Home
Olympic gold medalist puts her own confidence down to sport

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?”

Unhealthy messages

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.

31 comments

Avatar
Some Fella [890 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I bloody love Joanna Rowsell

Avatar
Must be Mad [535 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

What an amazing person Jo is.

Speaking 'as a bloke' - I've always found the 'fit sporty' look WAAY more attractive in women than the 'stick thin model' look.

Avatar
Ordinary Cyclin... [29 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

This is exactly the message young girls and women need to hear about body image! Another very good reason why we need more women's sport on mainstream TV. What could be better than portraying healthy body images in the media, shown at times when young girls can be inspired and influenced to lead healthy lifestyles and possibly also become part of a new generation of British sporting talent.

Avatar
Colin Peyresourde [1748 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

They should all be obsessed with their power to weight ratios. Everyone knows that!

Avatar
mingmong [263 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Beautiful inside and out that lass.

Avatar
Simon E [2773 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Jo came to Shropshire recently. She rode a 10 mile time trial on the Saturday and the Shrewsbury GP crit race on the Sunday. On both occasions she was gracious and accomodating towards every single person who approached her. What a superb role model!

Big companies make obscene amounts of money making women feel insecure about their appearance, using every trick they can. I feel sorry for women who think they need to wear a load of makeup to leave the house and have waxing, plucking, tanning or whatever done just to look 'acceptable'.

Avatar
notfastenough [3706 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Ordinary Cycling Girl wrote:

This is exactly the message young girls and women need to hear about body image! Another very good reason why we need more women's sport on mainstream TV. What could be better than portraying healthy body images in the media, shown at times when young girls can be inspired and influenced to lead healthy lifestyles and possibly also become part of a new generation of British sporting talent.

You're right of course, but I think it's bigger than that. Young girls often want the impossible figure because their aspirations go no further than getting their kit off for a lads magazine, marrying a footballer or just somehow attaining some ridiculous 'celebrity' status. Showing them that they can aim to be the best in the world at something - something which happens to encourage a nicely athletic physical appearance, is a big challenge, but so worthwhile. Keep shouting it from the rooftops, Jo.

Avatar
SteppenHerring [330 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

She rode our open 25 last year (and smashed my PB). Lovely person and completely awesome.

I've got the "eat what you like" bit down pat but I am struggling with pedalling it off.

Avatar
mmag1 [30 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Another huge fan here.

Avatar
Ordinary Cyclin... [29 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
notfastenough wrote:
Ordinary Cycling Girl wrote:

This is exactly the message young girls and women need to hear about body image! Another very good reason why we need more women's sport on mainstream TV. What could be better than portraying healthy body images in the media, shown at times when young girls can be inspired and influenced to lead healthy lifestyles and possibly also become part of a new generation of British sporting talent.

You're right of course, but I think it's bigger than that. Young girls often want the impossible figure because their aspirations go no further than getting their kit off for a lads magazine, marrying a footballer or just somehow attaining some ridiculous 'celebrity' status. Showing them that they can aim to be the best in the world at something - something which happens to encourage a nicely athletic physical appearance, is a big challenge, but so worthwhile. Keep shouting it from the rooftops, Jo.

I think the media plays a big part in what you're saying. I think the aspirations of young girls don't currently go further because all they really see on tv and magazines is women taking their clothes off for lads mags, women marrying footballers and tv shows/magazine spreads featuring those with some tiny semblance of a celebrity status. I see what you mean, but it's not just about trying to inspire young girls to be the best in the world at something, it's about showing them what a healthy figure looks like and that it's acceptable. Media focus desperately needs to shift.

Avatar
edster99 [336 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Go Jo!

Avatar
drfabulous0 [409 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I like big butts, I can't deny.

I like big boobs too, I really don't get why being skinny is seen as in ideal. I wish women didn't worry so much about body image so much, everyone should be able to feel happy the way they are.

Avatar
Beaufort [270 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I hope JR feels the love from the masses. She deserves it.

Avatar
mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Literally my favourite sportswoman in.the.world <3

I've suffered with both weight problems and have pretty hectic alopecia at the moment and it's people as human and inspirational as Jo that makes me sit there and think "fuck it, it's alright". 6 years ago I'd have been a crumbling mess if I'd have lost my hair!

It's so refreshing to have someone so genuinely sound in the sports limelight at the moment. Good no fuss no frills proper awesome lass.

She's gorgeous too!

Avatar
RobD [293 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

She's such a lovely person, she really does deserve all the success she's had, and certainly seems to have her head screwed on properly.
I think if anyone should be allowed to eat chocolate it's her, it certainly hasn't slowed her down.

