Ever since I was young, I have been a large girl. I don’t say this to put myself down, and when I say it, I don’t mean that I am fat or exceptionally tall. I simply mean that I am a little bigger than average. I am “athletically built,” as many say, and although I am comfortable with my body now, it has not always been this way.
For a long period between 7th and 10th grade, I suffered from the eating disorder bulimia. I remember being so disappointed with myself every day. I would eat until I felt like my emotions were numbed, even if it was only for a few minutes. Then I would purge, without stopping for even one moment to think about how dangerous it was for my body or how detrimental it was to my mental health.
During this dark time, it was really hard for me to participate in the sports I loved. I would purge before soccer practice, sometimes making myself feel too sick to play. I would sometimes feel too fat to run in my cross-country meets. I thought that because I was bigger than a lot of the girls, I would never be as good of a runner. It took a few years and a lot of self-discovery to realize that I had it all wrong.
As my sophomore year came to an end, so did my eating disorder. I think it was because I was genuinely feeling happier and more in control of my life. I did not put as much emphasis on what I looked like, I had a great group of friends, I told my mom about my problem and, most importantly, I started to throw myself into sports in a way I never had before.
During my junior year, I began playing water polo, I joined the swim team and I continued to play on the ultimate Frisbee team. For the first time in my life, it was helpful to be big. I could hold my own with the male defenders in a water-polo game, and I found out that those “thick thighs” I had hated throughout my adolescence were really just muscles that gave me extreme power and speed in the 50-yard freestyle.
It has become obvious to me that I would not be able to succeed in the sports I love without my body shape. I like to look at my sports idols for motivation and assurance. Serena Williams did not become a world champion tennis player by being a skinny twig; she became a world champion because of her skill and her incredibly strong, muscular body. And Missy Franklin, swimming gold medalist at the 2012 Olympic games, did not succeed because she was rail thin; she rose to the top because of her commitment to the sport and her tall, athletic frame. I’m sure many of my idols have gone through periods in their lives similar to mine.
It is not easy being the “big” girl. We are not usually put on magazine covers or coveted by men, and we are not always viewed as strong and athletic, but rather as bulky and intimidating.
But we “big” girls have to stay strong, because women’s sports are not going to play themselves. Sports need powerful, confident women who are willing to build themselves up and achieve greatness.
I know that sometimes, it is hard for girls to look at themselves in the mirror, no matter what size they are. But confronting that image in the mirror is an important step. The next time you look in the mirror and see something you don’t like, ask yourself, would you be able to kick the soccer ball all the way down the field without strong legs? Would you be able to dominate on the basketball court without above-average height? Would you be able to hurl the shot put as far without a muscular core?
And on the other side of the spectrum, would you be able to complete a beautiful pirouette without those long legs? Would be able to pole vault over the bar without that lanky, nimble frame? Most importantly, would you be you without your body?
Kate de Give recently graduated from Atlanta’s Grady High School. She was a sports editor for the school newspaper the Southerner, where this column originally appeared. She will attend Georgia Tech.