A few weeks ago I was at Florida’s ESPN Wide World of Sports center, where hundreds of thousands of young athletes play each year. I was giving a talk on, “Body Image and Nutrition” to basketball and softball high school athletes as part of the ESPN RISE Girls Showcase. I co-presented with Lauren Lappin, silver medalist at the last Olympic in softball and empowered woman extraordinaire.
I have never presented on body image to a bright-eyed audience, at least at the start of a talk. It still isn’t cool or ok to struggle with body image - so at first my audience had flat expressions and looked half asleep. No matter; I jumped to the front of the stage and told them how happy I was to be there, how much I love presenting on this topic, and that female athletes are my favorite audience. Once I got the audience broken into smaller groups working to come up with answers to my questions - the room was buzzing.
Lauren and I had for the session over email, but I had only met her an hour before we went on. She impressed me with the powerful points she made; I now want to share some of them with you. One of the big themes was “comparison” - how do you learn to not compare yourself to other women- including your teammates. Lauren spoke about how her muscles separated her from the “ideal model” figure and that her physique was different from her teammates- as is the case with all of us. "Those muscles got me to the Olympics," she declared. Lauren suggested; "Look in the mirror -- those are tools that are going to help you reach your dreams." "We tend to compare ourselves to our teammates, but my body is the tool I use to do my job," said Lappin. Comparing body parts and searching for ways we are less than others won’t do anything to help us strengthen ourselves as athletes or happy and effective people. Research has shown that people who don’t like their own image often focus extra attention to the parts of themselves they don’t like. Rarely do people look at their entire figure, instead narrowing in on a disliked specific part of themselves. Zeroing in on your least favorite part is a no win pastime.
In offering my closing for the talk session, I returned to my focus on ”connection.” I said body image challenges are nothing to figure out on your on your own. If you are struggling with pressure from a coach or parent or inside yourself, get people to help you; talk to people about it, be it friends or professionals. Lauren closed with the concept of “practice.” She suggested we practice positive and constructive thoughts. "As athletes we're constantly having a dialogue with our body -- get low, run faster. " She suggested we use that constant dialogue with ourselves as an opportunity to build confidence. Choose positive and useful things to say to yourself. Be a constructive coach to yourself. Her presentation reminded me to take special notice of what was going on in my own mind, and to make sure I was using my thoughts to train myself to be stronger and more confident. I know all to often I can get negative threads running through my mind. They don’t serve me. So I offer this to you as a reminder to keep you heads full of thoughts that help your self esteem RISE.