World Surfing Champion Carissa Moore On Body Image & Encouraging Girls To Chase Their Dreams

carissa-moore

Every woman deals with body shaming or body image confidence issues as some point in their lives. When we look at female athletes we kinda picture them as a group of women who have somehow escaped the confines of narrow societal beauty standards and body ideals because they are too busy winning and setting records. But unfortunately that isn’t always the case.

The Women’s Sport Foundation reports that girls and women who participate in sport have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. They are also more likely to have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports. Other socio-cultural benefits of playing sport include better grades, more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to have an unintended pregnancy.

But of course, once you reach the elite professional level where, as an athlete, you are open for scrutiny in all regards, the aforementioned benefits don’t necessarily shield you from body bullies and a group of anonymous people who think it is their right to comment on a woman’s body just because she is in the public eye.

That is exactly what happened to world surfing champion Carissa Moore from Hawaii. Before we talk about how she experienced body shaming and what she did to overcome it, let’s lay the foundation a bit so we’re all aware of how badass she is. When she won the ASP Women’s World Tour Championship in 2011 at the age of 18, she officially became the youngest person (man or woman) to win such a prestigious title. Not even Kelly Slater could beat that at the same age!

In total she has won 3 world titles (2011, 2013 & 2015), has won 6 ASP Women’s World Tour events, and was even inducted into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame in 2014. There are few women who can match the incredible achievements Carissa has, and she is only 22!

Although she has been surfing since the age of 9 and can hold her own against a line-up of guys and girls in the ocean, after winning her first world title in 2011 she was definitely not prepared for the amount of body-shaming she received.

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“After I got in the limelight a bit more, people started to pick apart my body, more than my surfing, and that hurt,” she said in an ESPNW ‘What Makes Us’ documentary about her career.

“In the sport of surfing where women are wearing very revealing uniforms, unfortunately a lot of the attention goes there instead of the athletics. I worked so hard to be the best in the world…I was really hurt that people were looking at my body instead of my surfing,” she continued.

In the same documentary, Jessi Miley-Dyer, Deputy Commissioner of the World Surfing League, gives a great reason as to why body shaming a world champion was the most absurd thing she had heard of.

“For some reason people attacked the way that she looked…and people were talking about her weight. Which to me was ridiculous because for someone to be attacking the body that has just given someone a world title and who’s now the best int the world at a sport, you’d have to think ‘clearly it’s doing something right’,” she said.

It had a marked effect on Carissa’s confidence as she didn’t win a single event the year after making surfing history.

“I was just dealing with doubting myself, and I had a lot of confidence issues. It’s just, it’s hard to be picked apart sometimes,” she said.

After describing what she says was “rock bottom”, there was only way to go: up. In 2013 she came back with a vengeance, and since going on to win many more titles, Carissa’s perspective on the way women are treated in professional sports has changed.

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In December she spoke with Shape.com just after snagging her third world title and spoke more about what she has learned since dealing with body bullies.

“It’s definitely been a process. I’m not perfect with it—I’m constantly working through different things and what other people think of me. But for me, it was realizing I can’t make everybody happy. The people who love me appreciate me for who I am inside and out…and that’s what matters,” she said.

She knows there are now many more sets of eyes on her, and not just body bullies, but young women who look to her as a role model. This has helped her speak up about what she went through in order to encourage other girls.

“It was definitely really hard to hear that people were judging my looks instead of my performance, or that they didn’t think I deserved to be where I was. I was training really hard…I struggled a lot with self doubt and [low] confidence. It’s an important issue. I want other women to know everyone goes through it, everyone has these challenges. If you can find some peace with yourself, embrace who you are, and be athletic and healthy and happy, that’s all you could want for yourself,” she said.

The presence of more female surfers on the international circuit is helping to change the way people look at this mostly-male dominated sport. Everyone is familiar with names like Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, John John Florence, and Mick Fanning. But women like Carissa, Layne Beachley, Stephanie Gilmore, Bethany Hamilton and Leah Dawson are showing the world that this is not just a man’s sport, and there is not just one (masculine) way to achieve surfing greatness.

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“Women are closing the gap between men’s surfing and women’s surfing, but it’s challenging—they’re built differently and can hold on to a wave longer and push more water. Women need to be appreciated in their own light for the beauty and grace they bring to surfing. We’re doing what the men are doing, but in a different way,” said Carissa.

The recognition of the different styles of surfing in a way that still allows men and women to be regarded in equal measure is a big deal. It is an issue just reserved for surfing, as conversations about equality in sports such as soccer and tennis are being had on a regular basis. Part of the reason is because women are paid far less by sponsors and tournaments, but with athletes like Serena Williams, Ronda Rousey and the US Women’s National Soccer team who have proved over and over again they win more titles and bring in more ratings, there should be no excuse to rank them as less important when it comes to a paycheck.

What is also going to make a difference is female athletes encouraging more girls and women to get involved in sports so it is no longer considered something that men do more than women. Carissa recognizes this, and it the ESPNW documentary she ends by explaining how she wants to change the public perception of surfing.

“I really hope that I’ve changed the perception of women’s surfing in a positive way. I think that the whole generation of women’s surfing right now is changing it. I want to encourage [young girls] to not be afraid to chase their dreams and not be afraid to get in a lineup that has all guys,” she said.

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