could athletes help our beauty standards?

As the Olympics continue to proceed, I’ve actually been surprised at the commentary about the women athletes’ bodies. Now maybe it’s happened before and I haven’t noticed it and maybe it hasn’t and it shows how much of a need there is to change the ideal.

Last Tuesday, and the first time I saw an article like this written, the NYTimes wrote an article about American ice dancer Tanith Belbin and how she’s gained weight since the last Olympics in 2006. Now usually when a woman gains weight it’s this huge societal faux-pas (unless they were before criticized on being too thin), but in this article, it was about loving the curves and the strength that came from that weight and it was all thanks to her coaches.

Linichuk took one look at the 5-foot-6, 105-pound Belbin and said, ‘You need to gain 10 pounds.’ She said more muscle would help Belbin skate faster and more fluidly.

And frankly be more healthy. Obviously it depends on body shape, but in general around 115# should be the lowest for a woman who’s 5’6” but there was another problem that Belbin had dealt with: disordered eating. While she never binged, purged or used laxatives, she did restrict her calories to the lowest she possibly could.

Belbin in 2006 (source)

I thought I was out of control and that the weight gain must be my fault. I was like, I’m eating nothing and I’m still not losing weight. I swear, I’m not eating anything and I’m exhausted and cranky and stressed and all of those things that make you gain weight even more.

After being with this coach, she educated herself about nutrition and what needed to go into her body. While a nutritionist could have helped and the U.S. Figure Skating Officials would have helped her get one, Belbin decided to educate herself on her own and find out what her own body needed. That along with the extra off-ice strength training that her coach has put her through, she’s gained 2 inches in her waist, gained 10 pounds and can no longer fit into the jeans she once could. But that’s ok.

Belbin at the beginning of this year (source)

But this past summer, I came to him and said my jeans are so tight. I never thought I’d see that change in my body. It really, really made a difference. It feels good, though.

Another woman athlete who’s been covered a lot in the recent news and other media sources is Lindsey Vonn and last Friday, the Examiner added to that coverage by talking about the difference between her as a role model and Barbie. The best part in my opinion… it was written by a man (!!!), Alan Hughes.

Most of us know that the ideal that Barbie emulates to girls all over the world is not even physically attainable. At 5’9” and 110#, she would have the measurements of  36” (bust)- 18” (waist) and 33” (hips). Some have said that she would literally fall forward do to the weight of her chest on her other measurements and others calculated that Barbie would lack the 17-22% body fat women require and would be about 35# underweight.

However, Hughes points out that while Barbie may have been an “ideal role model,” Vonn stands at 5’10” and 165# which while 1 inch taller, 55# heavier. Why does this matter? Because the searches for Vonn’s Sport Illustrated pictures have gone through the roof. She’s strong and nothing like the waif-like models who see in advertisements and that’s beauty.


So what did Hughes suggest?

Step away from the scale and put those height-weight charts in the shredder.

Thank you! I completely agree. As we’ve seen in the WSJ, size and weight charts really don’t show whole-body health. It doesn’t show your cholesterol, blood pressure, vitamin levels or even your mental or emotional state.

Also, while some health professionals think that getting on the scale once a day can help you regulate your weight, why don’t you regulate it by how you FEEL (strength-wise) and how your clothes fit? I personally don’t have a scale and haven’t since I was a sophomore back at Elon. One of my dear friends, Devon, actually took it away from me and while I cried because I wasn’t ready to give it up, she did the best thing for me. That number terrorizes you and makes you obsess over something so insignificant. Go on now, throw it away, or send it to me and I’ll do it for you 🙂

While that was great advice, this second one caused a little bit of backlash from a few I know and I’ll tell you why. Hughes’ second piece of advice was,

Look in the mirror. Take a critical, yet realistic look at what you see. Don’t worry about the number you saw on the scale, rather look at what you see and decide what you want to do with it. Are the back of your arms a little flabby or do you feel like your thighs need some work? Then concentrate on those areas with specific exercises rather than try starving yourself on some diet that may or may not drop pounds, but still won’t tone those areas. Transform yourself with sensible exercise and a healthy diet and do it for your own reasons, not because Barbie made you do it.

I do believe that Hughes meant well, but unfortunately, the wording might not have been the most effective. Yes, you should look in the mirror and see yourself. See yourself for that beautiful person you are and if there are areas of your body you’d like to tone, fine you can do that, but do it responsibly. What does that mean? Exercise is good for you. It’s good for your heart, your mind and just your overall well-being, but at the same time, everyone is not built the same. Those “flabby arms” might just be how your body’s made up or you’re pinching an inch yourself which is a no-no in my book. NO pinching!

While he does say to do it for yourself, think of it this way: be healthy! Find an overall lifestyle that allows you to be healthy in both food and exercise (I personally love yoga!) and you will see your body regulate to the size and shape it’s meant to be.

Whatever that is, it’s you and it’s BEAUTIFUL! 🙂

What do you think of the Olympic athletes? Do you think they could help our society be more in-tune with our health and nutrition or not?


6 responses to “could athletes help our beauty standards?

  1. Great post! I love watching athletes! I know some women recovering from disordered eating are triggered, comparing themselves to the athletes’ toned forms. I feel the opposite. I’m inspired to be strong, to eat in a way that treats my body well. I grew up with gymnastics, which is notorious for instilling a negative body image in athletes. I didn’t experience that at all. I found it boosted my self-esteem to be in sports, and I always wanted to be stronger (aka, eat more). I think it’s amazing what the human body can do when it’s treated well. I have absolutely zero desire to ever run a marathon, for example, so I tend to live through others who push themselves in that way. Strength and health are inspiring to me in recovery.

  2. This was a great post! I love Lindsay Vonn. She’s such a great, healthy role model. The Express did an article about her strength training this morning which was really cool. You should check it out!

  3. Some great food for thought. I think the article had some valid points but was also a little misguided. Still, it’s great to see the amazing athletes during the Games–great healthy role models on tv for a change!

  4. Awesome post!

    For the most part, I think female athletes are EXCELLENT role models for women and girls. Not only do they represent fortitude and endurance, they impart the idea that being strong, fit, and powerful is more desirable (and certainly more empowering) than being waif-like. Women like Dara Torres, Kara Goucher, Julia Mancuso inspire me tremendously–far more than the vast majority of fashion models.

  5. Pingback: lindsey vonn « the sweetest thing

  6. I know I am a little late posting here but I just wanted to say that I recently purchased the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2010 issue and HANDS DOWN my husband and I both agreed that the athletes were the most attractive and healthiest ones in there!
    I am soooo inspired by athletes. I love the olympics because female athletes are VERY present in our media. I wish it were like that more often though!

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