Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Olympian Thin

Last week, Kim at Adventure in Wanting wrote a great post about female Olympians and weight, questioning whether the demands of different sports do or don't lead women to eating orders.

I think that sometimes they do and some sports are more dangerous for EDs than others. I've read about gymnastics coaches yelling at their pupils to lose weight with bulimia as the out-product. I've heard of figure skaters continually told to reduce weight because of the way they look in their outfits and the ice. when your clothes are that skimpy and so much skin is displayed (some string beans are bigger than those skating costumes), and you're NOT a natural string bean, i'd think you'd need to restrict.

Weight aside (do i ever put weight aside?), something else that bothers me is the stunting of the girls growth when they start sport so young, practise so hard and need to look thin. (if you're exercising strenously many hours a day, i think you'd be ravenously hungry. restriction would make me crazy.) i recall one gymnast saying she didn't get her period until her early 20s! i don't think she's alone.

i've heard many stories, usually in gymastics, about delayed growth due to exercise. gymnasts and their coaches openly share that the gymnast is shorter and her periods start later because of the sport. you can see it, right? and what about those little, squeaky voices?

one of my sister's friend's, kathy, has a 15 year old daughter, jackie, who's a tennis star. jackie practises six days a week, runs and lift weights. kathy, her mother (!), laughs that Jackie's adorably not even 5', as her height's been obviously effected by all the tennis. this isn't scientific evidence, but jackie kind of does have one of those little voices. i don't mean to criticize her; i just worry. i hope i'm not right.

How is this acceptable? Why is this even legal?

i really didn't do a ton of research today -- this is pretty anecdotal. does anyone else know more about this than i?

i don't do gratitude lists often but today's gratitude is-- I'M HOME FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS. MAYBE MORE. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. Glad you're home for a couple days!

    Thanks for the shout-out. I think this is a complicated topic. Gymnastics and figure skating are subjective sports, which someone brought up on my blog. That makes things sticky. Appearance can affect scores, I suppose, because these athletes aren't being judged by a stopwatch or something else objective. That said, I've heard plenty of positive experiences from gymnastics (and witnessed it myself, as I was pretty involved with the sport up until high school). I have no doubt that elite athletes are under lots of pressure, and some coaches are jackasses. That's true. Excessive involvement in sports DOES delay maturity too. This happened to friends of mine in gymnastics. It's just so much working out that there isn't enough fat on the body to trigger "womanhood." I'm not sure how this affects health long-term. I was pretty active and naturally thin and didn't develop until 16-17 years old. That's late! I don't think it was necessarily bad; it's just what happened with my body. I think the main issue is the individual. Do they want to be this aggressive in their sport? Are they emotionally healthy? Physically healthy? Is there any kind of abuse or exorbitant pressure in the sport? There are plenty of athletes who love what they do and may develop later due to their workouts. Many of them go on to be perfectly healthy women, mentally and physically. I really think it depends on the person.

  2. I definitely think some sports put more pressure on athletes to be thin more so then others. Mostly sports like ballet, ice skating, gymnastics where the subjective beauty of the sport is affected by appearance. Where having a smaller leaner body actually aids in performance. Not to say that skiiers, volleyball players or runners don't have to be fit or don't have pressure to maintain their body but but being SMALL is not as important in those sports hence less pressure.

  3. I highly recommend the book 'Little Girls in Pretty Boxes', which is kind of a behind-the-scenes into what gymnasts and figure skaters go through in training, and it does discuss EDs specifically.

    One thing that has always struck me during the summer olympics is that gymnastics is the one sport that really doesn't have Men's and Women's teams, it is almost always Men's and Girl's, in reality. Of course there are exceptions, I thought it was awesome that the silver medalist in 2008 was so "old" for a gymnast, but still, that's kind of an exception that proves the rule.

  4. I was a gymnast my whole life; I didn't get my period until I was 17. Who knows if it's related or not....

  5. that said, I never felt any pressure to be thin or lose weight in gymnastics. I always felt good about my body when I did gymnastics. I do think gymnastics contributed to me having SUCH A STRONG identification with a "small, thin, and fit" body though. And that identification did contribute to my ed....

  6. I wasn't super athletic as a kid, but I was malnourished in a way. I didn't get my period until I was nearly 16. I was painfully thin most of my formative years. Not on purpose, mind you. I wanted some meat on my bones. But my foster parents saw things differently, and we weren't allowed any snacks, and were only allowed to have vegetables on the first helping of food. No sugar was ever offered, and everything was as bland as a raw potato. If we were really hungry between meals, we were told to get a slice of plain bread, which we often did. My sister and I used to scour the property for crab apples and blackberries, which most likely contributed to our strong immune systems, as I was hardly ever sick. In tenth grade I weighed only 80 pounds, and was not yet five feet tall. I shot up in my senior year, as I was sent to a different foster home where I was allowed to eat normally. I was 5'2 when I went to that home, and am now 5'6.

    I'm thinking that Gran may have had an eating disorder by proxy. She was an odd one, all right. All five of us were extremely thin, to the point where people would make fun of us.

    I hated it.

  7. An interesting other side of that is how many girls are getting there periods at a much younger age due to the added chemicals they are putting in the food now. And the higher fat levels and increased weight of kids. I read about it in this book the death of the american suppermarket or something.

    Just a thought.

  8. Wow, until I read Kim's comment, I'd never realized that figure skating and gymnastics are subjective sports. But it's true; in baseball, the runner rounds home plate and there's a point. In basketball, getting a basket is indisputable. A real eye opener.

    The worst part is, I must have said a million times that the only sports I like are skating and gymnastics. Please get your MSW so you can figure me out, huh?

  9. I worked with a girl who did competition gymnastics as a teenager. She said that the pressure on her to be thin was so great that, as an adult, she had no concept of how to eat without thinking of her weight.

    At the age of 25 she was so thin it was very sad to see her struggle with eating.

  10. I would just think that when you are ice skating for 40 hours a week you could eat as much as you want of anything because your activity level would be so high.

    But then, having NEVER exercised 40 hours a week, I know nothing...

    Interesting, thought-provoking post...