Will I Allow My Little Girl To Be A Gymnast?

Body image is currently a focal point in the media, but then it always is. The fashion industry is setting standards, yet clearly every designer has yet to follow them and Hollywood will never catch on. Our society seems so concerned with today’s youth, and how they feel about their body, but the generation they are concerned about is the first generation physician’s predict to die before their parents of health complications related to obesity. In my opinion, eating disorders aren’t running rampant. But I stand corrected, (according to a reputable website stated below), they are still on the rise and 10/100 girls suffer from an eating disorder in 2013. What I cannot ignore, however, is that between 16 and 33 percent of children are obese. Eating disorders may be on the rise, but they are clearly the minority.

I was a level nine gymnast in USA gymnastics, training forty hours a week and going to school full time. I started as a level four as did my training hours as a third grader. I am the poster child for an eating disorder: white, affluent, and a perfectionist, and later a three sport athlete. I was later a D1 college cheerleader after I quit gymnastics so instead of improving or seeking therapy, my condition drastically declined. I had an eating disorder for over a decade.

Will I allow my little girl to go through the same thing? People I have conversations with, my boyfriend’s family, my mother, aren’t “aware”, or don’t necessarily acknowledge the obvious. “Don’t ask don’t tell” applies to almost anything you don’t really want to know in my boyfriend’s and my family. Answering this question the way I wanted was very difficult.

I will want a little girl so bad and be heartbroken at the same time if she is. If she does not want to be a gymnast I will be saddened but if I have to make the decision I will be destroyed, for I know I will have to say “yes”. I cannot let my little girl miss out on the life lessons gymnastics taught me. I know they were tough to the point of mental abuse, pushed my body past stress fractures, and I found I had repressed memories in therapy, but I loved it. I did not have a childhood, but I can’t think of what I would have rather done. I found lifelong friends, and learned what a true team was like. We had sleepovers every Friday at someone’s house because of practice on Saturday morning at 8:00 am. I found that if you do something enough times you find muscle memory and perfection, and reward in winning for yourself and your team. How could I take this from my future child should she decide she wants to be like mommy?

But there is the negative aspect of gymnastics. I have terrible arthritis at twenty-four in my fingers, knees, wrist, and toes. I am a perfectionist, and it turns out it isn’t a good thing when you have to have something perfect every time or you are a failure. Oh, and that eating disorder.

I relapse almost constantly. I feel like I have it under control and then I don’t. I have met few gymnasts and even less cheerleaders when being honest did not have a disorder of some kind. When you are required to be thin, your required to be so thin that starving yourself or purging and starving is really the only solution. We all know this. What really made my condition worse was college cheerleading. We would trade what worked and what didn’t around the table or in the car.  We all had our own little disorder.

As a parent you can take two approaches, hit it head on and fight constantly, or ignore it, “believe” your child doesn’t have an appetite and watch if she gets below 85 pounds and threaten to admit her. My parents chose not to fight with me and threaten me when I got too thin. But really, what was the best option? I never would have forgiven my parents for taking me out of either, even knowing what I do now. Which is why, even now, I still am just heartbroken when in ten years if my little girl tells me she wants to do gymnastics, I am probably going to cry, but I am also going to say “yes”.

Teenagers With Eating Disorders (http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Teenagers_With_Eating_Disorders_02.aspx)

Weight- One of the Last Acceptable Prejudices

weight-stereotyping-w724

A thigh gap is a gap in your thigh that is two inches to four inches and it is “a trend that needs to die”, and it seems a bit extreme. I believe the total aggregate of females who are either claiming that thin girls are “being discriminated against”, “muscular/fit is the new thin”, or “curvy is the new thin” has failed to remember thousands of females, especially teenagers and young women have natural gaps in their thighs. The article I set out to find was originally posted by Glamour magazine. What I found in the process is harsh cruel word in which my body is hated, and this article took an unforeseen twist examining unfeigned mean girls as a whole.

Glamour magazine asked 1,800 women ages 18-40 to imagine “overweight” women and “thin” women in a survey. They were told to imagine that they knew nothing about either of the women, yet choose words to describe the women. The results were that heavier women were described as lazy, slow, undisciplined, and giving, while thin women were perceived as conceited, bitchy, mean, and controlling. A study showed overweight women earn as much as $5,826 less than their peers, if they even got the job at all. Companies would rather hire a less qualified thin person than a more qualified overweight one. BUT the thin girl can’t be too pretty, or she has a lower chance of getting the job as well. Yes, Forbes tells me on a regular basis why I am unemployable.

According to the article, the reason that there is an issue with heavy women being labeled as giving is because the stereotype fits into the belief that thin women are NOT that way. Thin women were also described as ambitious, confident, superficial, and vain. Overweight women were additionally described as careless, passive, and insecure. Thin-shaming and fat-shaming is affecting all women negatively, and I am sorry I can only “run a mile in my own shoes”, and I only have an idea of how difficult the lives of less slender women must be. But here’s my side of things:

I am hurt on a regular basis from comments made from girls, grandmothers, strangers, and my mother. According to Glamour, the thin women surveyed reported that they were “hurt by weight prejudice in subtler ways”. A girl told Glamour that it was harder to make friends, I agree. Outside of the cheerleaders, it is incredibly hard to make friends because of how I look. I have been told I am a cold snob, or a cold bitch, an ice princess. I am quiet until I am very comfortable with you, and I repeatedly hear this after people get to know me. This is my wonderful first impression.

When you watch and read pieces of women who have struggled with weight and have been preyed upon by their peers for their weight, it is heartbreaking. Young girls have stopped eating at school because it is common for “fat girls” to eat, so it was important to break the mold for this heavy middle school girl I read about. It lead to binging after school. She was so embarrassed by her body she ate as a band-aid after school even after the hunger was gone. Yet “curvy girls” have historically been favored culturally. Only recently is it not accepted, yet very recently once again “real girls have curves”. So, what am I?

I am the girl who is another “thin girl” reads this she will also relate, and if a “curvy girl” reads this, I pray in a way she will as well. I have hated my thin body and been embarrassed to be naked after a day of trying on clothes and seeing my reflection in the mirror. I run, I continue to train for race after race, yet cannot seem to accomplish the body’s I see on pinterest or in the magazines with the muscular toned body. I try to accept myself and some days are better than others, and the comments continue regardless. Judging will never end, it does matter your jean size, and it’s unfortunate. I pray and hope we can focus more on our individual personalities, our personal morals and if they align, what is compatible, who we really are as women and girls to make friends, and instead of judging. I also believe the root of the problem is our own insecurities and lack of completion inside ourselves, not other peoples lack of perfection. However, this is all my speculation and opinion.  I also hope I represented both sides of the story in a fair manner, more from my perspective, less of a rant, and more of a representation of the heartbreaking reality of today.

Related Articles:

The Glamour Poll

http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2012/05/weight-stereotyping-the-secret-way-people-are-judging-you-based-on-your-body-glamour-june-2012?currentPage=3

http://blogcritics.org/thigh-gaps-a-trend-that-needs1/