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“I’ve Never Had an Eating Disorder, and I’m Proud of That”

By Amanda Connerton--At 21, I graduated undergrad, was accepted to graduate school and stared working my first 9-5 job, while simultaneously learning about the pain of paying off student loans and the real world.

At 21, Aly Raisman, an already Olympic gold medalist, is preparing to potentially be one of the top athletes going to the Rio Games next year.

In a nude ESPN photoshoot and interview, Raisman bares it all, both literally and figuratively.

She’s a gymnast and she’s proud. She’s proud of her accomplishments: in 2012 she won two gold medals as well as a bronze. She’s proud of her dedication to prepare: “I'm always eating healthy, always going to bed early. Everything I put into my body is for the purpose of gymnastics.”

She’s proud of her ability to take a step back and practice self-care; after the 2012 games she explains how she and teammate Gabby Douglas took a year off from the sport to recuperate and prevent being “burnt out” like most other athletes. In addition to all that, the Olympian is specifically proud of one more thing: her body.

It’s no secret that gymnasts are some of the fittest people you’ve ever seen. In fact, you can probably pick on out in a crowd just by looking at them. A gymnast’s body is their greatest instrument and they need to be taken care of with training, stretching, recovery, hydration, and proper nutrition (just to name a few things).

The gymnastics world however has gotten some scrutiny in terms of body image, rigorous training, and pressure on girls to keep their bodies in a certain state. At first thought, it seems pretty straight forward: if you want to perform well, you have to prepare.

Unfortunately, some athletes take their preparation to the extreme, to the point where it becomes unhealthy. In an attempt to be “the best”, some athletes increase their training and decrease their intake (consumption of food) because they think that’s what it takes to make it to the next level. Eating disorders are no stranger to the world of gymnastics. They are however, a stranger to Aly Raisman, which she is pleased to share.

“I've never had an eating disorder, and I'm proud of that. I think gymnastics in the past had a bad reputation for that, but it's not an issue anymore. I've never seen an issue among the girls on the national team.”

There are a few issues I have with her wording; let’s break it down. “I’ve never had an eating disorder, and I’m proud of that.” Though I think it is wonderful that you’ve never suffered from an eating disorder, it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you have. There’s nothing wrong with being proud, just remember that people have different things to be proud of.

My next issue is with the perspective on eating disorders and its relationship with the gymnastics community. Though Raisman points out that there has been a prevalence of eating disorder in her sport, she is quick to say that it is no longer an issue, especially because she’s never “seen” one of her teammates deal with one.

I’d first like to point out that you can’t always spot an eating disorder. Mental illness can’t be easily identified like someone’s hair color. Not to mention the fact that eating disorders are extremely secretive illnesses and most sufferers try and keep it hidden.

Though I’m sure Raisman is just trying to support her sport and pledge that eating disorders are not contractual when signing up, I find it a little irresponsible and wrong to confidently claim that eating disorders in gymnastics are a thing of the past.

She does however go on to say something that makes me happy to hear: she’s learned to embrace her body. For some reason, women with muscles get a bad rap. Society has bred the idea that as women, we are supposed to be dainty, delicate, and slim, leaving little room for deviation. Aly Raisman considers her body that deviation and is proud of it.

She says “I think imperfection is beauty. Instead of being insecure about my muscles, I've learned to love them. I don't even think of it as a flaw anymore because it's made me into the athlete that I am.” As an athlete, I can attest to the fact that our bodies affect our performance. That being said, it’s more about the function, health, and ability of our bodies rather than their aesthetics, that make or break our athletic success.

Here’s a recap:

  1. Eating Disorders are nothing to be ashamed of.
  2. Any gymnast, athlete, or person in general can at one point in time suffer from an eating disorder. No one is immune.
  3. Eating disorders are not a game of “spot the difference”- the naked eye usually can’t detect if someone is sick.
  4. Though she’s young, Aly Raisman is wise, dedicated, and intuitive and sends a great message on body image and acceptance.

Three cheers for Aly Raisman and we hope to see you at Rio ’16!

About the blogger: Amanda is a recent psychology graduate soon going for her doctorate in Clinical Psychology with concentrations in Forensic and Neuropsychology. Her spare time is an impromptu mix of singing, running, and cracking every joke under the sun in an attempt to make people laugh. 

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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