The shape we’re in

Acceptance of body shape

As I reflected on the Commonwealth Games, a recurring thought was how people of different body shapes and sizes had found and excelled in the sport most suited to them and their capability.

Often the body shape originated from geography. For instance, dark, slim, lithe runners from Kenya always look like they could go on forever over any distance and do so with consummate ease. The magnificent bodies of swimmers at their peak were something to behold – tall, broad shouldered, pecs to envy and streamlined bodies – and that’s just the women! So many successful swimmers were Australian, mostly from Queensland where swimming is part and parcel of life in this wonderful climate.

Then there are the high jumpers and pole vaulters, long, lean and lanky, able to skim unbelievable heights – on their own or with the help of a slim pole. Basketballers may match them in height, though are sturdier, as needed for the rougher game. Gymnasts and divers tend to be more petite and ever so precise, while those contesting field games of shotput, discus and hammer throw, similar to weightlifters, tended to be on the chunkier side. Who would want thighs of the power of the cyclists, able to accelerate to amazing speeds at a 45 degree angle?

Up there with the most amazing were the para competitors: Kurt Fearnley winning silver in the 1500 and gold in the marathon in his final competitive race and the young sixteen year old Isis Holt with MS, who broke the world record in her division for 100m metre track sprint. Exultation and gratitude surmounted effort on achievement. It was wonderful to share these precious moments, even if through the TV screen.

Making the most of the body we get

I’m not immune from the allure of advertisements that promise attributes that I would like – thick lustrous hair (I confess to longing to touch the deep black tresses of our Islander and sub-continent people); a slim waist (in my dreams!) and the shiny, white, straight teeth of an American movie star.

Nevertheless, these are fancies (or fantasies) only. I’ve learned to be grateful for the body with which I’ve been gifted. That body has served me (and others) well over many years, even if now it gets a bit creaky.

Like Kurt Fearnley and Isis Holt I have tried to make the most of what I’ve got, with all its imperfections. The scale of my challenges do not even remotely compare with theirs. For them and all other sports people participating in the Games, as for me, there is a grand measure of acceptance of their body as it is, along with the gifts and talents to which that body can be turned. Self-acceptance meant that each chose a sport most suited to their body type, regardless of the glossy images presented as desirable. Dedicated resolve and hard work have helped produce results that would have initially been deemed improbable.


In a vain and self-absorbed world, sport, especially para sport, demonstrates the desirable characteristics of self-acceptance, hard work and gratitude, so often missing amongst the less energetic of our nation who wallow in complacency, complaint and entitlement.

Glossies promote how quickly some celebrity is able to return to pre-baby shape soon after the birth. Little attention is paid to the immense interior change of becoming a family, upon which the whole of the rest of the child’s life will be built.

Other targeted media focused on body image entice young girls into anorexia or bulimia that can lead to a downward spiral, even death, as self-absorption consumes them. Instead, service to others would develop their character, awareness of others, mutuality and intimacy that would develop resources that prepare them well for the rest of their lives.

Anti-ageing treatments proliferate to service an ageing population of active seniors now living 30-40 years longer that they might have 100 years ago. By all means, we should try to look presentable, out of self-respect and respect for others with whom we mingle. However, where is the incitement to gratitude for the privilege of living longer, which so many have been denied? As ANZAC Day approaches, we are reminded of the young men and women who fought for our freedom and will never enjoy the long and peaceful life with which we have been gifted. Lest we forget.

Whether in the exultation of winning or the disappointment of losing, invariably athletes interviewed expressed effusively their heartfelt gratitude to partners, family, friends, coaches, team mates and supporters who had paced them through the tribulations of their journey to this peak moment. To hear such expression is truly heart-warming in an era when ‘thanks’ has become an exception and whingeing the norm. Athletes remembered the years parents took them to training, cooked the meals and furnished them with the right equipment and resources to achieve. They acknowledged the coaches and physios who tended their needs to keep their mind and body in shape and on track for success.

Supporters wanted to share the moment. Many athletes were blessed with an entourage attending the games, or watching the performances live from their lounge rooms in the towns where achievements are a source of local pride. One couple we spoke to who travelled from South Africa to see their daughter swim had their efforts rewarded when she won a gold medal. How much sharing the moment meant to them all! Years of effort culminated in exultation, celebration and the gratitude shared, never to be forgotten.


Of course, mostly there is only one winner. Not everyone’s efforts are rewarded with the top prize. Consequently, a further lesson from sport is the development of resilience; again, something much needed to build strength of character in a country grown complacent.

Invariably athletes have had to contend with injuries, lack of form, or the demoralisation of hitting peak in the sprint when Usain Bolt is on song. Disappointing as these factors are, they have had to suck it up, face up and try again, never losing sight of the ultimate goal. Whether or not their goal is achieved, they continue to benefit from the experience of drawing upon inner strength and resources in that and other aspects of their life.

Benefit of competition

For some decades now those involved in raising and educating children have imbued with a philosophy that competition is “bad”; everyone should win a prize to spare disappointment and discouragement; and if you complain loudly and often enough, someone will sort it out for you and you will be rewarded.

Well, that philosophy doesn’t work to produce mature, resilient, contributing citizens needed in a vibrant economy. Children are denied the opportunity to deal with reality, to grow in personal strength by accepting their limitations in particular areas, to choose a pursuit, as do athletes, that enable them to perform in an area best suited to their mind and body capabilities, even if disabled like Kurt Fearnley and Isis Holt.

Effort is celebrated as much as success, in the acceptance of self, making the most of our gifts, the gratitude and resilience of participating in sporting competition.


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