It is no secret that impossible modern beauty standards have caused many people, especially women, to look in the mirror and hate what they see. Indeed, not every woman’s body is shaped like the runway models walking at New York Fashion Week or the Instagram-famous influencers that appear in sponsored posts. We’re not all shaped like Kendall or Kylie Jenner. Now, imagine what these body standards do to women athletes. I know I do not look like Kendall or Kylie, mainly because of genetics, but my statement is also caused by the fact that I am an athlete. I cannot be on a restrictive model’s diet, and I have to work out parts of my body that make me bigger than the frame of the beautiful body standard.
I think I am lucky to be a tennis player when it comes to discussing how women athletes are able to make themselves feel beautiful or feminine. Women tennis players have the options of wearing dresses and tying their hair up in a stylish fashion when competing. I know women athletes like swimmers do not have these options, and I acknowledge that fact. However, being a tennis player did not stop me from self scrutiny about that way I looked growing up. My height peaked when I was 12 years old at 5’2. I was an average height at 12 years old, but, as my peers started growing, I stayed the same. I was a short woman, always being looked down upon. As a child, I was overweight. Although I trained daily, I was never considered skinny, and I remember going into the doctor’s office and seeing the rapid weight gain on the growth chart. The line eventually flattened in high school, yet I’ve never felt the desired “skinny” that seemingly made other girls look beautiful. Because I trained daily, my shoulders were broad and my build was stocky. I remember how my coach would joke about how I could compete in a Men’s tournament. Throughout middle school and high school, I hated myself. Why didn’t I look like those fit Instagram workout gurus when I practiced everyday? Why didn’t I look like those skinny, pretty girls in my year? Why didn’t I love the image I saw in the mirror?
Before I graduated high school, during my senior year, something clicked in my head. Fat equals bad. Fat equals food. Therefore, food equals bad. I never got myself medically diagnosed during this period of time in my life, so I do not know if I was suffering from an eating disorder.
However, I do recognize the facts from my perspective. Everyday for that period of time I would not eat. Every morning, my parents would make my siblings and I a nice, hearty breakfast. Sometimes eggs and bacon. Sometimes pancakes. Sometimes both. I avoided these meals by staying in my room till the minute before my dad would have to take us to school, so I would not have time to eat. Instead, I started drinking tea. I resorted to caffeine instead of a real meal. I would make tea very quickly and put it into a thermos. This tea would replace my breakfast and lunch. This tea would “sustain” me throughout my seven AP, honors classes and my hour and a half tennis lesson afterschool. Sometimes I would let myself bring a bag of carrots to snack on, but when I didn’t, I drank water to fill my grumbling stomach. One day, my dad brought donuts home from work, and I remember sitting next to the box and just smelling them to imagine the fulfilling taste. I always went to sleep feeling hungry. Headaches and fatigue were normal in this period of time. I remember looking into the mirror and slowly seeing my stomach getting smaller, but I noticed the most difference in my face. My jawline became clear and apparent, and my cheeks have sunken in. My eyebags were prominent, exposing the fatigue I felt from the lack of energy. The ironic part of this transformation was that despite the skeleton I saw in the mirror, I was praised for the changes in my body. I was often mistaken for my younger sister, who at the time was significantly smaller than me. The mothers who watched us play praised me for my weight loss and asked what I did. And my coach stopped making fun of me for the way I looked.
I was not okay. During my classes, I wanted to sleep all the time, and I was never fully focused on the lectures. During practice, I stopped hitting the ball as hard, and I got easily irritated with my opponents and my coach. I was not myself. Luckily, my junior year tennis statistics got me into my dream college, but I knew I was not the same. Before graduation, I told myself that I would get better. I could leave the stresses and drama of high school behind. I would focus on myself and my happiness, and I did. Slowly, I started joining the family meals. I allowed myself to take small portions of meat to start off the journey. Soon, I added vegetables because I was still afraid of consuming the carbs that I equated to weight gain. However, after days upon days of honest discussions with my friends and prayer, I learned to allow myself to eat what my body needed to live and what my mind needed to stay healthy. Discussion allowed me to acknowledge the unhealthy problems in my life and realize how I have been depriving myself of simple, essential happiness. Prayer allowed me to realize the most important aspects of life: loving God and loving yourself. My portions were small in the beginning, but soon I started to eat the portions necessary for me to thrive as a student and an athlete. I started adding more vegetables to my diet for a more fulfilling meal, and I added additional workouts to my tennis practice that would allow me to work on my body in a healthy manner. It wasn’t easy, but it took all of my mental strength and willpower to treat myself like I deserved to be treated. This body helped me complete 11 AP classes throughout my high school career. This body helped me walk across the graduation stage to accept Scholar Athlete of the Year. This body helped me get into a Division 1 college with my tennis skill. I started to love my body more than ever before, and to this day, I have educated myself on healthy eating and habits that make me feel like the strong woman I always was internally.