Avatar
MKultra [396 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I like a backside you can rest a pint on and park your bike in.

Lady cyclists tick those boxes.

Avatar
Rupert [189 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

There is no denying it Joanna is a wonderful person. Many people will attest to her wonderful persona.

I'd really like her to be in charge of British Cycling when she hangs up her wheels. I hope I am not the only one that thinks this way.  1

Ps if you're fat don't be too hard on yourself it is just the result of a modern day lifestyle.
I don't have any answers for our modern day existence & I especially don't know how we can stop magazines and media in general obsessing about starving stick like women.
Maybe the main problem is food these days is a product rather than actual food that should go in your body.
We are all responsible for what goes in our mouths but the overall pressure on young women and men these days to be thin is not healthy.

Avatar
mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Rupert wrote:

I don't have any answers for our modern day existence & I especially don't know how we can stop magazines and media in general obsessing about starving stick like women.
Maybe the main problem is food these days is a product rather than actual food that should go in your body.
We are all responsible for what goes in our mouths but the overall pressure on young women and men these days to be thin is not healthy.

Completely agree. You get it in cycling a lot which I think is a disgrace, I often get told I'm a "chunkier" rider (I'm more of a tester so generally am a bit bigger) - despite being a size 8 and 60kgs. In what world is that chunky!?

I remember a lass I race with saying recently some of her fellow club riders had told her to shift some pounds for racing, she's the same height as me and in the mid 50kg range, she also wins - a lot. What made it worse is that she's very young, what sort of example are experienced riders setting when they 'advise' young riders to get smaller!?

I don't think social media helps much, there seems to be a lot of keyboard warriors happy to dish out the abuse to people they don't see as fitting into their made up ideal of how a human should look.

Strength should punt weight every time, and weight should only be lost if it absolutely needs to be in a controlled and healthy way.

Saying that I think things are starting to get better, especially with lovely people like Jo around  1

Avatar
SamShaw [266 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
mooleur wrote:

I remember a lass I race with saying recently some of her fellow club riders had told her to shift some pounds for racing, she's the same height as me and in the mid 50kg range, she also wins - a lot. What made it worse is that she's very young, what sort of example are experienced riders setting when they 'advise' young riders to get smaller!?

Cyclists are worse than NOW* magazine when it comes to being obsessed about weight. Bikes, bodies, clothing - everything is given a weight and mentally categorised (or put on a spreadsheet if you're really obsessive).

What's great is seeing a top level sportsperson being very 'normal' about her attitude towards weight, which many people can identify with her point of view. She's a great role model, not only for this interview, but also her ability to normalise her alopecia. Most people go through issues of self-confidence, whether they're in top level sport or just sitting in their bedroom, seeing someone being so open with something that could otherwise be very harmful to self-confidence is really encouraging and again something to which many people can relate.

Bring on more Jo Rowsell, she's great.

*other magazines featuring "lose 10lb in 10 days" headlines are also available.  3

Avatar
acjim [28 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

It was clear from watching the Women's Tour that the top Women riders are a real mix of body shapes - all look much healthier than their male counterparts! (who often look like they've escaped from a fascist "health camp")

3 Cheers for the modern Women racers! Massive role models for the young & not so young!

Avatar
Simon E [2773 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Rupert wrote:

I don't have any answers for our modern day existence & I especially don't know how we can stop magazines and media in general obsessing about starving stick like women.

Vote with your feet. Stop buying them, and tell them (and people you know) that you find it unacceptable.

Each of us can only do our bit, but if enough people 'do their bit' it will bring about real change.

mooleur wrote:

I remember a lass I race with saying recently some of her fellow club riders had told her to shift some pounds for racing, she's the same height as me and in the mid 50kg range, she also wins - a lot. What made it worse is that she's very young, what sort of example are experienced riders setting when they 'advise' young riders to get smaller!?

It's absolutely dreadful! Even at pro level the 'advice' is inappropriate but for amateurs and young riders it is totally unnecessary and not good for their physical or mental well-being. You don't need to weigh half of nothing to be fast, even up steep hills. It's a complete myth.

mooleur wrote:

I don't think social media helps much, there seems to be a lot of keyboard warriors happy to dish out the abuse to people they don't see as fitting into their made up ideal of how a human should look.

Like the vast majority of twitter trolls, they are hypocrites. I wouldn't waste energy engaging with them.

Avatar
mrmo [2088 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

leontien van morsel is a story that people need to be aware of, loosing weight is fine, but knowing when to stop is far harder and more important.

Don't know how true it is, was told a story, cycling manager went from mens to womens team and quickly realised that some comments, "move your fat arse" which might have been innocuous to a man, were taken in completely the wrong way by the women.

