These days, gymnast Katelyn Ohashi is peppy, joyful and confident, as the millions of people who watched her viral floor routine know well. But for years, the recent UCLA grad struggled with disordered eating and a skin condition that left her ashamed of her body.
Ohashi, 22, talked about how she worked through her body image troubles in an interview with ESPN for their 2019 Body Issue. The six-time All-American posed nude for the annual feature, and showed the circular bumps that cover her body due to her rare skin condition.
“I have a skin condition called granuloma annulare,” she said. “It covers my entire body. Some look like bruises; some are complete circles. It actually doesn’t affect me, but people are like, ‘What’s wrong with your stomach?’ ”
Ohashi said she “used to feel ashamed” of her body because of her condition and would avoid taking photos in her swimsuit or leaving her stomach bare.
“But now I feel like it’s important to show it because so many people try to hide it,” she said. “Recently someone said, ‘I was able to take the bandage off my hand to show my granuloma because you inspired me.’ That was such an amazing thing to hear. Why should we have to hide?”
Ohashi also had to change her thinking after dealing with disordered eating, which began at age 14 when she “started hearing comments about my weight.”
“‘You look like you swallowed an elephant.’ ‘You look like a pig.’ ‘Your face is three times the size it was this morning.’ ‘You remind me of a bird that’s too big to fly.’ People whose opinions I valued said this to me,” she said.
That led to disordered eating. “My friends and I would try to eat 500 calories or less when we were training seven hours a day,” she said.
“At parties, we would go to the bathroom and try to vomit up the food … I had a horrible relationship with food and didn’t really understand why I was supposed to hate it, but I loved it so much at the same time. It was so normalized because all the girls around me, my close friends, were doing the same thing.”
Ohashi said she would feel weak during practices from the lack of food, and by age 16, she was struggling with major back pain. She learned that a vertebra in her back was sticking out and she needed to stop doing gymnastics.
“That was such a relief because I had been miserable for so long, so a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
Ohashi said it took “a full year” before she wanted to return to gymnastics.
“My new goal was to find joy in the sport again and just fully do it for myself,” she said.
She joined the gymnastics team at UCLA, where the nutritionists and trainers prioritized eating to properly fuel her body.
“It created a better environment for me to accept my body and not be super weird about eating,” she said. “I don’t prevent myself from eating anything. Once you release your mind, your body can relax and do what it’s supposed to do.”
Ohashi said that this mindset shift brought back her confidence, making it possible for her to nail her floor routine — and pose nude for ESPN.
“I feel really accepting of the things I used to be insecure about,” she said. “I have gone through eating disorders and body shaming, and here I am today standing [laughs] naked in front of a camera doing this shoot for millions of people to see.”
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