An Athlete's Struggle With Body Image

I thought I had conquered body image without even needing to fight it. I was never the type of girl to pour over pictures of models in magazines. I thought I was proof that all of those “it’s all Photoshop; real women don’t look like that” lectures actually worked. I realized when I was very young that my natural body is just a bit larger than a typical model’s body. I told myself that if I would have to starve myself or hurt myself or do anything dangerous to look like models do, then I was not interested in looking like them at all.

Size 0 supermodels were, and still are, non-entities in my mind. I was never interested in the world of fashion or photography, so I have very few references in my mind upon which to base my ideas of how a model is supposed to look. Sure, I watched America’s Next Top Model, but even then, I never felt compelled to reinvent myself to look like the girls I saw on the screen. Nor was I ever discouraged that there were very few girls on the show who had a body similar to mine. It was just a show, I thought, and not applicable to my real life.

Many of my female role models, from when I was young until now, were athletes. Mia Hamm and Briana Scurry were the major ones, and I have admired them ever since I kicked a soccer ball for the first time. These days, I use Twitter and Instagram solely to follow softball players.

When I see a female athlete, I cannot help but notice her body. When a soccer player scores a goal, for instance, I try so hard to notice right away her excellent form and body placement, her power, and her athleticism. As a former soccer player myself, my coaches taught me to focus on those parts of myself when I was practicing. But, part of me will always perceive how well sculpted her arms and legs are and how lean and muscular she is. I can never block this out, no matter how impressive her skills are. And I will always want to look like her, not simply to perform as well as she does in soccer.

I suppose it’s the same as a girl who loves fashion, photography, and modeling. A girl who idolizes models appreciates the clothes that the model is wearing and the artistic frame of her figure captured in a photograph because she is conditioned to do so. But, there is always a part of her that cannot help but notice the model’s thigh gaps or protruding collar bones and think that she must aspire to look like that.

Since sixth grade I have attended countless school-sponsored presentations on the “dangers of believing in Photoshop” and “why we should love our body for how it is.” The message has been drilled into my mind so many times that I at one time believed that I had pushed past it. I knew that Photoshop existed, and I knew that size 0 models exemplify the exception of all female bodies, not the norm, but I can see a female athlete who is my exact jean size and I can still want to look more like her. Her jeans are filled with solid muscle. Her abs show without even flexing. I do leg lifts and sit-ups in the gym just to gain some of the muscle that she has. I burst with excitement when I flex my leg and I can feel a concrete block of muscle in my calf, and I’m one step closer to looking as badass as she does. And, I justify my desire to look like her because she exists in real life, without Photoshop.

But, after thinking about it, I realized that I had not transcended into that magical land of body acceptance just because I had moved beyond supermodels. These female athletes, like the models on the covers of magazines, are also the exception, not the norm. They push their bodies to the absolute limit. Just like my body is naturally larger than a size 0 model’s, it likewise does not have the ability to retain muscle like world-renowned athletes do. And maybe I was entertaining the idea of doing something harmful to my body to achieve my desired look, such as lifting more weight than I could handle.

Every woman I have met has had her own struggle with body positivity. I honestly think it’s something intrinsically human in us; we admire what we see in others and desire it to be our own. I never experienced that “typical” moment that we see in all the teen television dramas, where the girl sees a model in a magazine and starves herself for the rest of the twenty-minute episode, only to magically get over it by the episode’s end (I’m looking at you, Full House). But, just because I never dealt with that specific type of body image issue does not mean that I never dealt with body image issues at all.

I may not have conquered body image yet, but I am definitely trying.


Image credits: 1, 2