What Does Ideal Look Like? Women Embracing a Strong Body Image

"You're beautiful." "Do you model?" "Gosh I want your abs." These are things I've heard for as long as I could remember. You would think since I'm petite, fit, and "look" like a model that I've always been this confident, radiant woman. Well, you would be totally wrong.

Growing up I remember it was always about being thin and the importance of the number on the scale. Being a soccer player I never fit that mold, my legs were MUSCULAR and they needed to be for my sport. Athletes like Sydney Leroux, Hope solo, and rhonda rousey, show that being a women with muscles and curves is not something to be ashamed of.  - Brittany Prieto, 26, @Brittany_Alyssa on instagram

Growing up I remember it was always about being thin and the importance of the number on the scale. Being a soccer player I never fit that mold, my legs were MUSCULAR and they needed to be for my sport. Athletes like Sydney Leroux, Hope solo, and rhonda rousey, show that being a women with muscles and curves is not something to be ashamed of. 

- Brittany Prieto, 26, @Brittany_Alyssa on instagram

Even though I've received many compliments,  I've also heard, "You're way to skinny." "Do you even eat?" "Gaining weight would help you run faster."  And for the longest time I thought something was wrong with me. I would look in the mirror and feel disgusted at how small I was. "How could someone ever like me, let alone love me." It was something I remember saying to myself a lot in middle school and through high school. It wasn't until college that I finally started to love my body for what it was. I remember my first year, I tried to eat a ton and lift heavy, with hopes that I would gain that 'freshmen 15.' When it didn't happen, I finally looked at myself in the mirror and said, "This is enough." Since then, I haven't binged on food ( unless it's ice cream and Oreos), I haven't subjected myself to trying to gain mass muscle, and I have become happy with how my body looks. 

I still remember those days in middle school when I would wear jackets, or long sleeves, even on the hottest days, because I was ashamed of my muscular build. There were times in my life when I was teased because I "looked like a boy," or bothered because I had big legs and a butt. I know some may sneer and think that I'm "lucky" to have had those issues, but unkind words are hurtful regardless of your body type. The same body that was once so intimidating and shameful, is the same one that inspires people around me today. One of the major reasons I love Track & Field, is because it has given me a home; on the track, my physique is welcomed and appreciated. Once I realized that my body is a signal of health and my commitment to not only my sport, but a healthy lifestyle, I learned to love it as much as the strangers that admire my strength in passing. This is the body that God gave to me, and I encourage everyone, especially the ladies, to love the skin you're in whether you're skinny, plump, or athletically built. If you love what you have blessed with, and take care to maintain it, your beauty will shine through and others will learn to love it too. Be whoever or whatever you are, unapologetically, and watch how your life changes. - Champelle Brown, 25, Track & Field Athlete

I still remember those days in middle school when I would wear jackets, or long sleeves, even on the hottest days, because I was ashamed of my muscular build. There were times in my life when I was teased because I "looked like a boy," or bothered because I had big legs and a butt. I know some may sneer and think that I'm "lucky" to have had those issues, but unkind words are hurtful regardless of your body type. The same body that was once so intimidating and shameful, is the same one that inspires people around me today. One of the major reasons I love Track & Field, is because it has given me a home; on the track, my physique is welcomed and appreciated. Once I realized that my body is a signal of health and my commitment to not only my sport, but a healthy lifestyle, I learned to love it as much as the strangers that admire my strength in passing. This is the body that God gave to me, and I encourage everyone, especially the ladies, to love the skin you're in whether you're skinny, plump, or athletically built. If you love what you have blessed with, and take care to maintain it, your beauty will shine through and others will learn to love it too. Be whoever or whatever you are, unapologetically, and watch how your life changes.

- Champelle Brown, 25, Track & Field Athlete

As a runner, I lift heavy and I do arm weights - making sure I'm getting everything done that my competitors are doing. I need power to get around the track, and my power just doesn't translate into mass muscles as it may do for others. When I read the New York Times article earlier this month about women balancing body image with ambition, it struck heart strings. I was outraged by the way we as women, and especially women of sport, were made to look. What's wrong with being strong, lifting more than 5 pounds, and dominating in your chosen sports field? How does a young girl looking up to these women feel when reading this article? Why can't we all just love OUR bodies and see all the hard work we put in is to be the best at what we do? All these thoughts came rushing in, and I knew I wanted to write a blog post about it. I wanted everyone, especially women and girls, to see that no matter what you do, you can love yourself. We aren't all the same size, we all train for different things and we all don't look like a size 2 model. That's not how WE were made. 

So, I talked to my friends, I asked opinions on how they felt, and then I decided to include more then just my voice in this post. I was so excited to see the response I got from so many women - not just athletes - who wanted to share their story and let everyone know that strong is beautiful no matter what it looks like to other people. As we all got together to take photos, the comments I heard were more admiration than comparison. We all appreciated the hard work that each other put in and it showed in the words spoken that morning. I want to thank all of my friends who helped me in the shoot and with quotes for this post. 

I'm excited to annouce that I will be making this in to a series of blog posts. I am taking submissions for anyone willing to share their story on body image and how they've over come the media centric idea of a 'perfect women.' You don't have to be a world-class elite athlete or an athlete period, but if you can relate to body image issues in sports or fitness, please join the movement. Be a part of the driving force to help every woman, especially women athletes, show the world that strong is beautiful. I want every women to be able to share her story, so please submit your request to be featured HERE, and I will contact you to set it up. Make sure if you aren't also subscribed to my newsletter that you do so to stay up on the upcoming features. Use #EmbraceStrong on social media to join the movement.

Women #EmbraceStrong on Body Issues
Women #EmbraceStrong on Body Issues
Women #EmbraceStrong on Body Issues
Women #EmbraceStrong on body issues
Women #EmbraceStrong on Body Issues
Women #EmbraceStrong on Body Issues

Photos: Naama Arrington