Why Do We Only Celebrate Bodies Like Mine Every 4 Years?

During every Olympic season, praise for women's athletic abilities and accomplishments is always accompanied by admiration for their strong bodies. We're in awe of their physique and all the hard work they've put into reaching such a high level of fitness, and the media loves to shower visual attention on them. We seem to become particularly obsessed with the bodies of gymnasts; not only are we floored by their ability to fly, tumble, and laugh in the face of gravity, but we're amazed at how they manage to be so fit while being so small. It's no wonder the commentary on women's gymnastics can easily turn from professional to creepy in a split second. 

As a woman who is athletically built and only 5'1 tall, you'd think I would be thrilled to see more women on TV who slightly resemble my body type. And while it's definitely refreshing to see these figures in lieu of the typical 6-foot-tall model, I can't help but be disappointed by the fact that this display is only temporary. 

There's no denying that our culture doesn't exactly have a great track record of celebrating a diversity of body types, and that includes the short and stocky female figure. Slender, tall physiques are praised, as are certain bigger, "curvy" shapes, both of which are considered to be feminine in their own ways. But we're simply still not accustomed to seeing small, muscular women in the limelight — at least, not unless they serve a tangible purpose, like winning a gold medal. 

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All my life, I've been told that my body resembles that of a gymnast's. I never did gymnastics when I was younger, but I participated in all kind of other sports; I always had an interest in exercising, and my body retains muscle very easily. That's always seemed to make people think I'm unusual. 

It occurred to me then that I couldn't actually do anything that those amazing gymnasts could — so what was the point of my stocky figure? Would my muscles still be considered beautiful if there wasn't a particular reason for my bulk? 

I remember one time, when I was 13 years old, something my cousins said to me: "We were talking earlier, and from behind you look just like a gymnast! Muscular. And your thighs look super strong." I took it as a compliment, but I also knew then and there that the only way my body would ever make sense to other people was by comparing me to a gymnast. There was no other arena in which a silhouette like mine could be seen as feminine and cherished. 

It occurred to me then that I couldn't actually do anything that those amazing gymnasts could — so what was the point of my stocky figure? Would my muscles still be considered beautiful if there wasn't a particular reason for my bulk? 

This thought stayed with me for years, and even though I enjoyed every summer Olympic season, I spent the days in between constantly searching for at least one other woman on a magazine cover who resembled me. Someone with powerful thighs and broad shoulders. Someone short. I was always unsuccessful — until the next Olympics. 

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Teen Vogue's August issue featured Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles on the cover, and interviewed Douglas' mother and manager, Natalie Hawkins. She told Teen Vogue that the young gold medalist has had to face all kinds of discrimination along the way, including cruel remarks about her body. "I remember when everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were," Hawkins said. After seeing how Serena Williams has handled the haters over the years, though, Douglas was inspired to unconditionally love and appreciate her body, no matter what people said about her muscles.

One picture from the cover shoot shows Douglas in a standing split, wearing a sports bra and short shorts. The photo is clearly designed to show off her incredible physique. In the same shoot, Biles is also given the chance to display her gorgeous muscles and her 4'8 stature. Even though Biles is considered "stockier" than other gymnasts, she says she makes her body type work for her and her routines. (Well, that's for sure.)

The whole article is a positive celebration of these strong female bodies, and while that's a wonderful thing to witness, the fact that these bodies only seem to be represented once every four years sends the message that they are only worthy of our time because they're being used win Olympic medals. 

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After the Olympics end, we essentially never see women in the media who look like Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles. The magazines go right back to devoting the vast majority of their time and energy into interviewing thin, tall individuals who are only just-toned-enough so that they don't look too brawny. What are women like me supposed to take from that? How are we supposed to think of ourselves when we only see our bodies admired once every Olympics? 

While these gymnasts deserve every compliment we offer them in terms of both their physique and their successes, we have to remember that the Olympics aren't the only place and time where bodies like theirs should be considered exquisite. There are plenty of us out there who are short and athletic, even if we're far from gold medalists. Like these beautiful gymnasts, we also deserve to represented and celebrated — and not just once every four years. 

Images: GinaFlorio, gabbycvdouglas/Instagram 

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