Figure Skating Culture

After reading and reflecting on the many stories I’ve seen come to the surface from Gracie Gold, Gia Kokotakis and many of my old training mates, I felt inspired to share my story about what it’s like being a competitive athlete in a sport that puts so much emphasis on being “petite.” 

Figure skating was a huge part of my life. It was something that I lived to do for over half of my life, but just like all other sports there were ups and downs. Figure skating taught me about hard work, determination, perseverance and dedication, but it also taught me how to negatively look at my body. 

I remember my very last competitive year I had gotten injured before summer training was supposed to get underway. Summer training is the beginning of peak training time because you want to be in top shape to start your competitive season. I had gained a bunch of weight from not being able to properly exercise and I was well aware that I had, but the weight just didn’t seem to come off as quickly as I needed it to. When I finally got back on the ice my jumps were all off and I was having a hard time getting through my program. 

That’s when I experienced the conversation about getting in shape. I was surrounded every day by other skaters who continuously picked themselves apart and went on fad detoxes to lose weight quickly, just to gain it back just as fast. Now I had to listen to my coaches tell me that maybe I need to lose a few pounds. 

This is where the obsession started. I started limiting the amount of food I was eating, cutting out certain food groups that were considered “bad” and doing cardio every single day.

A few months went by and I lost a ton of weight. Everyone at the rink was telling me I was in such good shape, my jumps were starting to come back and my programs were easier to get through. So I continued to track what I was eating. By the time I got to the last competition of the season, I remember putting on a pair of jeans that at one time did fit me, but were now way too big. That’s when I suddenly realized how much weight I had lost.

To many people who knew me at the time, probably had no idea the struggle I was going through inside of my head or even knew the amount of weight I had lost, because to them that was normal. ISN’T THAT CRAZY. 

Heading into that competition I knew that I couldn’t continue on this way because it would lead to much greater health risks, but it had become such an obsession I actually believed that less is better. So I decided that after that competition I was going to be done. 

The transition into a non competitive athlete life was tough. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose because I was no longer working toward something attainable. Naturally I needed something I could control and that was still my eating. I probably started eating less than when I skated because my exact thought was “I’m not exercising as much, so I can’t eat as much because I’ll gain weight.” 

Flash forward until now I’m still struggling with my diet. I’m still struggling with body perception and I honestly blame this on Figure Skating culture. 

Figure skating culture says you have to have a flat stomach, six pack abs, petite hips, not too much muscle on your legs. Our workouts consisted of mostly cardio, with little weightlifting. I don’t think I picked up a weight until three years ago when I got my gym membership. 

Figure skating lifestyle wants you to live a life that’s not sustainable for any average person or athlete who wants to be healthy. Many of us suffer in silence because we’re too scared to admit that we have a problem, and this is where the problems start to come in. Many skaters unfortunately suffer from eating disorders and other mental illnesses because of the stress we put on our bodies year after year of highly competitive training. 

After years of restriction, it’s only now that I can finally say that I am beginning to give my body the nutrients and fuel it needs, to have happier hormones and live a healthier lifestyle. 

For many years I never had a regular cycle like all my other friends. I was actually kind of happy at the time because when I did have a cycle it completely through my jumps off and I was so uncomfortably bloated for days that I actually thought I gained weight, and this would cause me to extreme diet for a couple of days until I puked up nothing but liquid because I my body was in starvation mode.

Now after seeing a doctor, I have a regular cycle, my hormones are slowly going back to a normal state and I realize that being bloated is completely normal because I’m a women. This is four years later after retiring from my competitive career and my body is still dealing with the lasting effects of not having a proper diet. 

On social media you tend to only see the highlight reels of Instagram and fitness influencers, that leave an unhealthy body perception in the minds of many girls and women. Every person’s body is different and every person carries their weight in a different way. It’s just important to remember that what you see online is what they want you to see. They want you to see the best version of them. 

It’s only now that I can really say I’m becoming comfortable in my own skin. I have a roll on my stomach that will probably never go away and you know what, that’s completely fine with me. I want to be happy and healthy, enjoy all the good foods and enjoy the memories that lay ahead of me with my family and friends. I no longer want to think that if I have a cookie I immediately have to burn it off or miss out on another night of going out with friends because I’m scared of the number of calories I’m going to consume. 

So if you’re a skater or an athlete in a sport much like figure skating culture, know that you’re not alone. Reach out to someone for help and guidance. You do not need to limit yourself to 1200 calories a day or do cardio seven days a week for an hour at a time. You need carbs and protein, and good fats to give your body the energy it needs to train properly and for your muscles to recover post training.

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