Most kids at the age of 12 were probably playing video games and doing some chores. Me? I was training at least 36 hours a week, plastered on posters and magazines, representing the US National Team. I had no voice or option but to live up to the expectations of everyone else, so I experienced these cruel, unwanted body remarks from just about everyone— coaches, fans/gymnastics followers, National team staff, my mother, and even myself. It started when I was 13, barely weighing 70 pounds. I’ve been told I looked like I swallowed an elephant or a pig, whichever was more fitting that day. I was compared to a bird that was too fat to lift itself off the ground. If I “looked” bigger on a given day, I had to run and condition with heavy sweats until it seemed like I was “ready” to start practice. I’ve even been asked to sign a contract that would basically prohibit me from training if I did not lose weight. I still receive comments on Instagram and Youtube, and, unfortunately, all these remarks do is bring up the dark memories from when I wasn’t confident in my body; the times my self-esteem was deteriorated every time I heard and even believed these harsh critiques.
Ever since I made the team last year, I have felt pressure to live up to a certain standard and fit the stereotypical body type of a gymnast. My coach believes that me messing up or falling is a result of me being too heavy, so I have got in the habit of measuring my thighs with my hands everyday to see if I have gained any weight. Normally I can get halfway up them but today when I tried, I couldn’t. I immediately freaked out and told myself I couldn’t afford to finish my half of a sandwich for lunch this afternoon, and my dinner consisted of vegetables and hummus. I am currently experiencing some hunger pains, but if I go to sleep right now I can sleep it away. I’m used to waking up to the taste of blood or iron in my mouth, as if I might almost throw up from being so hungry.
My mom is an extremely healthy person and only shops at whole foods. Shoot, even my dog only eats organic food. My brother on the other hand, can eat whatever he wants without putting on weight so she only buys him food. She knows what it takes to be a good, healthy athlete, so she hides the food that she buys for him from me. I understand that this might be for my own benefit but at times it feels as if everywhere I look someone is telling me or doing something to let me know that I am already too big. I don’t even feel comfortable in my own home. Fortunately, she works until pretty late at night, so when I get hungry and I’m home alone I find the hidden food and eat some of it. Tonight I ate too much though. I feel disgusting, as if I can already feel the fat growing on my legs. I don’t want to get in trouble tomorrow so I must force myself to do conditioning until my conscience is clean enough to fall asleep.
Exercising at night has become exhausting. I feel uncontrollable around food when I get the chance to eat it, so I am trying a new solution. I know bulimia is not healthy, but it could potentially be the only thing to save me. I’m tired of only eating vegetables and I’m tired of running and conditioning every time I “look” like I’m a little heavier. This is the fifth Monday in a row that I have gotten kicked out because I was too heavy. I think I have become obsessed with weighing myself because I can’t start practice without stepping on the scale and I can’t leave practice without knowing I’ve lost some weight. I cry myself to sleep most of the time now and since there’s no one around to talk to, I have learned that writing is my only escape.
These are some of the first journal entries that I will share as I take you through my perspective on how body shaming has affected me throughout my life. Next post I will continue with more of my personal stories to illustrate why words can have a bigger impact than we believe.