CBS’ ‘We Need To Talk’ Show Launches Series Examining Body Image In Female Athletes

If you haven’t yet tuned into CBS Sports’ show ‘We Need To Talk’, it’s time to catch up! The series discusses important issues and cultural events that are happening in the sporting world, and which affect wider society also, such as Colin Kaepernick’s take a knee movement and systemic racism. An exciting series that has launched within the show focuses on body image and host Summer Sanders, who is a former Olympic gold medal swimmer, interviews a plethora of female athletes from various sports.

These are the women who we are used to seeing on our TV screens, on basketball courts, holding up trophies, and captivating crowds at Olympic games. Yet body image issues are no respecter of social status, socio-economic circumstance, or even athletic ability. Women such as Olympic medalist Gabby Douglas, WNBA champion Maya Moore, 13-time Paralympic gold medal swimmer Jessica Long, and FIFA World Cup champion Julie Foudy are featured in this series.

When you tally up the list of barriers female athletes are currently fighting against – sexism, pay inequity, racism, and body image – all of a sudden their list of sporting accomplishments and titles become a whole other level of impressive. Like most of us ordinary folk who have struggled with body image, for many of these women, the issues started while they were young.

“I was taller than everybody. My feet were bigger than everybody,” said Maya Moore, who measured 5-foot-10 in middle school.

“I would tell myself, ‘You’ve got to just wait until basketball season starts. It will all make sense’,” she added.

Gabby Douglas captivated global audiences with her Olympic performances, but sadly, racist opinions about her hair also seemed to dominate news headlines and go viral. As someone who was very insecure about her body growing up, and still being so young when she was thrust into the public eye, Gabby says she has learned to deal with haters and move on.

“People joke about your hair, about just anything possible that they can joke about,” she said.

Throughout the 8 episodes, one of the ways Summer and her guests aim to dismantle harmful body image ideals from perpetuating is by focusing on what bodies can do, rather than what they look like.

“What you’re hearing are these tiny insecurities that people are talking about, even athletes. When you look at a hero talking about her insecurities, it opens up that conversation, so you see some raw moments, some funny moments and some touching moments of the journey of these athletes in their own body,” she told Purpose2Play.com.

Before she was a decorated and iconic American Olympic champion, Summer also endured her fair share of body insecurities, being very tall and skinny. She had trouble finding clothes and shoes that fit, and remembers feeling devastated when she went shopping with her mom and not being able to buy clothes for her frame. Eventually she felt proud about her body’s measurements, once she realized what it could do.

“I would be devastated. My mom couldn’t duct tape an outfit together. Today, my big feet serve a purpose and my long arms were what helped me win a gold medal in the 200 meter butterfly,” she said.

Summer also makes an important point that although the series is focused on women, it doesn’t exclude boys from the conversation. Instead she wants to make sure all young people who are struggling with their bodies know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“I just remind all of these young boys who are smaller than their grade level, the ones who hit puberty later, that their time will come. My brother, who was 5’2″ and 95 pounds his junior year of high school, is now almost 6’0″, and he does half-Ironmans. The point is, everyone is on a different schedule of when they will become the human they will be for the rest of their lives. I just want to remind these awesome kids that there really is time for you. Just be patient and let your body get there,” she said.

Olympic sprinter and bobsledder Lauryn Williams says she was teased a lot about being so muscular. Although people cheered for her to win, they would in the next breath comment on her physique. Eventually, she learned to embrace it once she realized the benefits of her body the way it was.

“I was the best athlete in the neighborhood too so people cheered for me when I was winning races, but at the same time it was like ‘Oh she’s so muscular’, and I realized other girls didn’t look quite like me. I started to embrace that difference once I got into high school, and started getting recruited to college. I’m like ‘Oh this muscular thing is working in my favor!’,” she said.

In the promo video below, we see that eating disorders is another important topic brought up in the series. It is an issue that is very common among athletes which isn’t a surprise given the incredible amount of scrutiny placed on their bodies as their vehicle for success (not to mention carrying a nation’s hopes during competitions and events).

“We have to help young women understand that eating is a great thing, it’s your fuel, it’s your energy. A little junk in the trunk is a good thing, it makes you strong,” said Julie Foudy.

Olympic rower Meghan O’Leary says we have come so far in terms of dismantling stereotypes about what a certain type of athlete should look like according to the history of a particular sport.

“You see people that don’t look like the traditional tennis player. Serena Williams, what she’s done with tennis. But I think it’s a struggle to still hear all these messages that you should be something instead of embracing who you are and what you are,” she said.

Indeed Serena Williams is undoubtedly the most high profile female athlete who has endured years of body-shaming as well as racism, even up until recently. Ballerina Misty Copeland is another athlete and artist who has also become a brilliant example of what it looks like to dismantle narrow stereotypes and completely redefine an entire discipline to make way for others.

‘We Need To Talk’ body image series is the kind of content we wish we had growing up, but it is better late than never. We hope it will encourage and empower many young athletes to feel confident in their abilities, knowing that their bodies are built for a purpose. Watch the teaser video below, and be sure to check out more of CBS Sports’ content on their website.


 

 

 

 

 

 

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