Aly Raisman heals after years of body shaming and scrutiny

Aly Raisman strives to “feel safe” in her body. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

He figures is Yahoo Life’s body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring people as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Aly Raisman’s muscles may have helped her win Olympic gold medals, but the former athlete is still making peace with her figure, calling her relationship with her body a “work in progress.”

Gymnastics has had a negative impact on how she sees herself, Raisman told Yahoo Life. “The pressure of trying to be slimmer was such a big part, unfortunately, of my career as a gymnast,” admits the 27-year-old. “I felt like there was so much pressure for me to be a certain size and I always felt like my body wasn’t enough, that I had to get thinner and thinner.”

Raisman, who started in the sport as a child and retired in 2020, can now reflect on how community played a part in how she treated and viewed her body for most of his life.

“There’s a lot of pressure in sports to be a certain body type and it’s really difficult because I was trying to have enough energy to be able to do the long hours of training and everything that I was doing. , but also the pressure to lose weight and be slimmer,” she explains. “It’s just a very unhealthy thing to navigate.”

She also realized how gymnastics fostered a complicated relationship with puberty and made it difficult for her to come to terms with the way her body was maturing as a teenager.

“I felt like I was kind of pressured to lose weight when my body naturally changed, when I had my period and all the healthy things we go through, and when we naturally gain weight, which is a healthy part of being a woman,” she says. “I felt like there was something wrong with my body.”

Part of this negative perception Raisman attributes to a general lack of education about the natural processes that young women go through. The gymnastics environment created even more pressure and a harsh basis for comparison with other young girls going through puberty themselves.

“When I was working out I wore a leotard, so it’s very easy to get obsessed with a few pounds here or there and it can get very, very unhealthy very quickly,” she says.

Being overly critical of every book was something she learned from people in leadership positions. This then grew stronger as she became a female athlete in the spotlight.

“I was subjected to a lot of scrutiny from the gymnastics world, coaches or judges, but also from social media. And I remember I was 18 and there had a photo of me that someone took and posted online I remember a lot of people saying that I had gained so much weight and looked pregnant, and I was so devastated and so embarrassed,” she recalls. “Unfortunately, I have a lot of friends who can relate to that.”

The other gymnasts, including McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles, retain a special place in Raisman’s inner circle because of their shared unique experiences. “Having a support system is really important,” she says. Still, she admits it’s not that easy. “Especially if the people you love or the people who are meant to be your support system aren’t there for you and are the ones embarrassing you and being mean to your body.”

This was certainly the case within the USA Gymnastics organization. Raisman was just one of many young women who felt unprotected during their time on the team. This was underscored as she joined others who came forward to share that she had been abused by Nassar. While the former team doctor was sentenced in 2018 for 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual assaultRaisman says she is still working through the trauma it left her.

“There’s so much shame and struggle that people go through after being abused. And it’s not just something that people suffer in the moment,” she says. “Unfortunately, it can take a very long time to feel back in our bodies and to feel safe in our bodies and to feel connected to who we were.”

Work with Area helped Raisman on this journey to feel confident and comfortable in her own skin.

“I feel like working with Aerie has personally helped me on my journey to self-acceptance because Aerie doesn’t edit any photos. I think it’s really empowering to walk into a store and seeing that everyone’s body is unique and beautiful in their own way. . And I think that’s really special,” she says.

The brand also aligns with Raisman’s own mantra of using social media for good.

“I know social media can be toxic sometimes, but I really think there’s a lot of amazing stuff on social media too,” she says. “I think it’s great that Aerie is focusing on the positive of that, and also encouraging people to be aware of how they feel after going through social media and making sure we follow accounts or that we surround ourselves with things that make us feel good, that uplift us, that maybe challenge us, but not something that makes us feel bad about ourselves.”

It’s this same conscious approach that allowed Raisman to come to a place of body acceptance.

“When I’m more present and doing things that bring me joy, my relationship with my body is good. So I try to find things throughout the day that bring me peace. or joy, whether it’s going for a walk outside, playing with my dog, being with people who make me laugh, gardening, “she says. “Over the years, I began to better understand the things that could trigger me. And I notice that if one thing bothers me, it’s like a ripple effect and affects my body image, it affects my insecurities, it affects my overthinking. So I really try to stick to some sort of routine that helps me stay on track. And I also know that I am human, and that there will be days when I will feel less safe than other days, or when I will feel a little more embarrassed. I kind of just tried to remember, I’m human too, and if I’m having a rough day, I’m fine, and the day will pass.

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