By: Rebekah Hibbert, IATG ContributorSeptember 4, 2016
I sat on a panel with friends and colleagues and had an open discussion with a group of women about being a female athlete. One woman raised her hand and said, “when I was younger, I had an eating disorder, and even though I am better now, I still fight the instinct to punish myself for eating foods that aren’t as healthy as they should be sometimes.” The room, of only women, started nodding their heads. You see, we’ve all been there or at times may still be there. We have all argued with ourselves about our food or maddened ourselves about the amount and type of exercise we get, and as I sat on the panel, I was reminded why community and friendship are so important. In a group of just women, we could speak to the different pressures we feel, the difficult standards that are placed on us, and we could feel safe. And in that moment, we all felt like we belonged. We belonged to something bigger than ourselves; we belonged to the fraternity of female athletes.
We have all felt the sting of confusion between fueling and accepting our bodies for what they are vs. comparing ourselves to what society tells us we should be and then trying to fit that mold. As female athletes, these lines easily become blurred. They proclaim that strong is beautiful, but then they don’t talk about women in that way in the media or portray it in images we see. They report more often on our bodies than our skills. Studies show that in the media’s coverage of sports, men are three times more likely to be mentioned in a sporting context than women — who, meanwhile, are routinely described with regards to non-sporting issues, such as their age, marital status, and appearance.
So as female athletes we ask ourselves,
Is the way my body looks the most important thing?
And we wonder if anyone else feels the pressure we do. Does anyone else feel guilty when they splurge and enjoy food? Do they question how much they’re exercising? Or compare themselves to the women they see in magazines or on social media? We are told to be body positive and accept ourselves, and yet we’re bombarded by products that are supposed to make us better than what we already are, that will “make us more,” and yet we’re left feeling like less. How can we not be confused?
This is why we all need a safe place that surrounds us with people who empathize with our struggles, and even more importantly, who relish in our rise from those struggles. The truth is, being a female athlete is different than being a male athlete. From the types of injuries we are more likely to sustain to the body image pressures to the way we should fuel our bodies. Yet very few people are talking to us about these things, especially in places where we can discuss these issues freely and know those surrounding us have faced similar obstacles. We are all individuals but that doesn’t mean we don’t need places where we feel like we belong, where we can ask questions without fear. A place where the heads that are nodding along with you are not in judgment but rather in unity, a community that’s with you no matter what journey you may be on.
Creating a community and safe space can start with you, and it can start today! Simply bring together some of your closest gal pals and get a little vulnerable. Talk about things that matter to you and listen when others speak. If you’re feeling truly inspired, look into starting or joining your own IATG chapter at http://www.iamthatgirl.com/local
Rebekah works in Sports Medicine. It is her hope to represent the ‘real’ girl’s daily struggles and triumphs. In her free time you can find her running, lifting weights, reading, writing or trying new restaurants with her husband.