Nastia Liukin Talks Body-Shaming, Sexism in Sports

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When Nastia Liukin retired from gymnastics in 2012, she gained 25 kilos. Once generally known as a “petite blond gymnast” who backflipped and handsprung her solution to 5 Olympic medals in 2008, Liukin was out of the blue bombarded with feedback calling her “fat” and scrutinizing her physique.

“People remembered me as this petite blond gymnast in a leotard, and then I go through the normal body changes and people are like, ‘Oh my God. You’re so fat,’” Liukin instructed StyleCaster at SheIs aware of Media’s BlogHer18 Health convention on January 31. “It’s like, ‘Actually, I’m not fat.’ Yes. I gained some weight. But my body is going through this change. Everyone goes through that. I guess not everyone goes through it in the public eye.”

Nastia Liukin

Photo: Getty Images

To cope, Liukin stocked her closet with saggy garments, holed up in her condo in New York City, and declined invites to occasions, in concern of being seen. “I had almost this identity crisis,” Liukin says. “I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what to wear. Nothing fit me. I tried to wear really baggy clothes to hide that. I lost all my self-confidence. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to go to events or to dinner or do anything because I was so insecure with myself and my body because of what other people were saying.”

No matter what, you’re by no means going to be what folks need.

Though Liukin labored out “all the time,” she didn’t see a lot progress. It wasn’t till she accepted that her physique would by no means be what it was when she was coaching for the Olympics and realized to train for her well being reasonably than to drop extra pounds that she seen a change.

“I knew I needed to take time for my body to go through that. I was working out all the time, but nothing was happening, and at a certain point, it’s OK,” Liukin says. “More recently, I’ve realized that if I want dessert, if I want a cookie, I’m going to have it and not deprive myself because I don’t want my jeans to be too tight.”

However, the body-shaming didn’t cease when Liukin misplaced weight. Now, she faces a brand new set of critics who accuse her of trying “too thin,” a remark that she admits hurts however doesn’t shock her. “No matter what, you’re still being body-shamed,” Liukin says. “On my Instagram yesterday, someone was like, ‘Jeez. When are you going to start eating again?’ It’s like, ‘Trust me. I eat just fine.’ I am healthy. That’s frustrating. It can put you down. It hurts the same, whether it’s one way or another. No matter what, you’re never going to be what people want.”

I can’t bear in mind the final time a male athlete was criticized for his hair.

As a girl in sports activities, Liukin is used to being criticized for her look, particularly after spending years within the public eye, the place she was picked aside for every thing from her hair to her make-up to her physique—primarily, every thing however her precise gymnastics.

“I can’t remember the last time, to my knowledge, that a male athlete was criticized for his hair,” Liukin says. “It’s like, ‘You’re watching it because you love the sport. So focus on the incredible routine that they’re doing instead of on their hair or their makeup.’ At the end of the day, we’re competing in the Olympics because of our gymnastic abilities. We’re not competing for our looks. We’re not in a beauty pageant. We’re representing our country at the Olympics.”

Nastia Liukin

Photo: Getty Images

The double commonplace continues for girls who’re seen as “bitchy” due to their competitiveness. For years, Liukin noticed her title related to phrases like icy and bitchy for the stoic, intense expression she had each time she did gymnastics—one thing she didn’t see taking place to males who had been equally as aggressive of their sport.

“When a lot of men compete, they can be serious, but that’s not perceived as being bitchy or having a bitch face. For a female, it is,” Liukin says. “It was hard for me when I was younger because people were like, ‘Oh my God. She seems like a bitch.’ I was like, ‘No. I’m really not. I’m just focused.’”

Though Liukin is a large fan of social media, as considered one of BlogHer18 Health’s panelists on the ability of visible storytelling on social media, she admits that the platform amplifies negativity.  

“I tell myself, ‘OK. I’m not going to think about what people are saying. I’m going to delete comments,’” Liukin says. “Then you see one and you get deflated. You can be so positive, and one comment can make you feel defeated. That’s why it’s important to stay true to yourself, because you also don’t know these people. I’ve never met 95 percent of my followers. That’s awesome that they’re following me, but at the same time, why am I letting them affect how I feel?”

Nastia Liukin

Photo: BlogHer18 Health

After rising up within the public eye, beginning along with her first Gymnastics World Championship when she was 15, Liukin has realized some classes on coping with insecurities and self-doubt.

“It’s important to be happy from within,” Liukin says. “Don’t focus on what other people want you to look like or to be or to work on or to say. If I’m happy with my body, and I know that I’m healthy, I need to stop worrying about everybody else. Happiness is strength.”


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