And it is the media that has to take a huge part of the blame, and to be honest a huge part of the problem is Women abusing Women.

So often the article will criticise for being fat, but in the next sentence criticise for being too thin, or not eating enough. I know someone who used to worry that cycling might mean they developed leg muscles and appear fat!

Avatar
mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Too true, women can be scornful and pretty hideous towards each other!

You just can't seem to 'get it right' in this day and age, there's always going to be people who look down on everything - it's those people who are wasting their own energy being miserable about other people, more fool them I'd say.

I'm happy resigning myself to the "changes dress size more than her socks, has no fashion sense, rides whatever bike she likes, hairs falling out, eyebrows are getting hairier, eats whatever and swears when she feels like it" category.  10

Avatar
Simon E [2773 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
mooleur wrote:

Too true, women can be scornful and pretty hideous towards each other!

They are terrified of being scorned themselves!

Fear of being an outcast drives this behaviour, it happens all the time. But that's because they have unthinkingly bought into the group's values. They are sheep.

The wider your social circle the greater the chance of it happening. Restrict your meaningful interactions (real world or online) to those who accept you for who you are and it is far less likely to happen.

Don't be afraid to distance yourself from anyone who repeatedly sticks the knife in to you or anyone else for no good reason; if they do it to someone else one day it will be you.

Avatar
mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Absolutely agree. It gets really bad for that over here, Island mentality! One thing I miss about London is the anonymity  1

I think young people nowdays seem to be evolving into more accepting individuals, though. Back in the day when I were a goth it was a real struggle to be yourself in public without gangs of wee scallies hurling abuse at you. Nowdays it seems to be a bit cooler to be different....but then at the same time, regardless of fashion I think the public still focus far too heavily on body image.

Avatar
darrenleroy [214 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Looking at the number of lumpen fatties thundering around Saltash this afternoon I think your average British girl couldn't give a damn about body image. Enforced PE five times a week, regular weigh-ins, a banning of all processed food and regular fat level tests would do wonders for the body images of our young. It would be like a scene from Triumph of the Will.

Avatar
mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
darrenleroy wrote:

Looking at the number of lumpen fatties thundering around Saltash this afternoon I think your average British girl couldn't give a damn about body image.

...nice. Real encouraging.

Avatar
Jimmy Ray Will [483 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Sadly the messages published for the benefit of a particular group of people, are typically ignored by that group and listened to by people those messages were never intended for.

So... there are far too many fatties out there, who are damaging their health through their gluttony. However, any publicity out there trying to educate these people falls on deaf ears (within target group) and is instead listened to by those body conscious folk, who will become ever more focused.

And then the cynical world of health and fashion will poisonously twist those messages to basically fuel their industry.

We have a massive issue with obesity in the country, and whilst I agree with sentiments in the article, this needs addressing.

I heard once, that the average british woman is now a size 16, so all talk of anyone under that average is merely glorification of an unrealistic ideal... I say no, the average british woman is simply fat.

Don't get me wrong, it's exactly the same with men... however men don't just use some random numbers to tell us if we are fashionably thin or not.

Avatar
mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I see what you're saying, and in some respects I agree but I think articles like this do help.

I started writing a blog after going from a size 16, bmi of 29 etc to a size 8 from just cycling - the blog was my thoughts on generally how easy it is to turn your life around. I've had comments from many women and men following these early blog posts telling me that the articles have inspired them to start making positive steps to losing weight.

There is, as you say, a bit too much normalisation around larger weights. Yes, the public should not be so judgemental or harsh, but this isn't an excuse to allow oneself to gain weight through gluttony or laziness.

However, I think the general outlook on excersise and sports has changed in recent years, especially since the Olympics. When I was younger (and much fatter) there was a clear boundary between "sporty people" and everyone else. Nowdays sports is a bit more accepted culturally, across many more groups. This is encouraging for people who want to lose weight, and articles such as this do help as more young people are beginning to view sports as a trend rather than a chore.

Demographically it's acutally my generation that is the biggest problem, people who were brought up in the 80s and 90s were brought up on rubbish, we've carried this forward and unfortunately for some that's meant bad habits haven't died.

I'm not sure how we could combat this, to be honest. Without having supermarkets and media on board it's impossible. Shit food is too cheaply and easily accessible, and my generation are too damn lazy to cook from scratch.

Positive encouragement is great, bullying isn't - if people feel good about themselves they continue that trend, but if someone who likes food is being treated negatively the first thing they're going to do is reach for the comfort food.

Avatar
mrmo [2088 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Quote:

Positive encouragement is great, bullying isn't -

And when does encouragement become bullying, very easy to encourage a bit too much, if that makes sense.

Pages