Hidden within the ice, a place that is usually meant for fun experiences like first dates and holiday celebrations is a dark, tormenting secret. You don't realize it as you put your skates on, or when you’re watching the enticing Winter Olympics from your living room, admiring the uniquely stunning, twinkling outfits of these legends, that there is an underrated struggle looming over the rink.
The Winter Olympics present positive and inspiring qualities of being a professional, hard-core athlete: Passion, dedication, and perseverance. But, they’ve also shown some of the deadly issues athletes battle. Primarily, disordered eating.
Two female figure skating competitors, Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya and American Gracie Gold, had to sit out this year’s Olympics due to eating disorders. Food disorders are really hard to catch early because it isn’t apparent until after several months that a person has this mental illness. The side effects are progressive, not immediate. Ice skating is a very competitive, demanding, and time-consuming sport that requires enormous amounts of dedication, commitment, and hard work if someone has chosen to cultivate this into a career and profession. It is elegant and very much orientated around the visual image, it’s about technique and performance. Of course, that means the figure skater not only has to nail down his/her routine but also has to dress appropriately, usually matching the music that has been chosen, have the ideal amount of makeup shimmering from their faces, and of course, they must have the body and physique in order to execute the tricks as flawlessly as possible. One of the biggest problems with this issue blossoming from such a gorgeous sport is the lack of body diversity, how the “porcelain doll” look is mainly displayed on the screen. Children, especially aspiring figure skates, only ever witness the archetype of a professional skater's physique skating across the rink. Consequently, they develop assumptions that they too have to force themselves to be as weightless, and leafy as possible. This is highly dangerous and detrimental to their physical, emotional and mental health. Unfortunately, these illnesses are developed at very young ages, usually fifth and sixth grade, when children experience the most changes in their bodies. According to The National Eating Disorder Information Center, researchers have found that female athletes competing in aesthetic sports such as figure skating are at the highest risk for developing eating disorders. Weight preoccupation, body dissatisfaction, and perfectionism are all risk factors for disordered eating.
According to psychology, we do the things we love because of intrinsic motivation. It is our natural passion, desire, and devotion from within ourselves that causes us to take up hobbies we love. When children begin to ice skate and turn their passion into a profession, the ice skating rink becomes a stage, a competitive environment, and suddenly, their intrinsic motivation turns into extrinsic motivation. It’s not about the love of the sport anymore, it’s about winning, and gaining gigantic applause.
Just like the dazzling winter, mental impediments are an inevitability we cannot avoid because we are human. But life is all about being there for one another so that when we do fall down we can pick each other up. All we can do is become more aware of the reality in which we live in, and learn to fight and prevail against these mental illnesses, and then afterward, once they become survivors, teach and prevent this from happening to the tiny skaters. That even though winter can be ruthless, and brutal, it can also be just as joyful as spring, and summer, stuffed with its own benefits and gorgeousness.
Winter won’t become a period of time we all dread, and are wishing we weren’t freezing, but instead be a type of wonderland, a world of powdery magic, we can all enjoy, safely.
Image by Danielle Wilson