If Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso's performances in the Women's Downhill weren't to make your feminist heart swell with Olympic pride (what are you, a robot?), Tanith Belbin might do the trick. In an interview with The New York Times' Juliet Macur earlier this week Belbin discussed the pressures that female athletes in her field, Ice Dancing, face to stay thin and how her Olympic chances have improved since she decided to listen to her body and stop worrying about how her thighs look in those tiny little dancing get ups.
From the article:
Linichuk [the coach she began working with in 2008] also ended up saving Belbin from a problem that has long plagued figure skaters: disordered eating. Often not as severe as eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, disordered eating involves irregular eating habits that can be fueled by a distorted body image. Belbin said she had struggled with those issues since puberty.
When she was 16 or 17, Belbin grew several inches and gained weight, which threw off her skating technique. As her body matured, she tried to fight it. As an ice dancer who wears tiny outfits and is often lifted by her partner, Belbin said that every extra pound seemed like 20.
She never binged, purged or used laxatives, she said, but she restricted her calories to the minimum. She would eat a small breakfast, then later snack on celery or a few almonds to get her through the day. After practices, she was too weak to lift her arms. Once in her apartment, she would stare blankly ahead, sapped of energy.
It makes me so sad and frustrated to think about women with such athletic talent feeling as though they need to starve themselves in order to compete. How could they possibly be expected to do those amazing, gravity-defying jumps without eating enough? Everyone loves to ooh and aah over gold medalist Michael Phelps' 12,00 calorie diet, but when it comes to a sport like figure skating, especially for women, the story is often about the athletes' lack of eating than their ability to burn off an entire an entire pizza in one workout.
That's why it's great to hear from an athlete like Belbin, who has stopped focusing on her weight and started educating herself (with the help of her coaches) as to what an Olympian needs to perform (hint: it includes food). She says,
The message shouldn't be, go consult a nutritionist; we need more education. Skaters always sit there and wait to be told what to do, but in this case, they need to take the initiative and find out how to eat healthy.
So even if you're one of those Olympic purists who thinks Ice Dancing is too froofy for the Winter Games, keep your eyes peeled for Belbin when she and her partner Ben Agosto compete tomorrow night. It's great that she's advocating for better nutrition and less pressure to be thin for ice skaters, so here's hoping that her healthy attitude brings home the gold!