Nobody knows better than a top cyclist the pressure to be as light as possible, but while Joanna Rowsell has coaches and nutritionists to make sure she stays healthy, she’s concerned that many people, especially young girls, are bombarded with messages about what they should and shouldn’t eat, and how thin they should aspire to be.
The subject came up in an interview with Gabrielle Fagan of the Belfast Telegraph.
Rowsell said: “I often come across those ads on the internet for the latest diet or whatever, and there's a ‘before' and ‘after' photo saying, ‘Do you want to go from this to this?'. And often in the ‘before' picture, the woman's not even fat! There's nothing wrong with her!
“Wanting to lose weight for your own personal reason is one thing, but why are we having an image that's implying you are overweight when you're not?”
As a young woman in the public eye, even Rowsell’s not immune to comments about her diet.
“I might tweet that I'm treating myself to a bar of chocolate, and then you'll get people saying, ‘You're a role model, you shouldn't be eating those foods'. I'll eat whatever I want to eat! I've done enough training, it's no big deal whether I've had a bar of chocolate.”
There are too many “unhealthy” messages out there, she says, about what people should and shouldn't be eating in order to be skinny.
“It annoys me,” she said. “Being as skinny as possible isn't necessarily the healthiest way to live.”
Alopecia not easy to handle
As an alopecia sufferer, Rowsell has had her own appearance issues and has said it “wasn’t easy” to deal with losing all her hair. But when she found herself standing on an Olympic podium, she realised that her condition made it easier for people to relate to her.
“I think a lot of people relate to the alopecia, and not just other people with alopecia but anybody with body confidence issues and stuff,” she said. “And I sort of realised that when I was standing on that podium.”
Nevertheless, suddenly being cast as a role model and poster girl for body image issues was a bit overwhelming.
"I don't have all the answers!"
Rowsell said: “At the time, I sort of felt everyone was looking up to me like I was this inspirational role model, and assumed I had all the answers. Everyone was asking me, ‘How do you deal with it, what advice would you give?', and I felt a bit like, ‘I don't have all the answers!' But I hope I did an okay job.”
What would she advise as a way to overcome body image issues? Exercise.
She said: “Sports has been a massive confidence-booster in my own life, and I'd advise everybody that that's a good way to do it. Any issues you have with your body, or any general confidence issues, I think that can really help.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.