Female Track & Field Olympians Talk Body Image: 'To Be a Good Athlete, You Have to Be Strong'

"If you want to be an athlete, your body is going to be totally different," said Olympic shot putter Felisha Johnson

Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty

Amid the body shaming controversy surrounding some of their fellow Olympic competitors, a few female Team U.S.A. members are sharing how they learned to embrace their athletic shapes.

Olympic hammer thrower Amber Campbell is in peak physical condition, she told the Indy Star, but by her measurements – 5’7″ and 200 lbs. – she could be considered obese.

“I’ll never be 135 lbs. at 5-foot-7,” said Campbell. “If I were 135 lbs., I couldn’t throw a hammer. It’s not about being wispy and thin. To be a good athlete, you have to be strong.”

And strong she is. Now in her third Olympics, 35-year-old Johnson recently set a record at the U.S. trials, throwing 242 feet, 10 inches.

But Campbell didn’t always embrace her figure, she told the Star. It took time for the athlete to realize it was “not about how I looked, but how I felt.”

Similarly, shot putter Felisha Johnson, 27, has pride in her “muscular and bigger” shape.

Said the Olympian, who is 6’1″ and 280 lbs., “If you want to be an athlete, your body is going to be totally different.”

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That self-confidence doesn’t spare her from rude remarks, though. She said people “in the outside world” make comments like, “‘You’re huge. How much do you bench?’ ”

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According to a 2015 study by the NCAA Sport Science Institute, The Female Athlete Body Project – which was cited by the Star – more than 25 percent of female athletes restrict their eating. These dietary decisions lead many competitors to fall behind in the number of calories needed to support their lifestyles.

“I used to spend time wishing my limbs were skinnier or I had a firmer behind,” said Kara Winger, who will compete for Team U.S.A. in the javelin throw. “But in the past few years, I’ve really honed in on how good my body feels when I’m in great competition shape.”

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