BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN
Last week, I shared an article to our Facebook page from the July issue of The Plaid Horse about body image in our sport. Later in the day, I went back to the post to read the comments. This is a sampling of what I saw:
“We are supposed to take an article bemoaning size discrimination seriously when there is not even ONE photo of a plus sized person in the article?”
“This is a very important topic and while the writing and comments from juniors and trainers were well-placed, the photos missed the mark.”
“Not one single photo here was anything less than the typical thin physique. I think this article and more like it are great but where are the pictures of riders like me that really struggle daily to be healthy and athletically fit and all that jazz.”
And I have to say that as I read, I agreed.
I think about fatness a lot. Because, well… here is a picture of me riding my horse at my heaviest weight.
I think about fatness, because none of the dresses zipped over my chest when I was shopping for the junior prom. I think about fatness, because I’m the only person in my family who’s heavy. Think about it every time my horse has a lame step, worrying my weight is a factor. Think about it whenever I don’t win a ribbon I believe I earned in the hunters, blaming my weight even though there are legitimately a thousand reasons anyone doesn’t get judged how they want in the hunters.
Even after losing almost fifty pounds, I think about fatness because my body, especially in breeches, is complicated.
As someone who’s always struggled with their weight, it’s hard to hear others with smaller bodies than yours complain about low self-esteem in regards to their size. It’s hard when you hear that a size 28 breech could be considered big, especially since I think I could avoid carbs for the rest of my damn life and still never hit a 28. Ever. It’s hard when I listen to a friend complain about feeling fat as she walks next to me in a size four sun dress that I couldn’t fit one boob into, and I know she’s never weighed a pound over 140 a day in her life.
It’s hard to hear those things, because our experience is so different.
For riders of size, finding clothes is a struggle. Mustering the confidence to trot into the ring is extra hard, because you don’t have just the judge or your trainer to contend with but also the pairs of eyes watching from the stands, often muttering to their friends, Poor horse! Logically, I realize that body image issues can affect anyone of any size. My skinny friends are not immune, but the experience for plus size riders is undeniably different.
We have to be careful with our mount and saddle and all the other details that go into a happy, safe partnership with a horse. We have to fight our big, unruly bodies for things like balance and core control. Don’t assume that just because we are large that we are not strong, or that we don’t care about fitness. Our red faces and sweaty bodies are proof not of our neglect, but instead of how hard we try to work with what we have at the moment.
Often at shows, we have to be better than the thinner girls to get rewarded in the ring. It’s not news to us that we are overlooked in the equestrian world. Many retailers don’t want to cater to our size. Our show photos aren’t the ones promoting businesses or circuits in glossy fliers. Sometimes it feels like even though we take up extra space, we’re a lot less visible. Maybe that’s why it hurts when articles about body image don’t include pictures of our bodies.
I thought losing weight would give me a lot of answers. Thought it would make my riding better, open up a world of eligible bachelors and restore the hole in my confidence that’s existed all my life. My conclusion, as conclusions often are, is far more complicated.
Sure, I wear now wear shorts for the first time in at least fifteen years, but I still instinctively buy clothes that are slightly too big for me. Dating is a mess, which seems to be a universal truth for women of any size. At the barn, my riding has improved dramatically but I attribute that far more to weekly private lessons with my fantastic trainer than I do to having now-too-big size 36 breeches.
What I’ve learned more than anything is that my entire life, I’ve told myself that my weight is a reason for me to feel lesser. More than once I’ve met someone fit, fashionable and fun and thought, They won’t like me because they won’t want to have any fat friends. In the show ring, I’ve convinced myself that I can’t jump big jumps or be the kind of amateur that could ever bring up a green horse because that’s something fat people can’t do, even though I spend just as many hours in the barn as any other hard working adult.
I’m starting to realize that the real sadness of my weight isn’t having trouble with clothes or not being deemed beautiful by society, but the limitations I’ve put on myself because of it. As I’ve gotten thinner, it’s the limitations – not the smaller clothes – that leave a lasting impression.
So for every woman who heads straight to the tack and skips the apparel at Dover, because they already know none of the breeches or show coats in the store will fit them – I see you.
To those who quietly turn down catch rides, because they worry they’ll be too heavy for certain horses to fairly carry them – I know you.
To the folks who celebrated when companies started offering reasonably priced extra wide calf field boots on the market (Dear Ariat, love you… mean it!) – I feel you.
And if you’ve ever set yourself short because you felt guilty about your weight, within the equestrian sport or outside of it – I am you.
I may never lose another pound. I might drop twenty more. Statistically, I’m far more likely to gain it all back, but regardless of how the numbers fluctuate, I’m starting to learn that this situation is far more complicated than my breech size or the way I look in photos. It’s something I’m still unpacking, still thinking about.
If you feel the same way, I’d love to join you in the conversation. Share your story, showcase your photos. Let’s pull together a gallery of our own, amazing plus size riders competing and riding and enjoying this sport. Maybe we can all work together to feel a little bit more represented, and a little less complicated.