5/13/2016

Gymnastics and Body Image: What You Have is the Best You Have

I was reading on some fan forums that the gymnast pictured below "does not have the right body" for rhythmic gymnastics. At first, I was outraged and I was mentally preparing for writing up a small rant on how sports is not about looks, and how, if you are able to perform cleanly, it should not matter how tall or thin you are, or aren't.

But I changed my mind. I am going to say that it is fine to discuss the physique of a gymnast as long as we think how we can make the most of it. A Romanian coach had once said ,"The best thing about gymnastics is that you know everything about yourself." Let's focus on that for a moment. Rhythmic gymnastics creates a culture of intense competition but the competition really starts when you perform, not when you stand next to one another and measure who is taller or thinner.

Comparing the looks and qualities of gymnasts is the wrong way to approach competition. Discovering your own strength and weaknesses is a much better idea. In fact, I think some coaches may benefit from sitting down and writing a list that includes BOTH the strengths and the weaknesses of all of the athletes they work with. If you only see one side, the gymnast will never fully develop her potential because, by dwelling on weaknesses, you may miss out on emphasizing the strengths, but if you are only playing with the obvious strengths, you probably won't attempt to develop new qualities. Nobody is qualified to dismiss a gymnast solely based on physical qualities, though, not until we see what she does on the carpet and how hard she is capable of working.

Here is this wonderful gymnast. Whether or not she needs to lose weight should depend on what is healthy for her. If her weight is not interfering with clean execution of elements, she is probably fine and has nothing to prove. She might have a big advantage in terms of being taller than other gymnasts because she can "cover" the entire carpet. She might be less flexible than some, but she might actually have better jumps than many others. She might be coordinated and fast and have great pirouettes. Height and weight do not necessarily matter for pirouetting ability. They don't matter at all for overall stamina and preparedness. But it takes time to discover everything and develop what can be developed. This process demands seeing both sides: the good ones and the not so good ones. Overall, though, our bodies, and not other people's judgments about them, are our only and best weapon.

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