Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gymnastics and the Weight Issue

There is one thing about being a gymnastics fan that makes me feel conflicted. When I am reading the fan sites, I hate reading about how some gymnast is fat, or needs to lose weight. If a blogger or commenter wants to insult a gymnast, the word fat is likely to be used, which is rather silly, since very few gymnasts are fat.

In general, I hate hearing people being called fat because in my mind, fat is a noun that is used to describe lipids or body fat. As an adjective, I think that it has mutated into an insulting word which has nothing to do with how much body fat someone carries around. Fat can mean lazy, or disliked for some reason. In general, I do not believe that any gymnasts are fat, even in the sense of the adjective.

I think that this is a reflection of society as a whole. As a society, we are obsessed with how we look. Models almost look like bags of bones at times. Growing up in a society which recommends thinness is not easy for anyone except the minority of people who have that body type.

I can imagine that it would be even more difficult for gymnasts. A leotard is not a very forgiving piece of clothing, and if I were having a 'fat day,' I would not really want to wear one. I would feel naked. No one has a perfect body and a leotard would leave every imperfection for the world to see. I guess that gymnasts are used to it though.

I find it funny that male gymnasts seldom find their bodies under scrutiny. Yet the bodies of female gymnasts, who are often younger and less able to deal with criticism, are often fair game. One example is the Bama gymnasts in 2010, another the criticism of Shawn and Nastia. In my opinion, body scrutiny should only be acceptable when someone is coaching or offering nutritional advice to a gymnast. Other people are unlikely to have the full story, so why should they be expressing opinions and giving advice? When people don't know the full story, their advice is bound to be wrong.

I have heard stories of gymnasts being weighted. The stereotype of gymnasts being weighted often comes up in gymnastics shows. I think taking the weight of a gymnast could be very misleading. There are many routes to losing weight which would not benefit a gymnast: losing a limb, or an organ, losing muscle. Not all weight is created equal.

Fat - as in the noun - can sometimes be seen as dead weight. It is weight that gymnasts need to carry which does not have a function in the many skills that they perform, yet at the same time, some fat is needed in the body. The barrier between the brain and blood needs lipids in order to perform its function of keeping dangerous chemicals out of the brain. Many other cells need fat, and women need to carry a certain percentage of fat around to maintain a good bone density mass. Having good bones helps with gymnastics because broken bones mean time out.

I do wonder about claims regarding gymnasts having eating disorders. I know that many gymnasts would have a specific diet as any athlete would. Keeping the balance would take a lot of skill and work. I think that the lifestyle of an athlete could be very stressful, which could case overeating or under-eating. I am going through a lot of stress and for me, finishing a meal is hard work. My good friend finds that she eats without effort when she is stressed. Both reactions are recognised by the medical profession. This does not mean an eating disorder. I know people who have had eating disorders and I think that it would be very difficult for someone in the acute stage of one to be able to continue gymnastics. Eating disorders can take over your life to the extent where there is no room for anything else.

Weight will always be a big deal in the gravity-defying tricks during gymnastics, but I wish that people would let up on criticising bodies of female gymnasts. To me criticism of form, lack of artistry or skill difficulty is ok, but weight is the business of the gymnast, and their coach and their support team only. Putting down gymnasts based on their weight is rude, misguided and often ignorant.