Jessie Diggins on body image education, why sports journalism needs more women

2018 Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins at a 2021 cross-country skiing World Cup stop in Ulricehamn, Sweden
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Editor’s Note: This week – February 22-28 – is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Since claiming gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, cross-country skier Jessie Diggins has become an advocate for eating disorder prevention, partnering with The Emily Program and opening up about her own eating disorder in her book Brave Enough.

Diggins, the current overall World Cup leader, recently wrote about an experience she had after winning the 10km freestyle (aka “skate”) at the World Cup stop in Falun, Sweden. An excerpt of that post is below; Diggins’ full blog entry can be found here.

By Jessie Diggins

Given that Eating Disorder Awareness week is coming up soon, I’d like to tell you about a very interesting moment I had in the media zone after the 10km skate race, because this very clearly illustrates to me how far we still need to go in body image education.

One of the reporters asked me about my race told me that [Norwegian skier Therese] Johaug was much better than I was in the uphills, but I was faster in the downhills. Why did I think this happened? Before I could open my mouth to answer him, he steamrolled over me, hypothesizing on live TV that it was because I was so much bigger than Therese and weighed more, and that’s why I went faster. I blinked at him. I asked him to repeat the question, sure that I hadn’t understood him correctly (I had).

On what I sincerely hope was still live TV for the sake of women everywhere, I told him that he needed to learn how to talk to women. Secondly, he may never comment on a skier’s body. That is not ok. I pointed at my headgear, the Emily Program, and asked him to take a second and think about why I race with that specific logo on my head. I ultimately won that race because of my heart, not my body composition, and to suggest otherwise is harmful to every young athlete out there watching it.

I was really proud of myself here, because I didn’t let this comment throw me off. Many years ago, it would have stolen all my joy from my race and made me stay up at night questioning the size of my body and what other people thought about it. Now, I just dismiss it for what it is; one man being ignorant and insensitive, looking for clickbait.

His colleague later asked me why I was “so angry” (they love to exaggerate. When I am actually angry, you will know). I explained to him “No, I wasn’t angry…just very disappointed. It is never ok to comment on skiers bodies and I shouldn’t have to stand there and take that kind of question. Maybe you don’t consider it YOUR job to protect the next generation of women in sport from harmful body image talk…but it IS my job.”

So how do we fix this?

A few things. First, don’t ever comment on someone else’s body size or shape. I can’t believe I’m still explaining to people that this will never, ever help anyone…yet here we are. The last thing we need to impress upon young athletes, male or female, is that trying to achieve a body size they may or may not be genetically able to sustain is more important than hard work, mental toughness and health.

Secondly, hire more women in sports journalism. Every time a woman asks me a question in the media zone, they (wait for it…) listen and let me answer them. They don’t try to feed me the answer they’re clearly looking for without regard to how I actually felt about my race.

I’d like to point out that I’m not condemning all men in the media space here. I’ve had many awesome interactions with the press, and I genuinely like and appreciate many of them (hi, Jason, Tom and Anders!). But I have never had a woman try to “mansplain” to me how and why I skied the way I did. I have had many, many men attempt this. I would love to see equal representation of men and women in the sports media space. I think we will get better stories out of it. And hopefully less speculation on the size of women’s bodies and how it helps or hurts their racing.

“But Jessie, you won’t change the world or even the media mix zone with a blog post. Why even try?”

Because! If even one girl reads this and realizes that 1.) people who make comments about her body composition are trying to shift focus away from her actual skills, 2.) she has the power to stop someone when they are being rude and hurtful and 3.) that she doesn’t have to stand there and take that kind of shit from anyone, ever, then it will have been worth it. Same goes for the young men out there. Take care of the body you were genetically born with. Keep it healthy, keep your brain happy, and keep a strong team around you. And that will be enough to reach your potential in sport. Just being YOU will be enough.

RELATED: In her own words: Alice Merryweather details eating disorder treatment

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