At the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Jessie Diggins helped the U.S. claim its first ever gold medal in cross-country skiing. In the years since, the Minnesota native has used her newfound fame to raise awareness about about topics that are important to her, most notably: eating disorder prevention.
Last month, in a conversation hosted by Salomon, Diggins and retired runner Lauren Fleshman detailed their experiences of speaking out on social media, and when they first decided to make their message about more than just sport.
“I think a lot of athletes have been conditioned to be scared to speak out,” Diggins explained. “For me, post-Olympics is when I had a bit of a turnaround… I’m gonna retire from the sport someday and look back and realize that I had this amazing platform and this opportunity to talk about things that really matter to me, like women in sport, eating disorders, and protecting the planet. If I don’t take that opportunity, I’m gonna be really mad at myself.”
In June 2018, Diggins revealed her own experience with an eating disorder. Earlier this year, the 29-year-old published a book – Brave Enough – in which she detailed her struggles with bulimia and her decision to seek treatment through the Emily Program.
Over time, however, Diggins has learned that the social media landscape is often at-odds with her message of body positivity.
“If I actually want to say something about eating disorder prevention or getting people to vote… If I want to say something that I think is actually really important, I need to pair it with the prettiest photo I have,” Diggins explained. “Because then more people will like it, and it will go up the algorithm, and then more people will see it. And, hopefully, the message gets across.”
“It’s this frustrating space where, if I want to be heard, I need to play up the looks to get the message out. But then when I do, I feel like I’m not really being true to whatever message it is that I’m saying. So I feel like it’s a little bit of a trap.”
Fleshman, who has long been known for her outspoken blog posts, has also been frustrated by some of the biases she’s seen built into social media. “Skinny, cute, white girl privilege is real in sports,” the 39-year-old explained. “Because of that, we’re the ones that really need to be talking about anti-racism. We need to be talking about ableism. We need to be talking about more than just sexism and white feminism issues… My black teammates on Team USA have been out there like pounding the pavement, dealing with this stuff. They’re the experts on this, but they aren’t getting favored by the algorithm… or people’s biases, internalized white supremacy, all these types of things.”
While these social media issues are too large for any one athlete to tackle, Fleshman proposed a simple step that she plans to take: becoming a better women’s sports fan. “I need to contribute to the viewership ratings. I need to follow those athletes… Making sure we’re watching each other’s posts, liking those posts, and providing positive affirmation in the comments section that shows that this person isn’t alone.”