Sync or Swim: Impossible Perfection

By Marielle H.
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               All athletes strive for perfection, they train hours upon hours everyday to achieve their one goal of being the best in their sport. Most athletes will go incredible lengths to achieve this image of perfection, but for some this image can become distorted. Athletes in artistic sports such as synchronized swimming need to present as well as physically perform. Fancy suits, the perfect technique and a similar physique to your teammates are needed to have chance at a competition. But what how far will coaches and athletes go to achieve perfection?

    In synchronized swimming all members of the team must look completely synchronized and to do so many will go extreme lengths. Having teammates with similar body types is an advantage, but it is purely visual and doesn’t affect the skill level of any of the athletes. Some coaches become so focused on having the perfect athlete that they will turn down athletes simply because of their appearance. The documentary Perfect shows viewers how the Canadian synchronized swimming team darkens the skin tone of teammates to match others. Russia and China synchronized swimming teams don’t struggle with as much variety in their athletes because coaches pick based on skill and looks, while Canada has a more diverse team, representing Canada’s diversity. There is a constant pressure on athletes to be as much like their teammates as possible and this can have a negative effect on athletes mental health.

Many athletes image of perfection has been distorted, leading them to be unhappy with their body. Over 50% of college synchronized swimmers are unsatisfied with their bodies despite being a healthy weight and being physically fit. After taking an EAT 26 questionnaire synchronized swimmers and rhythmic gymnasts showed to have a 25% higher disturbance in their eating practices than athletes in other sports. Body shape is not apart of marking, but swimmers with more ideal features have advantages with how they are perceived in the water by others. Traits such as long legs, a thin build and only a small amount of body fat are ideal in the sport. They do have advantages in the sport itself, but hard work and talent can easily out do these traits, so having this idea that swimmers must have these features is simply absurd. This a serious issue as olympic level synchronized swimmers train ten hours a day and if swimmers restrict their food intake they can put their health into serious danger. Since swimmers are already on strict meal plans there is no other way to lose weight besides practicing unhealthy habits such as restriction of food intake or binging and purging. This mindset of the perfect body must be changed as it is putting so many athletes at risk of serious health issues.

Many other athletes also deal with significant eating disorders and body dysmorphia including male athletes. Though it is not as predominate, it still is a serious issue. For an athlete to not have their mental health in prime condition it can gravely affect their athletic performance. A study that had 156 male athletes in it showed that a quarter of them were unsatisfied with their bodies. Depending on what sport you are in there are different ideals, and those ideals change when you look at society. Our world has created this idea that to succeed in a sport you must have a certain body, though it may give you an advantage, training is what gives athletes results. Putting this idea into athletes heads that they are not good enough because of their appearance is ludicrous and only promotes eating disorders. The mental health of an athlete is just as important as the physical health. Coaches and athletes need to set themselves up for success by not focusing on the physical appearance and instead on the athletic performance. This is easier said than done, but it would be irresponsible for coaches to not take the mental health of an athlete seriously.

We need to understand that athletes, male and female alike, deal with body image issues that affect their performance and put their health in danger. This is an problem that affects athletes, coaches and families. The mental stability of an athlete should always be put first, because without body, mind and spirit being completely healthy they cannot perform to their full potential.

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