As I embarked on this new journey of sharing my personal story relating to my struggles with an eating disorder as a collegiate athlete, I knew the topic was sensitive, yet relatable to many people. An article that was published in USA Today about 2016 Olympians competing in Rio whom, also, have encountered similar obstacles as myself was not only enlightening, but a huge step in continuing to raise awareness of such a prevalent issue among athletes. I could not relate more to these women who are standing up, and publicly sharing their personal issues related to eating disorders and body image.
As a young girl, I was able to recognize and identify the particular body type that society declared as beautiful; and, I knew it wasn’t mine. I had more muscular, larger thighs than girls who were looked upon as pretty and desirable. However, it were those legs that allowed me to be strong and effective when I stepped on the soccer field. My chest size was small, which, in retrospect, was advantageous as an athlete who competed in soccer and did an extreme amount of running. But, it was clear that those with larger chests were more enticing. My arms were toned and defined, whereas the girls who were deemed beautiful seemed to have sticks as limbs. It was clear my body type and features were necessary in order to have found success on the soccer field, but always seemed to make me question myself in school, social situations, and, particularly, when shopping for clothes.
I wanted to cry every time my mom took me shopping. Nothing ever seemed to fit right or looked good on my body. It was inevitable that jeans needed to be hemmed, and it seemed that they were made for the average size–double that of my leg length. The material was always so tight around my thighs, yet looser in the waist. My shoulders were too broad for a lacy, feminine blouse. And, dresses looked horrific, as I never believed I was able to pull off such a cute, delicate, girly style. My athletic build never gave me confidence in the fitting room; it made me cringe.
Though I always felt insecure about my body throughout my life, it never seemed to truly affect me until I reached college. When I set off to train and prepare for college preseason, I strived to enhance my performance. I believed at that point the leaner and thinner I became, the faster and stronger I would be as a soccer player. As I began my new regimen, it was clear that I was making major strides in my quest to becoming quicker. Not only were my running times improving, but I was receiving compliments left and right about how great I looked. And, between the two, I couldn’t stop.
Between my attempt to be the best soccer player I could be, my personality characteristics, being competitive and a perfectionist, and trying to conform to societal standards of beauty, I went down a dark path of excessive training and extreme food deprivation. Very quickly, instead of enhancing my performance, it was minimized; instead of appearing beautiful and attractive, I appeared malnourished and skeletal; and instead of receiving compliments, I got stares and looks of concern. My mission backfired. And, I developed an eating disorder that I couldn’t overcome on my own. I needed professional help, love, and support to get treatment and recover.
Though the article in USA Today highlights Olympic female swimmers and their personal struggles related to eating disorders, these issues and challenges are present among all sports and all athletes, and at all levels. I was a Division I college soccer player. Misty Hyman is an Olympic gold medalist swimmer. You can imagine how many others across the board suffer from eating disorders and body image issues. It is going to take more than Misty Hyman, Dana Vollmer, and Maya DiRado to share their stories about pregnancy, wedding dress shopping, and striving to be the best in their sport, all resulting in eating disorders and body image issues. But, I will say, this is so amazing and incredibly helpful to so many people who struggle and feel alone. And, there is hope, and a way out.