Weight Class Sports and Body Image

Rayanne Asuncion //

This past year, I started pursuing weightlifting as a sport. I’ve been training with a coach four times a week, buying weightlifting gear, and drinking protein shakes every day. I am in the middle of training for my first competition, and will be competing in the 76kg weight class. It’s all very new; overwhelming and exciting at the same time. 

The prospect of competing in a “weight class” still frightens me; my self-image is still quite tender after years of body dysmorphia and a poor relationship with food. Stepping on a scale has always been anxiety-inducing, so I typically avoid it to preserve my mental health. I try not to get too enmeshed in the idea of the weight class, to meet a certain number on a scale, to look lean or “athletic.” It’s hard! It’s difficult to unravel those mental knots of insecurity and self-deprecation. After a few years of working on my mental health, I finally reached a place where the number didn’t matter to me—I was indifferent to it and focused on my overall health and strength. Numbers on a scale are arbitrary; they are not indicative of anything other than a physical logistic. But when it became a significant aspect of my sport, I found myself stressing over my weight once again, stepping backwards in the overall trajectory of my mental health journey.

I find consolation in the female weightlifters that I follow on social media. It is comforting to know that even Olympians are anxious about their weight, have bad relationships with food, and are insecure about their bodies. Yazmin Zammit Stevens, a Maltese Olympian, discusses her experience with cutting from 73kg to 65kg, which is around 17 pounds, in order to qualify for the Olympics in a recent Instagram post: “Your clothes either don’t fit anymore or fit differently. A lot of people always say ‘AMAZING’ or ‘That’s really good!’ when I say this. But, it’s really weird when you’re used to filling out clothes a certain way, and all of a sudden everything you wear makes you feel like a completely different person” (@yazmin.stevens)

Kate Nye, American Olympian and silver medalist in the 2020 Olympics, uses her social media platform to openly discuss gaining weight to compete in the 76kg weight class: “Anyone close to me knows that going from a 63kg to a 76kg lifter in the span of a year was an easy task physically, but was very hard on my body image. I had to learn to be okay with being bigger than I was comfortable with and I have somehow maintained a healthy mentality, even on the hard days” (@katherineenye)

 I have always admired these women for their talent and strength, but their transparency regarding mental health obstacles, physical insecurities, and frustrations with public criticism in the sport inspires me even more. Sharing these experiences both demystify the allusive connection between sport and self-image and help me to dispel my internalized stigma regarding my weight. 

At the end of the day, my body is really important to me, as it is to all of us. It is the instrument that allows us to do what we love to do. I know that I have to think of myself as an athlete and focus on my health rather than my weight. That is difficult to do! These moments of self doubt and insecurity are symptomatic of a need to change my attitude and work on my self esteem. Maybe I will never be comfortable with stepping on a scale, but prioritizing patience and proactive measures to shift my attitude has, so far, been helping ease my anxieties.

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