2017 was quite the year for Bryony Gordon. Not only did she run the London marathon, she also had the privilege of interviewing Prince Harry and encouraging him to open up about his own mental health issues.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions,” the groom-to-be admitted on Bryony’s mental health podcast Mad World.
The topic of mental health is an important one for Telegraph journalist Bryony. Not only has she battled her own demons since the age of 12, she’s also written a book, Mad Girl, on the subject.
And mental health played a part in Bryony coming together with plus size model, and ambassador for Young Minds, Jada Sezer.
That, and bras for bigger busted ladies.
The pair met over a table of sports bras and later hatched a plan to run the London Marathon together.
“We were keen to show curvier girls the benefits of exercise on body confidence, to prove that you didn’t have to look like a professional athlete to run,” Bryony explains.
While out training one day the stakes were raised a notch higher after deciding not just to run, but to run the entire 26.2 miles in their underwear. “Athletes basically run in the smallest shorts and crop tops, why couldn’t somebody who’s a size 16 do that?” Jada laughs.
So this Sunday Bryony and Jada will be joining the 40,000-strong throng of runners, and while there’s sure to be plenty of outrageous fancy dress costumes, it’s unlikely anyone else will be pounding the pavements in their bra and pants.
Like Bryony did last year, they are running for Heads Together, the charity set up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Not only do they hope to keep the mental health conversation going, they’re also hoping to prove that running is for everyone, no matter their body shape.
Yahoo Style UK caught up with the inspirational duo backstage at the London Marathon expo for a chat about changing body image perceptions, channelling Meghan Markle and chafing.
We bonded over sports bras
Jada: We’d been asked to go along to a retreat with Lululemon, but had never met before. All they said was meet us at this store, don’t pack anything just come along. When we got there they said this is the checklist you can take anything you want from the store. So naturally I headed over to the sports bra part because as a curvier girl I struggle to find good sports bras. Bryony was there too and we got chatting. There was only one H cup bra left and she was like ‘you know what Jada you can have it.’ So we basically bonded over big boob problems and finding the right sports bras.
From sofa surfer to runner
Jada: I’d never run before. When Bryony told me she’d done the London Marathon I thought ‘wow if somebody like Bryony can do it, surely I can too?’ I just threw it out there and said I’d really love to do it. I didn’t know how far it actually was or how far that would actually feel on foot. But the next week Bryony called me up and she’d got me a space and we could run it together.
Gutsy girls was born
Jada: The idea to run in our underwear came about on one of our long distance training runs. We were talking about how both of us had loads of messages from girls saying it was inspiring seeing curvier girls training to run a marathon. We thought to make a real statement why don’t we just do it in our underwear? We’re not hiding our bodies, we’re not ashamed of them. Proper athletes run in tiny shorts and tops, we’ve just got more to cover. We became the Gutsy Girls, because we’ve got a bit of a gut and it takes a lot of guts to do it.
My mum still shudders when I mention it
Bryony: It’s not that she shudders at the thought of me in my underwear, just the whole idea. It surprised me how shocked people were about it. And how many people tried to explain things to us. On Instagram lots of people said oh why aren’t you running proper sports clothes, as if it hadn’t occurred to us? It’s almost like they can’t comprehend a different body shape doing that.
We’re most worried about chafing
Bryony: There was a point where we were worried we were going to be too cold because for the marathon you have to train through the winter and we had some ice cold training runs where we could hardly breathe. But chafing is the biggest worry now. The main thing is prevention rather than cure. Every half an hour we’ll be having an energy gel so I think when we have one of those we’ll slap on some more Bodyglide.
Running in your underwear is liberating
Bryony: I walk around naked quite happily. My daughter is like ‘mummy you’re really embarrassing’. The London marathon is full of people in crazy costumes so I don’t think anyone is going to bat an eyelid. When we did a training run in Ibiza in our underwear no one took any notice, even when we ran through a construction site. Someone tooted a horn but it was to move us out of the road not because we were in our underwear.
Exercise is for everyone
Bryony: If we inspire one woman to get out and run we’ll be happy. It’s not like we’re saying you have to run a marathon in your underwear. When I first started running I literally thought everyone was going to laugh at me. That was in my head, of course actually no one is really looking at you because everyone is in their own world. The first time I ever ran I looked like I was on day release. I was wearing a pair of battered converse, tracksuit bottoms, my husband’s ‘Star Wars’ t-shirt. Then I got about 10 minutes in and realised I’d need water, went back home and the only bottle I could find was my daughter’s Tommee Tippee sippy cup. But it didn’t matter.
Run your way to better mental health
Bryony: It’s more about helping your mental health than it is creating a personal best. I get really irritated when people ask what time we’re going for because its not about that.
Jada: As a non runner I didn’t understand what a PB (personal best) was or the language associated with running. To me the biggest accomplishment is just actually getting to the finishing line, that’s my personal best.
It’s about representation
Jada: When it comes to body positivity, if you don’t see it you don’t believe that it exists. It’s good to see people of different shapes and sizes running and playing sports. In most sports campaigns there aren’t really girls my size. I would never have thought that running a marathon was something someone my size could do and the only reason I know I can now is because of Bryony doing it before. You don’t have to fit into a mould to do something like this, you can just do it because you want to.
Body confidence is a journey
Bryony: I’ve had a life long battle with body confidence. I’ve had bulimia, I’ve been overweight, underweight. I’m categorised as obese. I’m between 14.5 and 15.5 stone and hearing those figures you’re like OMG. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. People have entirely different bodies and we need to see those different bodies. The tiny, stupid argument against plus size is some people think it encourages it but that’s not what it does. It’s about saying this is the way I am.
Fight negativity with positivity
Jada: Body shaming can really affect you. Who has the right to do that to you? Oprah said this once ‘you can never fight negative energy with negative energy.’ And that’s so true you never get any positivity out of retaliation so you should let it spur you on. You can’t please everyone, so just do you.
The royals will be cheering us on
Bryony: They know that we’re running in our underwear and, like a good sports bra, they are very supportive. Meghan is really flying the flag for body positivity. Last year was insane, doing the marathon, meeting Prince Harry and being a tiny part of a watershed moment in mental health history. But the royals are just so normal so it wasn’t until afterwards that I was like, ‘did that happen?’ It’s not so much that I was sitting there interviewing Harry, it was more that I played a tiny part in them changing the way we talk about mental health.
Next up? Moving the mental health conversation forward
Bryony: Last year the royals started the conversation, this year it feels like we’re changing it, talking about self-esteem and body image. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in a year, but we’ve still got a way to go. I’d like that we didn’t talk about physical health or mental health but health.
Jada: It’s recognising that we go to the gym for our body and having those facilities in place to look after your mind too. It should be part of our every day life, we shouldn’t need to talk about our mental health it should be just something we recognise and nurture.
Bryony: We’re definitely going to do another project together.
Jada: I would never have done this on my own.
Bryony: I would never have done it again without you.
To sponsor Bryony and Jada, go to https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/GutsyGirls.
Bryony’s book Eat, Drink, Run.: How I Got Fit Without Going Too Mad is out in May.
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