Looking in the Mirror: Body Dysmorphia as an Athlete

Content warning: this article discusses dieting, disordered eating, and body image issues.

Being a high-school student comes preloaded with its own slew of problems: maintaining your social life, getting good grades, sleeping enough, pleasing your parents, but above all BODY IMAGE. Here at Holderness nearly every single one of these problems is amplified ten-fold, but body image seems to fly under the radar. Is it because as a community we accept body image issues and disordered eating as a norm? Or is it because this may be the first time you are hearing about this ongoing struggle? The athletic expectations our school has for us encourage us to develop a relationship with fitness and a balanced lifestyle. Before a big game our coaches tell us to get enough sleep, eat a good meal, and hydrate. On the flip side, being an athlete focused on the top performance of your body can take a toll.

I can’t honestly speak for every student at this school, but personally Holderness has changed my entire outlook on fitness over and over again. I started my freshman year as the “chubby” kid. I had bad eating habits and a poor outlook on working out. I was surrounded with incredible athletes and in my eyes I could never compete. At sit down dinners, I would look around the table and see people picking at their food, maybe eating one bread roll. I thought that this was how I had to eat and carry myself to fit in. Cue a poor relationship with food…when you start out “large” it is hard for people to see past your seemingly healthy diet into the many ways you restrict yourself. 

My experience with disordered eating isn’t a singular story, even at Holderness. In fact, a 2004 study found that athletes are more likely to experience eating disorders than a control group and female athletes are more likely to experience them than male athletes. “Skinny” has always been associated with being physically fit and is an expectation, though not always intentionally, that is still pushed on teenage athletes today. 

With so much pressure being put on athletes to keep their bodies in pristine shape, seeing your body can almost feel like you’re looking into a funhouse mirror. Examining yourself for too long can make you see yourself as something you’re not. Many athletes see themselves in a mirror as being the opposite of what they are, whether it’s thin, overweight, weak, or strong. When I started weight lifting to finally fix my relationship with my body, I could never look in the mirror and see myself for who I truly was. I could never see any results. Looking back at progress pictures I see myself. I see my body as something I have worked for and love, and I see my progress as something that wasn’t just built in the gym. Taking care of my body came from eating foods that nourish me and realising it’s ok to take a rest day. 

Health and wellness starts as a mindset, and is only achievable through treating your body kindly by taking those rest days and eating filling meals. As a community of athletes we all need to take a hard look at our lifestyles and the pressure placed upon our fitness, then we need to go easy on ourselves.