What Does Size Inclusion Mean to You?

female physiology size inclusion triathlon triathlon coaching Jul 10, 2023

It's become an industry buzz phrase, but what does "size inclusion" really mean? Is it apparel companies making merchandise for all body types? Is it a store making everyone feel welcome? Or, is it an energy or vibe emanating from an event or coach that lets you know that you belong?


By Carrie Barrett


In 2001, I joined a running group. I was new to Austin, didn’t have a social network outside of my job, and was reeling from a relationship-gone-sour. 


As a short girl in a bigger body with large breasts, we had stores we were relegated to for our clothing. My people went to Lane Bryant because that’s where you found, “plus sizes.” And for athletic wear? Good Lord, don’t even bother. I remember a boy telling me in high school that he would come to my basketball games just to watch me run up and down the court. That’s how unsupportive the bras were at that time (and how cruel teenagers were). 


So, I was an aspiring runner who was motivated to change but scared to death of the inevitable ridicule and humiliation. There was a very popular running store in Austin at the time and even though this new running group met at the store on Saturdays, I was too intimidated to walk in to even look for shorts or shoes. I just knew the tall skinny dude would look at me and say, “We have nothing here for you.” 


Now, let me be clear. That was my perception. Remember, I had to go to a special store to buy work clothes. Surely, this store with their short shorts and tank tops (I mean, who wears tank tops!?) wouldn’t have anything for me. 


I assumed that they weren’t size-inclusive because, let’s face it, no one was (except for those special stores that everyone watched you walk in because they were located in CROWDED MALLS). My mind was convinced I’d be laughed out of the real running store and sent walking elsewhere. Why? Because I didn’t see anyone like me walking through the doors. 

So, here we are over 20 years later, and “size inclusivity” is a thing (Yes!), but what is it exactly? Is it simply apparel companies making merchandise for all body types? Is it a store making everyone feel welcome? Or, is it an energy or vibe emanating from an event or coach that lets me know I belong?


I reached out to a few female athletes, coaches, and event directors to get their take on what size inclusivity means to them and why they believe representation matters.


photo: @swimbikerunfunevents 


Camille Baptiste (Event Director Founder SwimBikeRunFun, Athlete, Coach): 


As a race director and athlete, size inclusion holds great significance for me. It encompasses more than simply offering a wider range of sizes in clothing and apparel - that is actually only a microdata point. It embodies an energy that cultivates an environment of inclusivity and acceptance.


"At SBR Fun Club & Events, size inclusion means much more than just accommodating athletes of varying sizes. It represents a commitment to embracing diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and abilities. We consciously choose to portray real-life athletes and women from our community in our marketing materials. This approach aims to communicate a powerful message: you belong here, you are capable of overcoming challenges, you are not alone, and your age, size, or background does not limit your potential in triathlons and endurance cycling. 


Recognizing the importance of size inclusion is crucial if we aspire to attract new athletes and foster the growth of the sport. We also realize that many ordinary women, and even some ethnic groups have body types that are very different naturally from the standard triathlete images. By embracing size inclusion, we create a space where everyone feels welcomed and encouraged to participate, regardless of their size or speed.”


 photo: @adina_oneill_real_fitness


Adina O’Neill (Coach and Founder Team BReal, Athlete, Event Director):


“All good coaches approach training struggles and roadblocks individually for each athlete. When talking about size inclusion, that includes the never-ending battle against the perception that "small equals fit." We must be sensitive to content that erroneously defines average women athletes as 120 lbs, or that highlights losing weight to improve performance. The focus needs to be on the athlete and the best way to advance their training to reach their goal.


We must also ensure that team kits and casual wear are available in appropriate sizes. Asking larger women to order men’s sizes or pay extra for larger sizes (particularly with custom gear that can run small) is not an equitable or acceptable solution."


photo: @biancatriathlon 


Bianca Fernandez-Clark (Multisport Athlete):


“I see myself as bigger than the typical athletes in my sport with an unconventional body, and that’s because of the lack of representation. I don’t see people like me at the front of the race being portrayed near enough, especially when there are so many successful athletes that don’t fit the super skinny definition.” 


The needle has definitely moved on size inclusivity. We are seeing women of all body types in flattering tights, shorts, race kits, and, yes, even tank tops. Even wetsuits, which have historically been limited in size now have companies expanding their size range. Orca, for example, has launched women’s specific Medium-Wide and Large-Wide sizes, broadening their sizing range so more athletes can access wetsuits that offer both performance and comfort. There are events that celebrate and encourage diversity of ALL types at their events, and there are coaches who elevate people at all levels and sizes to do something extraordinary.

However, as with any massive shift in culture, there is still a ton of work to do to eradicate the stigma that people in bigger sizes are somehow “not real athletes,” but with people like Camille, Bianca, and Adina out there, they are proving that size does matter, but more than size, it’s the PEOPLE in those bodies who matter most. And, those people can be fit, fast, and (of course), Feisty.


PS - For the record, I went on to shop in that running store for years to come and they never once told me I didn’t belong.  


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