Stop Shaming Victims of Abuse!
This morning I woke up around 3:45 a.m. to go and run morning practice. Before I got out of bed, I scrolled through social media, and read some news articles. One of the things that caught my eye, was a piece about Natalie Coughlin, and how she was body shamed, and emotionally abused by her club coach. This in and of itself, was not a surprise to me. What was surprising, even though at this point it shouldn't be, were the comments that were made below this piece. On this site, a person can comment anonymously, which seems to mean for some people, that they can say whatever is on their mind. This is basically without actually thinking about the effects, that their comments may have on the victim in the piece. Or better yet, on all the other swimmers, coaches, and parents reading the article.
The reasons that I have such a difficult time with the comments on this article are this: Natalie was an Olympian, and gave the majority of her life representing the USA. She is a human being, does anyone ever think about how they would feel, in her shoes? Have you heard of empathy? Just because someone hasn't had the same experience as you, does that invalidate their claims? Absolutely not! I think one of my favorite comments was, she needs to feel relevant. AYFKM? Do you think Natalie sits home thinking up ways to get attention? I'm pretty sure her swimming, and character are very relevant.
I myself have been body shamed since I was 13. I was put on a scale and told I needed to lose weight-at 113 pound. So I went down to 105. I took diet pills starting at 13, and obsessed about my body. When I was 16, I was told by Scott MacFarland- that I was pooey, he would measure my arm with his hand, and tell me, how weak I was. He weighed me several times per day, and only allowed me to eat certain foods, like chicken, turkey and fish. No mayo on my sandwiches, no dressing on my salads. I was not allowed to have cheese if I weight about 120. The funny thing in all of this, is that, when I swam for him, I weighed between 108-115. I obsessed EVERY day about my body, and food! It did not stop with him. I also swam with Pierre LaFontaine when he was coaching in Arizona, at the Phonetician Swim Club, right before the SNL crisis. He weighed all of us before practice, and would shout out things like: Hey Sarah just because your 22, doesn't mean you have to be a fat ass! I weighed 122.
I was so scared to get verbally abused in front of everyone, that during Thanksgiving, when I thought that I had eaten way too much. I didn't go back to practice for over a week, until I knew I was at a weight where he might not embarrass me. I was also taking 70 laxatives a day, as well as eating and throwing up. This did not make for fast swimming, self confidence, or really any type of happiness. It destroys your mind, and your body-literally. I could go on and on about my eating disorders, or disordered eating, but I will save that for later.
I say good for you Natalie! All types of abuse, will not stop If people do not tell their stories. Instead of shaming the the person who has been abused, try and put yourselves in their shoes, or your daughters/sons shoes? Is that how you would want to be treated, or your how you want your kids to be treated? Telling your story about being abused, in any way, is NOT easy! Be kind, and thoughtful. Let's change the culture of our sport.