Columnist: Perth, on a bike, in a swimsuit... but who cares?

Sheona Small took part in a triathlon... Stock pic: Dave Swan
Sheona Small took part in a triathlon... Stock pic: Dave Swan

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve been reminded of something and, as a flush of embarrassment sweeps over you, you say to yourself: “What on earth was I thinking?”

As one progresses down this winding road of life, those moments happen less frequently, mainly because by my age you’ve had more been-there-done-that-what-an-idiot moments than there are left to experience. But it’s also because while age does not necessarily bring wisdom, it does come with a welcome imperviousness to what others think. Most of the time, that is.

My bucket list ranges from the simple to the sensational. One of which has been to do a triathlon. Wow, I hear you say, that’s impressive. Well, yes and no. I’ve now ticked it off the list but, coming the day after the Olympics women’s triathlon, a ‘fun’ event in Perth didn’t demand the same level of athleticism, at least from me.

However, fun event or not, put a bunch of people together in teams and we can get competitive. Which is how I found myself – unable to pull shorts up over my still-wet legs – taking off on the cycling section clad only in a swimsuit and cycle helmet. It was a sight I don’t think the good folk of rural Perthshire were quite ready for.

To be honest, I was too knackered and carried away with the sunshine and team spirit to care. Until I saw a picture from the event a few days later.

My first reaction was to cringe and wish I could turn back the clock to make at least one more effort to get those shorts on. Put it this way, had I been on a certain beach in the south of France it could have been the first case of the gendarme requesting a woman put ON a cover-up burkini.

But then I got to pondering and – modesty and good taste aside – why was I so mortified? I’m a middle-aged woman and my body is living proof of the Buddhist view that you are the heir to your own actions but it has also helped me do amazing things. So why am I, and society as a whole, so down on anything that doesn’t fit a near-impossible ideal?

I’m a huge fan of the #thisgirlcan campaign – my personal favourite soundbite being “I jiggle therefore I am” – which has encouraged thousands of women to get active but there is a bit of a rub in there. It’s aimed squarely at women but still uses the word girl.

I love the philosophy of being young at heart but as if it wasn’t bad enough that ageing is promoted as an unforgivable sin by a multi-billion pound beauty industry, we’re still encouraged to think of ourselves as ‘girls’ rather than fully-grown women. It’s often said that middle-age is when women find themselves becoming invisible, not just to those younger than them but in terms of issues surrounding their lives – menopause discussion anyone?

But my generation are following in the footsteps of pioneers and we’re not going quietly into old age. In fact, I’m not going quietly anywhere and will continue shouting “woohoo” at the top of my voice as I hurtle down hills for as long as I’m able to pedal up them.