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Body Image and Gymnastics

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Mack_the_Ripper

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Obviously, there is a big issue with body image/eating disorders and gymnastics. I hate to be a downer or bring up a topic no one wants to discuss, but I really wanted to hear some gymnastics-involved peoples' opinions on it. How do you deal with distorted body image/eating disorders in young gymnasts?

I have had problems with my body image as well. Gymnastics is a sport in which the body is on display, a performance, and this does affect me. I am, as a 14-year-old level 5, constantly working out and comparing myself to skinny-skinny pre-adolescents. I always feel like the huge, lumbering giant. However, I do very well in competition and this boosts my confidence. Anyone else have stories/advice?
 
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KBT

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I think bringing in nutritionists to emphasize how to eat to improve your gymnastics and personal trainers to emphasize the benefit of muscle may help. And encouraging gymnasts to eat healthy snacks during long training sessions.

I would also recommend the book "Eating in the Light of the Moon" by Anita Johnston for anyone you think may be slipping into disordered eating. It's the only book I've ever read that I felt someone with an eating disorder may be able to relate to.
 

nicci1999

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Dec 21, 2008
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Its kind of funny actually, as I have never been skinny, except for when I WAS suffering from an eating disorder. But gymnastics, surprisingly, has increased my body image of myself. Maybe it is because I look better now than I did even when I weighed 30 lbs less. My coach actually asked me the other night how much weight I have lost since I started, and was surprised to learn I have gained weight!

It is a little intimidating as an adult, to look at the level 9 and 10 girls, with like, 1% body fat, that still makes me feel like a cow,because I have cellulite that they dont have, and I have concluded I will never get rid of that extra pudge at the bottom of my abdomen, but other than that, for the most part, gymnastics has helped me personally
 
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Sparky

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Honestly, we haven't run into any of this yet - my dd is almost 11 and is pretty average for weight (she is a bit on the short side, tho!) She weighs about 65lbs and is quite muscular. She never ever ever talks about her weight, good or bad, she eats pretty much constantly and her main focus at this point is working hard.

I do watch for this issue, but so far (knock on wood) it hasn't arisen in our little world!

Lisa
 
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cher062

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I can't say I've seen this as an issue in any of the gyms around where we are.

My dd Turned 12 this past Friday and I guess we have always raised both our kids with good body images. We never had them embarrased about their bodies in any way. Both my kids really aren't into junk food but we never really encouraged junk food in the house either. Both would choose a health snack over the fattening food. With both me and my husband being diabetic we also have a low carb/sugar menu in the house anyway that the kids are use to.

My dd's main focus in gymnastics is the gymnastics.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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I think whether this becomes an issue really depends on the coach and on the parents. With a positive coach and supportive parents, I think the sport can be very beneficial to a kid's body image -- and with a negative coach and the wrong sort of parents, it can be devastating.
 

gymkat

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Jun 24, 2008
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Hmm, I would say that I'm probably more objective about my body as a result of doing gymnastics. I don't think any teenage gymnast could say that she's never compared herself with her teammates (particularly her smaller teammates). I'll never be skinny or have beautiful lines, and I got over that a long time ago-- although I admit that I like having people my size to work out with. On the other hand, a lot of my teammates with the beautiful lines lack my ability at punch tumbling. What matters to me is that I'm in shape, I'm healthy, and I can keep up in the gym. It's also important to take body types into account... I would be extremely underweight for my (very muscular) body type if I weighed what some of my teammates do.
 

gymdog

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I think whether this becomes an issue really depends on the coach and on the parents. With a positive coach and supportive parents, I think the sport can be very beneficial to a kid's body image -- and with a negative coach and the wrong sort of parents, it can be devastating.
This is a component, but I really think we all need to be aware that the nature of these problems is extremely complex. Sometimes having great coaches and parents isn't everything. Having struggled with related issues myself (I've never gone very far down the eating disorder road, although I've gotten too controlling once or twice), it's just very complex and I can't say I had the "wrong sort" of parents or coaches who really drove me to that point or anything. There are a lot of factors, and no family or gym is going to be immune. The most important thing anyone can do is stay aware and try to recognize the signs of control issues and be proactive in addressing them. Of course having negative influential figures is going to be a large factor for some, and I would never absolve coaches of any responsibility to be sensitive to these issues, but sometimes things are beyond everyone's control to some extent.
 

ebie2005

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Mar 29, 2009
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i have never been skinny(i build muscle very easily) and i still dont like being around the girls in my year when we are in Pe because they are all so much thinner than me but when im at the gym i dont fell like i stick out as non of the girls my age there are stick thin and i feel comfotable enough to wear a leotard which i would never fell happy doing around the girls from school as i dont evan like wearing shorts. so i think gymnastics gives a good body image
 
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gracefulone

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I was a gymnast for 13 years and never really had a major issue with it. Once and a while, sure, because I was one of the older girls, but I've been fine. When I first went to high school, I would never wear shorts, but gymnastcs, and even cheerleading helped me with my confidence. BTW I'm 120lbs , 5'4", and 17 years old.
 

