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)