on my body image and cofidence, which makes me feel vulnerable. But, I think we do need to talk about these topics more. So what have I done and am currently doing that could maybe help the IRIS community improve their body image and body confidence?

Katharina’s Top Tips on being body confident

  • Call people out on their bs! It is wayyyy too normalised for people to critize other people’s bodies. If I catch somebody talking negatively about somebody’s physics I try to make them uncomfortable too:) Firstly, it’s not anyone’s business, secondly it creates an atmosphere in which I know I don’t feel comfortable and makes room for insecurities.
  • Create a positive environment – this relates to your Instagram account (unfollow!) and negative comments (tell them!).
  • Question your own beliefs – sounds super generic, I know! But here is an example: I have a certain image in my head when I think of a fast triathlete. But there isn’t just one way to look to be fast!
  • Practice defining yourself about things other than your body – if your confidence is based on the way your body looks, it will fluctuate with the changes of your body. And your body changing is very normal, especially during puberty and pregnancy – it’s actually an amazing thing!
  • Fake it till you make it – I don’t think it it possible to be 100% body confident all the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t act like it – which will automatically make you feel better.
  • Set Boundaries – I know for example that it would not be supportive for my body confidence to count calories. So I don’t. Proper fueling is important, but for me the disadvantages of focusing a lot on my calorie intake would overweigh the advantages. There are a lot of areas this could apply to.
  • Talk to people! You are not alone and a lot of women (and men) struggle with this.

Health before everything!

So to conclude this article I want to briefly point out that health goes above everything else. Women in my sport tend to want to reduce weight. If not done properly, this is a guarentee for underfueling, which increases risk of injury (even long-term) physically and psychologically. Red-S (relative energy deficiency syndrome) is just one of the elephants in the room here and a key symptom for diagnosis is the loss of your menstural cycle which could impact your long-term fertility – this is serious!

Recommendations

  • The Female Athlete Podcast (I have recommended this one before, it’s still great;)
  • Generation F’s documentary about Julia Mrozinski, a German swimmer
  • Roar by Stacy Sims
  • Period of the Period – Evidence Based Education and Support
  • Jennis App – Movement that’s synced to your unique hormonal cycle