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.”
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.
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.”
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.