Sports Psychology with Dr. Darby Bonomi: Body Image Woes? Beauty Is as Beauty Does

Feeling dissatisfied with your body? It’s a common challenge for many women, even female athletes. Want to step out of that struggle? Let’s change your mindset. Put your attention on what your body does for you—rather than on how it looks. In other words: focus on being an athlete, not on being a model.

Photo by Alden Corrigan

Think of all the riders whose bodies do not conform to the stereotypical ideal. There are many in our midst, and many who are at the very top of our sport. You know them: they are too tall, too short, too small, too big. What these riders have in common is their ability to use their bodies effectively to seamlessly partner with their horses. Isn’t that what we’re all about? Isn’t that what we find beautiful and satisfying?

What does it mean to be an athlete? It means directing your focus to your abilities not your appearance. Notice what your body can do physically at this moment. Then consider what you want your body to do going forward. Do you need more strength, more flexibility, more balance, or more endurance to go where you need to go in your riding? Being an athlete means you figure out how to take care of yourself to meet your physical goals—just as you would do for your horse.

Focusing on how you look is a distraction. Frankly, it’s a waste of time, and let’s face it — there is no time to waste.

I believe that this perspective is easier as you get older. As an older athlete myself, I work hard to maintain my strength and flexibility, and to increase my stamina. Being able to operate at the highest level possible for me is what it’s all about, especially as I feel the years pass. As I get older, I don’t intend to be a pretty shelf decoration gathering dust; I intend to be an athlete all the way to end of my riding career and beyond.

Are you with me?

Riders, here is my challenge: focus on your athleticism. You can allow yourself to be dissatisfied with your imbalance, your core strength, or your endurance—and use that dissatisfaction to push yourself to a higher level. There are always improvements to be made. Serious athletes, by their very nature, don’t bask for long in the satisfaction of a success. A win today is great, but it’s back to training tomorrow. Physical fitness, like technical development and mental fitness, is a continual, ever-evolving project.

Make a commitment to see beauty in your athleticism and abilities. Remember: beauty is as beauty does.

About Dr. Bonomi

Darby Bonomi, PhDis a Sport and Performance Psychologist. She works with equestrians of all disciplines, and other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the saddle. For more information or to contact Dr. Bonomi, click here.