Figure Skating in a Larger Body
For a long time, I was embarrassed to tell people that I was a figure skater. I was afraid that someone would look at me and laugh at the idea that someone like me skated. I felt this way because I am in a larger body and have always been. Even though I loved to ice skate, I somehow knew that I did not have the ideal body for this sport. It never occurred to me back then that these thoughts and beliefs were biases that I had been taught both implicitly and explicitly.
Biases are preconceived ideas about something or someone. They can be negative or positive but often we associate biases as negative. For me, I grew up with the bias that “real figure skaters” were in small slender bodies. I only saw petite tiny women (and girls) glide across the ice when I watched the Olympics or National Championships. I never saw an ice skater that looked like me.
Experiences of Weight Stigma as a Young Skater
In my personal experience as an ice skater, I can remember a dance and ice skating store shop owner. She looked down at me and said, “We don’t carry your size.” I had coaches that reminded me that I’d skate faster if I was smaller and applauded me when I lost weight. I was highly aware that some coaches weighed their students and told them what they could and could not eat. It is really no surprise that figure skaters experience increased rates of eating disorders and overexercise, and that many skaters experience poor relationships with food and body.
I was surrounded by weight stigma as I was teased by kids at school for being fat. It definitely reinforced the belief that my body was wrong. Fortunately, I had friends and family who didn’t judge me and supported my passion for skating. Regardless of my size, I was a real figure skater.
For example, I wore sparkly dresses. I could do difficult jumps and all types of spins. In addition, I competed in competitions and even took home a few medals and trophies. I learned to ice dance with a partner. Also I performed in ice shows and represented my college at the Intercollegiate Nationals three times. I even took home a silver medal for my event. Eventually, I would go on to teach others to skate. I was in love with this sport and I guess in some ways I pushed some invisible boundaries by not succumbing to the negative messages about whether I belonged on the ice or not.
Challenging Our Internalized Biases
Biases can be so harmful because they create this belief that the size of your body cannot do a certain sport, wear a certain piece of clothing, or just feel like you don’t belong. It was not until I was in my coaching career that I truly saw how our biases could stand in the way of doing something that could be fun. I had two students who changed the way I saw what someone can or cannot do.
The first was a 60-year-old man. He wanted to learn to ice skate so he could skate with his grandson who was a hockey player. This man shared that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and wanted to ice skate with his grandson before the disease progressed enough that he wouldn’t be able to do difficult physical activity like ice skating. He told me his left leg was already significantly weaker than his right leg, but he wanted to try so that he could surprise his grandson.
The second student was an eight-year-old boy who was on the autistic spectrum. His parents wanted him to learn to ice skate because his father was a hockey player. He wanted to be able to ice skate with his son. Unfortunately, this student’s autism was severe. He would never be able to play on an ice hockey team or join an ice skating class with others his age. Our individual lessons focused on just teaching him to stand on the ice. He could feel the cold ice with his bare hands, and march his feet.
Standing Up to Weight Stigma
If we listen to what society says about only one type of body being right we might miss out on something pretty incredible. Too often in my work as a therapist, I hear clients say they can’t do something because their body doesn’t fit the expectations of what has been deemed normal by society. My two ice skating students were people who many might presume were unable to ice skate because of their bodies. They did not struggle with weight stigma, but the stigma around disabilities. Many coaches did not want to teach them because they felt it would be too hard to work with them. For me, it was a blessing.
I wish there was more representation of different types of bodies in figure skating and in all sports for that matter. I hope that we can tear down these negative fat biases and that more people in bigger bodies get the opportunity to do the things they wish. Maybe some things need to be modified. Or maybe you won’t be an Olympic champion. However, body size should not be a limiting factor in what one is allowed to do. Think about how your own biases prevent you from doing something.
I am no longer ashamed to tell people I was a figure skater. In fact, I am proud to share my ice skating experiences and the jumps and spins I was able to do. I do not care if there is judgment because figure skating is hard. I bet most people couldn’t do a flying camel spin into a sit spin combination. But, I could, and I deserve to show that off.
Doing Other Sports in a Larger Body
Check out Carolyn’s post about horseback riding in a larger body.