I-Heart-Beam

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Sep 9, 2007
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I think gymnastics helps with self confidence etc. At the end of the day, you have to prance about in a leotard for the best part of the week, so why be embarrassed? And I definitely wasn't a pixie in any shape or form, 4 foot 11 and about 90lbs.

Guess what though, I'm now officially 5 foot 2 :) I feel so tall :D
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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This is a component, but I really think we all need to be aware that the nature of these problems is extremely complex. Sometimes having great coaches and parents isn't everything. Having struggled with related issues myself (I've never gone very far down the eating disorder road, although I've gotten too controlling once or twice), it's just very complex and I can't say I had the "wrong sort" of parents or coaches who really drove me to that point or anything. There are a lot of factors, and no family or gym is going to be immune. The most important thing anyone can do is stay aware and try to recognize the signs of control issues and be proactive in addressing them. Of course having negative influential figures is going to be a large factor for some, and I would never absolve coaches of any responsibility to be sensitive to these issues, but sometimes things are beyond everyone's control to some extent.
This is very true.
 
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cathiann

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I haven't noticed any issues at our gym. The coaches encourage healthy eating, but don't push a skinny build or anything. I think it helps the younger girls when they see our best gymnasts aren't twigs--they are healthy girls with great muscles.

And as others have said, I think gymnastics can be great for body image--you can see that your body is strong and you can do anything!
 

mbphoto

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Jan 27, 2009
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I would love to chime in on this one. My DD is 11 years old is 4 foot ten inches and weighs just under 80lbs. If she has one ounce of fat on her I would pay someone $1000 to find it. Her muscles protrude from her arms, legs, abs, back. She is the most perfectly built little thing that you will ever see. She worries constantly about over eating and asks if she looks fat. When she gets in the car, the first thing she looks at is the rear view mirror which says "airbag disabled due to insufficient weight". In other words, if you are under 80lbs. the airbag is disabled. She wants to make sure it is off and that she maintains a weight under 80lbs. I don't want to say to much about it to her because I fear giving it too much attention will make it worse. I also should mention that I was an athlete, equestrian, and I was told my entire career that I looked fine for street clothes but I could stand to drop 10lbs or so to fit the absurd look of an equestrian rider. At the time, I was between the ages of 16 - 18, was about 5'3" and weighed under 100 lbs. I was very thin when I look back. This message was drilled into my head and to this day I have a very poor self body image. I appear in my head, when I look in the mirror, about 10lbs heaver than a really am. Today, I am a little over 5'3", have had 2 children, am 44 years old and weigh 117 lbs. I know that is not overweight but when I see myself in the mirror, I appear to myself overweight. Be very careful with your little athletes and make sure you tell them how perfect their very strong bodies are. Negative words about this, can have life long effects. So I say to all of you who spend hours and hours exercising in the gym. Appreciate you body and know that you are perfect for you.
 
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TeamDad

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While you can start learning good nutrition at any age, it doesn't hurt to teach our kids good eating habits early on. It's not easy as most people really are not educated in what foods are not good for your body even if you aren't an athlete.

We started in pre-K dealing with school snacks and birthday parties. We were met with tolerance at this point at being extreme on this subject, but the school did exercise moderate practices so it wasn't a big stretch.

When dd went to kindergarten at a different school we complained pretty regularly about the things she was eating in class. After one day where she had birthday cupcakes in the morning, oreos for snack and birthday cupcakes in the afternoon we were very upset. DD came home shaking and acting like a crazed animal until she finally crashed. Her body just wasn't used to having these things in such a large quantity that it was a real problem.

The school told us to send her with her own food which we were happy to do. It wasn't easy for her at first as the school would serve oreos and cupcakes and she would take some carrot sticks, yogurt, apple sauce, nuts or whatever out of her bag. We then allowed her to have a small amount of these other snacks as well as her own.
She learned moderation and would savor her one or two bites of cupcake. We educated her on nutrition and the why's of this is healthy and this is not. She learned the names of chemicals, food preservatives and so on and learned to start reading ingredient labels on her own.

At first grade, dd started school cafeteria lunch. She complained about how gross all the food was. My wife started talking to the chef about what he was serving and how he could easily add a few healthy items without too much trouble. The school immediately got involved and asked for a meeting. My wife assembled a book of information on nutrition and brought examples of the 'bad things' as well as ingredient lists and health benefits and hazards.

