What our children can learn from Amanda Bingson.

Today is another great day in the Body Positive Fitness and Athleticism world. To wake up and see the magnificent image of Amanda Bingson gracing my newsfeed everywhere is making me smile. It is time for ESPN’s Body Image Issue and yet again it does a brilliant job in celebrating athletic diversity.

Reading Bingson’s interview, things get even better. Strong, fearless, and completely in tune with her body and what it is capable of, Bingson embodies everything that a Body Positive Athlete is about. Function over form. Loving your body. Celebrating its strengths. Backing yourself and your talent. The list and my girl-crush goes on.

There are many positive messages to take away from Bingson’s feature, but the most poignant one for me is what it offers our younger generations when it comes to their bodies and sport.

In discussing her own sporting experiences as a child, Bingson brings some very common but very serious issues to the fore about Junior sport and Junior development. She discusses her love for sport even as a child but the inability of others to ‘marry’ her body type to her athleticism, so despite being a fit and active child who participated heavily in sports, she was still labeled as ‘fat’. Fast forward to later in adolescence when she was kicked off the volleyball team, despite showing a talent for the sport simply because she didn’t lose the 30 pounds she was requested to lose. The weight loss wasn’t even for performance reasons – Bingson simply cites that they didn’t have a uniform to fit her. So she had to sit by and watch less talented, smaller team members pursue a sport she enjoyed and was good at, all because someone couldn’t rustle up a uniform.

In a matter of two interview questions, Bingson has managed to highlight two very common experiences which, for many people, represents the moment they give up on sport because their sport gives up on them.

In my advocacy work, I am privvy to so many stories which highlight a common pattern; a love for a particular sport as a child, then as the person gets older, their parents are told that they do not have the ‘ideal body type’ to really go any further development-wise in said sport. The child falls out of love with the sport because in their eyes, the sport loses faith in their ability based on their body type, not on their heart, passion, or talent.

Perhaps this explains why only 26% of Australians aged 15 and over reported to have actively participated in a sport in 2013/2014 (Australian Bureau of Statistics), and why 70 per cent of our adolescents are reporting body dissatisfaction (Mission Australia). By dropping out of sport in adolescence, we are potentially missing out on discovering what amazing things our bodies are capable of and therefore appreciating our bodies from a functional perspective.

What I love about this interview is the message it gives to children and adolescents who feel like their sport is giving up on them and are in turn about to give up. The resilience Bingson showed in continuing sport of some form despite facing judgement from an early age is a great demonstration of what can potentially happen if we encourage our children to shut out the noise of judgment and pursue their passion for sport.

The interview also manages to let her understanding of her body shine – Bingson talks about her body like the well-tuned machine that it is. It is a brilliant demonstration of being in tune with your body and love for your body for what it achieves for you; something that comes with thinking and training like an athlete.

Aside from teaching us how to celebrate our strengths, Bingson’s story could also bestow some very important messages to junior development coaches about making a judgement about a child’s sporting potential based solely on their body type – and the size range of their uniforms.

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