During quarantine, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve built up the courage to open up about my experience as a black female athlete, as well as my struggles with an eating disorder and body image. I have learned the difficulties of managing an ED over quarantine and through society as a black woman. At the start of quarantine, all I could do was think about food, exercise, restricting, and gaining weight. Quarantine gave me so much extra stress and anxiety. It’s crazy to think that in the middle of a global pandemic, I was worried about getting fat. I cared more about my weight than my health.
This is my story:
I’ve been dieting since 8th grade. I’ve never felt like I fit in, so I thought that if I dieted, lost weight, and changed my body, maybe I would fit in. It never worked, but can you blame me? The stereotypical beach volleyball player is white, blonde, skinny, and tall. I am black, muscular and only 5’8,” which is shorter than average. Other girls are taller and built better for this sport. I have struggled with comparing myself on social media, on the court, and even with a lot of my teammates.
I feel that I need to be a certain weight and look a certain way in order to feel good in life, be good at beach volleyball, and to be loved. I feel like I need to be perfect. If I want to blend in or be noticed as a typical beach player, I need to work extra hard to look like everyone else and “play” like them.
Having an ED is like a sickness that controls you, your thoughts, your actions. My ED is abusive and brutal — it wants to hurt me. I bought so many subscriptions to various diet plans. I would start a new diet every week, every month. I restricted my food intake, which led to me to binge on weekends, or so called “cheat” days. I was starving myself. I exercised after I ate anything by running up and downstairs and doing core workouts. I would wake up at 4am to train and get better; however, I wasn’t getting much better. All the training and exercising exhausted my body and I started getting new injuries, which only further hindered my physical training and mental health. My mindset was, “in order to eat food, I have to workout and burn off the calories.” I started to take pills, which are expensive, but it was a behavior that I couldn’t avoid. My eating disorder behaviors hurt me and were unhealthy.
This ED is my enemy. It is this “thing” in me affecting my every thought and action. Behaviors of my ED are hard to avoid and I have faced that challenge for years. I have to constantly remind myself that I am stronger than my eating disorder.
Through quarantine, I’ve gained knowledge and have started to understand that you can be any height, weight, or color and play beach volleyball and be an AMAZING athlete. I learned that you need to play “your game”, no matter what game or sport you’re playing. You can’t play like anyone else but YOU. You can’t look like anyone else because you are unique and that is a beautiful thing. We all look different for a reason, it makes our world a beautiful place.
I am not recovered, but I’m on the road to recovery and I know that I am not alone. I have found support that has been helpful to me. Some of my close friends have been the biggest support during this recovery journey. I have been working with a recovery coach, a certified eating disorder therapist and a board certified sports dietitian. It has not been easy, and there have been multiple instances where I have wanted to quit my recovery, but I NEVER do! I am stronger than my eating disorder because I refuse to let my ED win! Recovery is tough — it’s grueling and I hate it. It’s like I’m on a bumpy road. I have to step out of my comfort zone and that’s very uncomfortable and challenging for me to do. But, I know recovery is worth it, because when I look into the future I see HOPE and freedom from my awful ED.
I am a proud black woman and I am a great athlete.
Self-love and self compassion is not easy. I remind myself that it’s okay to be scared. I am scared, but I remember I am NEVER alone. I am learning that I don’t need to live up to anyone or prove myself. The most important thing to do, is live up to myself —to be the best version of me. I can’t be anyone else. In my mind, all the “stereotypical” looking beach volleyball players are the best players, but that’s not true. I envision other black trailblazers like Serena Williams, Althea Gibson, and Maritza Correia, and know that I might be part of something great to come. Jenny Johnson Jordan and Annett Davis inspire me daily. They were the first African-American team to play for a championship in a professional beach volleyball tournament. I want to continue what they started and I want to be a part of something great to come.
I am a black girl on the beach. This is my sport and nothing will take my passion for beach volleyball away from me – not my eating disorder, nor the color of my skin.
Kara Griffin-Ruwin plans to play beach volleyball at Tulane University.