Melanie Chambers: travel writer, university instructor

"When I started cycling, I had to ask myself: Do I want to 'look good' or do I want to have a strong body that can ride longer and stronger?"


A few years ago, I posed naked for the first time for a life drawing class. It got me thinking about how I have such a different relationship with my body now than I did when I was in my teens and 20s. Now that I’m 46, I feel good about my body. I’ve always been a free spirit, and it feels like the confidence I have in my body has finally caught up to the confidence I’ve had in my head for a long time. But it’s been a process to get here. 

I look at old photos and I always wore exceptionally baggy clothes. I had anorexia when I was a teenager. I remember friends telling me, “You look so good,” and thinking, “Wow, did I look shitty before?” I was so skinny and ill. I was feeding off a skewed, sick perception of what I should look like. When I started cycling and mountain biking in my early 20s, I had to ask myself, which one do I want more? Do I want to “look good” or do I want to actually have a strong body that can ride longer and stronger? 

I became a writer around the same time I started cycling. I went on cycling trips for stories in places like Morocco and the Philippines, and I saw how other women and girls looked at me when I was on my bike. I was an unwitting ambassador. Instead of hiding my legs, I loved when people came up and said, “You’re a cyclist?” I was proud of how strong I was. Instead of hiding my monstrous thunder thighs, I owned it. 

I have psoriasis on my legs. It started off as little patches of eczema, which is exacerbated by stress. So when my mother died almost two years ago, my body just went out of whack. From my knees down, it looked like giant mosquitoes had attacked me. I’d be walking downtown and people wouldn’t look me in the eye. They’d look at my legs. 

The psoriasis has improved a lot – cutting out wine has helped – but it really got me thinking how if there’s an imperfection on your body, people gravitate to that before even looking you in the eye. I started letting my psoriasis define me, but after a while I thought, “Who cares? If that’s the first thing people notice, well too bad. They’re going to miss out on the other things that I am.” Like my giant muscular legs, my psoriasis is a part of me now.

My mom and I used to do Jane Fonda exercise cassettes together, and I remember Fonda saying that it wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she starting waking up and not feeling anxious anymore in her body. Now that I’m in my 40s, I’ve stopped listening to those inner nagging voices. I listen to my own voice. 


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See last year’s Body Issue here.

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