My last post about being an athlete and being Jewish may not have discussed body image or eating issues directly, but the challenges I faced related to being different from my peers were added stresses in my younger years. Eating disorders can develop as a result of many different causes, whether psychological, environmental, or biological factors. In my case, my eating disorder began when the pressures in my life became so overwhelming, and unbearable, that I clearly wasn’t able to cope, other than turning to food and exercise.
As I reflect on specific scenarios in my childhood, I am able to identify experiences that caused immense stresses and pressures that eventually were contributing factors to my downfall. Being Jewish as a high level athlete was, in fact, extremely isolating and alienating as a teenager who just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.
I remember the day vividly. I had just tried out for and was selected to the best club team in the state of Michigan, The Michigan Hawks. The team manager, who was, also, a parent, knew I was Jewish. At our introductory team meeting, she handed out calendars, including our practice and game schedule. With kind intentions, she highlighted the Jewish holidays. In an attempt to make me feel included, I had never felt more excluded and embarrassed. At the young age of thirteen, one of my new teammates laughed out loud, and shouted, “Why are the Jewish holidays on here?”
I was brand new to this team. The last thing I wanted was to be pointed out, labeled, or even made fun of. My cheeks turned bright red, and I looked to my dad for help. I was quiet, shy, and beyond nervous in this new environment, and her comment made me feel worse. From that point on, I always felt insecure being the only Jewish player on my soccer teams.
The second distinct situation I remember clearly was, also, a time I felt alone and treated differently. Throughout my entire career soccer was never scheduled on Christmas Day or Easter Day, nor should it have been. However, soccer always conflicted with the holiest Jewish holidays in the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; both of which always fell right in the middle of fall season. I was raised in a household where we observed these holidays, my father didn’t work, we didn’t go to school, and we didn’t participate in extracurricular activities.
My team was scheduled to play in the best tournament, at the time, in Washington D.C. over Columbus Day weekend. My coach’s rule was a missed practice would result in not starting the next game. It was the most significant year to be evaluated by college coaches. The practice prior to the tournament was Yom Kippur, and I had to miss. That same day, my teammate missed practice to go on a college visit. My coach punished me for missing, and sat me out to start the first game of the tournament, but he excused her. There may be exceptions to rules. And, to me, a Jewish holiday was an excusable reason to miss a sporting commitment, and not suffer consequences.
Though I believe my teammate and coach were not anti-Semites, and would not have intentionally tried to hurt me, these were experiences that influenced me in a way that contributed to stresses in my life. Each added anxiety in my childhood contributed to my eventual breakdown. Again, there were an infinite number of experiences that led to my eating disorder, but sports and religion were definitely ongoing anxieties that did not help my confidence or sense of inclusion.