I am a classically trained ballerina, or a “bunhead” as we call ourselves.  Since the age of two, I learned to plié, relevé, chassé, and pas de chat my way across the stage.  But you wouldn’t necessarily know this from looking at me.  You see, I do not look like a pin thin dancer who on a breezy day is likely to take flight.  I am average build with a healthy appetite for In-N-Out burgers and street tacos.  When not dancing, you can find me most days on the erg practicing my times for my next rowing competition, hiking my beloved Camelback Mountain, or doing yoga.

So how did I avoid being the stereotypical body and diet obsessed dancer?  Simple. My mom.  When I was about ten years old, I told my mom that I was serious about ballet and wanted to go en pointe (on my toes) like the beautiful dancers I saw in the Nutcracker.  As she helped me sew the ribbons in my new ballet shoes, she looked me square in the eye and said, “I support you, but if I see you start skipping meals or turn down your favorite dessert, I will pull you immediately.”

So, we had a deal.  I could follow my passion for dancing so long as I maintained a good body image and continued to put my health first.  And it’s worked out.  I still experience the challenge and joy of ballet while being able to pursue other sports and interests.  And I eat In-N-Out at least twice a month!

This is why I am so encouraged by the women athletes at the Tokyo Olympics finally pushing back against image expectations and putting their mental health first.  This is the first Olympics since the Larry Nasser sexual assault conviction.  It may also be considered a seminal moment for women athletes standing against the gender stereotypes that have negatively affected their well-being for so long.  From the German gymnastics team bucking convention by wearing full body leotards and mom/athletes nursing their babies in the Olympic Village to Australian swimmer Maddie Groves withdrawing over sexual harassment and Simone Biles putting her mental health first, women athletes are seizing the moment.

As an athlete myself, I certainly understand the strong desire to win.  I also understand the even stronger desire to do better than your last best.  There is a lifetime of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice that goes into being an Olympic competitor.  But should you have to sacrifice your long-term dignity and mental health for Olympic glory?  I am proud of the Tokyo women athletes for saying enough.  Now let’s all have some In-N-Out to celebrate!

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