Thinness as a standard for feminine beauty has created issues within female athletics for decades. Yet, the sport which it seems to be most prevalent in is women’s gymnastics. Gymnasts enter the sport at an extremely early age and are encouraged to maintain a small, girlish figure throughout their career. This fact often contributes to female gymnasts turning to extreme measures like anorexia and bulimia to remain as thin as possible. One such gymnast who struggled with eating disorders throughout her career was nine time Olympic medalist, Nadia Comaneci. She was the first ever gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 for a performance, but had to sacrifice along the way to sustain perfection. Another gymnast who struggled immensely with the expectation of thinness and perfection, and ultimately died from organ failure was Christy Henrich. She was told by judges she was too large for the Olympics team and would need to lose weight in order to make it. In desperation, Henrich turned to anorexia and bulimia and lost 47 pounds taking her down to only 60 pounds and shortly after she passed away at 22-years-old.
Gymnastics is not the only sport where the athletes suffer from this expectation. It is extremely prevalent in professional ballet, as well. The expectation for thinness in our culture pushes female athletes to overwork their bodies on little to no fuel. In cases like Henrich near the end of her life, it causes these women to have to completely stop participating in sport. In cases like Comaneci, it caused her to feel weak and never 100 percent. She felt pressure from constantly living under the spotlight and posing for countless magazines. This can be said for many female athletes. The pressure of thinness is always in the back of their minds as it is for most women in our society. However, for these women, energy is vital and they are unable to perform to their fullest when they are continually exposed to the expectation of perfection.
It also causes these women to experience their bodies in a negative way. If they are stressing about whether they are thin enough, they are often not building the muscle mass they need to perform in elite athletics. They may never be satisfied with their appearance even if their performance is exceptional. It’s an ongoing cycle which will not end unless the media takes some of the pressure off by relenting from the obsession of thin women.