As someone who never really got into team sports, I've always liked watching gymnastics the best. It's not just the unbelievable athleticism packed into these tiny women who defy gravity, but also the showmanship. I was thinking about how gymnastics is the only sport where the top competitors are wearing glittery eyeliner and hair ribbons. As a kid, that's precisely what appealed to me about the sport: it involves costumes! But it's also a little weird. Can you imagine if we expected swimmers or sprinters to pose and grin before and immediately after their races?
Zuzu has taken preschool gymnastics and she loved it--running, flipping, swinging, hanging upside down, jumping on the trampoline. She enjoyed it and I liked watching her. I wonder if it might be a sport that she'd want to pursue as she gets older. On the other hand, I realize that competitive levels of gymnastics have unpleasant implications for thinking about weight and body image.
I appreciated this article by Meghan O'Roarke: "Is Watching Gymnastics Worse Than Being an NFL Fan?" that talks about the toxic elements of the sport, and the true danger that's involved in the training and execution of more and more difficult moves (moves that Simone Biles makes look easy--she is amazing!).
And I really liked this essay by Amelia Morris that comments and expands on O'Roarke's article, comparing the exacting standards for performance, appearance, and grace that we put on gymnasts to the unrealistic expectations that our society assigns to women and to mothers. Do really difficult work, do it looking good and while wearing eyeliner, and watching what you eat, and be sure that you're smiling the whole time, dammit! Or, as Morris puts it: I want my body to work; for my belly to stretch to carry my children; to stretch—to put it gently—even more in order to birth them; and for my breasts to fill (read: stretch) with milk and therefore grow larger than they ever had been in my pre-child life. And yet I also want my body to “bounce back” to my pre-child level of thinness, to my pre-child muscularity. (Bounce is actually a horrible word for it, since, in order to work out—to run and jump—like I once did, I now have to wear two sports bras.) And then I want to adorn this imaginary post-child-yet-pre-child-level-of-thinness body with loose, shapeless dresses, wear no makeup, and appear effortlessly beautiful.
This balancing act seems especially intense now as I feel all of the conflicted feelings about school starting next week--excited! devastated! happy! stressed! relieved! anxious! I don't expect to carry it off with perfect grace, either. I know I'm going to feel cranky for the first two weeks of the semester, and then we'll be in a new routine and it will be fine. In the meantime, we'll do what's necessary to make the transition--early bedtimes, pizza for dinner, and taking the time to get everything ready the night before. I know pre-planning will make all the difference, but I'm going to try to go easy on myself. I might wear eyeliner, but I'll skip the leotard and hair ribbons. And I'll happily eat pizza.