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Never naturally super-skinny, as a teen, Kelly Roberts, now 32, tried desperately to change her body. It wreaked havoc on her physical and mental health. ‘I had horrible body dysmorphia,’ she says. ‘I tried everything to be smaller.’ Things got worse in 2009, when she was 19. Her brother died suddenly, and in the months after his death she gained more than 5st. She spent the following two years trying to lose it through extreme measures.
‘I was going to the gym twice a day,’ she says. Friends and family applauded her for losing weight, but she wanted a new goal and took up running. ‘But I ran myself into the ground,’ she says. ‘I ran marathons back to back. I drank the poison punch of thinking if I gained any weight, I was unhealthy. And I was convinced that if I could be thinner, I’d be lighter and I’d be faster.’ At the same time, running was helping her handle feelings of depression and anxiety, to start working through her brother’s death and her own toxic perfectionism. She began to fall in love with it. But it took a while for her to become comfortable in her body. ‘For the longest time, I had never run in shorts; I was too embarrassed,’ says Roberts. ‘I have cellulite, my thighs touched, I was convinced everyone thought I didn’t belong.’
On one hot summer day in New York City, that changed. She was sweltering in her capris and tank top, so she decided to take off her shirt and run in just her sports bra. ‘It felt terrifying,’ she says. ‘I was consumed with what anyone would think about me. I was convinced people would be screaming at me to put a shirt on. But it felt great.’ Later, she posted about it on Instagram. ‘The comments were saying, “I could never”, “My body is not small enough to be seen,”’ she says. That sparked the idea to start the #SportsBraSquad, a social media movement that encourages and empowers women of all shapes and sizes to run in just their sports bras.
‘We have #SportsBraSquad meet-ups all over the world,’ she says. ‘It’s eye-opening and exhilarating to look around and see all these different types of bodies, and it makes you realise how much we objectify ourselves.’ Running has empowered Roberts, and given her the mental health and confidence to tackle challenges in every part of her life. She believes those benefits shouldn’t be restricted to people who feel like they look like runners. ‘I couldn’t give a flying f*ck about how far and fast people run,’ she says. ‘I want them to be challenging themselves, accomplishing things they didn’t think were possible.’
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