In the summer of 2008, I was on vacation with my family at Disney World. After a long day at the parks, I spent every moment we had in the hotel room watching the Beijing Olympics. This is when I fell in love with watching gymnastics!
I remember watching Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin and the rest of the women’s team absolutely destroy their events – doing flips! spins! splits! tumbles! the rest! (I don’t know gymnastics terms!) I was enthralled! I wanted to be as strong as them, fly through the air like them, be as confident as them, the whole thing!
While watching one night, one of my family members commented on how chubby the girls looked. Why were they wearing leotards when their legs were so fat? If they worked out so much, why weren’t they all skinny?
My brain started short-circuiting. They’re some of the strongest athletes in the world! It’s all muscle! They responded, Eh, is it worth being so strong if they look so chunky? I wouldn’t want to look that heavy.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to reckon with these conflicting values. Do I want to be strong and healthy? Or do I want to look thin and “beautiful”, according to traditional values?Continue reading “Mental Health October: Exercise and Body Image”