The school basically said that they couldn't afford to provide the types of nutritional foods that my wife was suggesting without raising the cost to parents. My wife then provided the information for a caterer that was known for their healthy and nutritious foods and cost exactly the same. The school then had us sign a paper that said if we ever spoke about this subject again to any parent or faculty member, dd would be kicked out of school. So we just started sending her with her own lunch every day, however....they didn't say that we couldn't speak to the mayor of our city or the president of the united states....so that is exactly what we did.

While we haven't changed the culture at our school, we have seen certain things become more mainstream in our state like the banning of trans fats for example.

While you can't change your body type, you absolutely can control what you eat. Alot of healthy food alternatives are becoming popular and are readily available, but they do cost more than the mainstream foods.
 

coachmolly

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I have a very negative body image to this day as a result of gymnastics. I was never tiny, any muscle I put on was bulky muscle and I looked like a brick wall. Because of this, the one gym I went to passed me over for their top team, forcing me to compete USAIGC. The coaches of this A team often talked about how I would never learn new skills because I was too fat to be spotted. My personal coach would give me extra conditioning to try to slim me down and one time she saw me looking in the mirror and asked if I was looking at how fat I was. I was always very nervous around my teammates who were much smaller than me, especially after switching to a new gym where I was one of the oldest and biggest. Going to college meets with my mom I would almost always see girls who were bigger than me and I would almost always say to my mom, "I wasn't that big was I?" Yet I was never given the chance to reach the college level which I wanted more than anything because my coaches brushed me off as being too big to bother with.
Now, over 5 years after I finished with competitive gymnastics, I still look in the mirror and see myself as huge. I'm very hard on myself about my size and how clothes look on me. I obviously still love gymnastics and don't hold anything against it for these past experiences, but I really hate to hear about it happening to anyone. Parents and coaches do play a big part in how a gymnast views his/her body, but personality is also a huge factor. Some kids with the best parents and coaches possible but with the right (or wrong) combination of personality factors, can just as easily fall into the trap of negative body image as kids with negative parents and coaches and a different set of personality traits.
 

jls1969

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Sep 27, 2007
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Well--I can't believe this has been brought up just this very week. My dd had to seek counseling under the advice of our pediatrician to rule out an eating disorder. She has a hard time maintaining weight. She is 12--4'7" and 68 pounds. She is a very lean build and has the pretty lines of someone with that lean type of muscle mass. Funny thing is, she doesn't necessarily see this as a good thing. She told the doctor that she has a hard time keeping her muscle strength (which is true in that body type) if she is out of the gym for any period of time. She also is embarrassed when she isn't in the gym and she is small--she wants to wear clothes most other 12 yo are wearing. She isn't close to puberty and her younger sister is. She also knows that if she doesn't gain some weight...her ped might make her take a bit of a break from the gym. BTW--she doesn't have an ED. She is petite and no body fat. I think she looks great for a gymnast---it is strange to hear her struggle with it though.

I do wonder how all of this will play into her image of herself as she grows older. Will she accept that she is built the way she is or always see herself as not having the perfect body to do what she wants. It is interesting to hear it from both sides of the coin---those that struggle b/c they are more muscular and those that aren't. I like to point out that all gymnasts have different bodies and are successful---Mary Lou, Shawn, Shannon and Nastia. I try and point this out to my dd when this topic comes up....

I also like the poster that said the parent, coach and gym could all be doing the right thing---and a negative self-image will still develop in the child. These kids are perfectionists with type A personalities---a common personality trait in kids with ED's. As parents--we need to be aware and in communication with the coaches if we even suspect something is off. I also know we all want the best for our kids and am glad we have this forum to be reminded of the challenges of this sport our kids love!
 
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dancing9118000

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Good timing for this thread. I am a 5'7" level 7 female gymnast. Good body image is something I lack big time. I weigh about 130 lbs and I really am not happy with that number. It is definitely hard for me because I am very tall for gymnastics. I am the second tallest in my gym, including coaches so I empathize with people who can't learn skills because the coaches can't spot me. Luckily, my coaches don't mention my largeness but I still am not comfortable with myself. My parents always tell me I look chubby which really bothers me but they are both overweight so I tend to think they are a little jealous. I have been working hard to try and lose a little weight by eating healthy which is hard because I love soda and restaurant food.
 
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gymchick14

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I understand the constant emphasis on perfection, even your body. My twin sisters (also a gymnast) had anorexia nervosa and her weight got as low at 65 plbs. She went to a clinic and is now recovering. On the other side, gymnasts get made fun of at school for being "small-chested" and "short". Gymnastics, as a sport, sorry, but has a completed distorted body image.
 
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