Aug 4, 2011

Too fat, too tall, too not-the-perfect image of a skater

This blogger brings up an interesting issue- is there a "perfect" body type for a figure skater?

What if we did that for every public profession. Made the way a person looks the first criterion for whether that person can do that job- sales person, teacher, cop. Well, in fact, we used to just that. Until recently, for instance, we all knew what a president looked like, didn't we?

Old white guy.

And yet there's that young black guy in the White House.

Yes, there is a "perfect" body type for a skater--not too tall (but not too short), slim, small-bosomed, low center of gravity (i.e. short legs), legs straight or slightly bowed, square shoulders. Oh, and white. Or better yet Asian. Did I mention that? If you're younger than a certain age it's hard to understand the sea change that was Surya Bonaly and Debi Thomas; how shocking and empowering those skaters were, not just to black girls, but to all girls who felt different in skating or in life. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase "I didn't know black girls could skate!" Or how many, white, black or brown, thought, geez if she can overcome that kind of prejudice, then who am I to let my knock-knees hold me back.

And then there's Katarina Witt (bosom), Rachael Flatt (sloped shoulders), Carolina Kostner and Megan Oster (tall), Tara Lipinski (knock kneed), Evan Lysacek (really tall). In fact, I can't think of a skater who is perfect.

Because there is no such thing.

There is no such thing for so many reasons. First, not only does the perfect skating body not exist, it isn't necessary. There's probably a perfect body for walking, too. If you don't have it, does that mean you don't walk? A skater isn't machine tooled, where if a part doesn't meet patented specifications, the whole thing stops working. If I had to put a number on it, I would say your body and your talent are less than half of what you need to be a skater. As, or more, important, are your drive, your intelligence and your motivation.

Ambitious coaches will look for the whole package--body, talent, drive, motivation, ability to pay. If you feel dismissed by an ambitious coach, figure out which one of those things is missing, and overcome it. You note I don't say "fix it," because like I said, you're not a machine with replaceable parts. If you're not quite smart enough for law school, but you want to be a lawyer, you study harder, you don't decide to be a ditch digger instead.


  1. I think about this a lot. I am too tall (almost 5'9"), too hip heavy (I've borne two children), and waaay too old (41). But I'm learning to jump, and I am fortunate to have a coach who likes working with adults. Also, and I think this cannot be emphasized enough, it occurs to her periodically to say things about my "lovely long lines" or some other such compliment. Now, there is no question that I am not the skater in her stable who will "go places." But the heartfelt nature of her occasional comments about how, for just a moment, I "really look like a skater" goes a tremendously long way towards making me feel good about my progress. I think all coaches would do well to use her as a model: there is not an over-abundance of praise, so that the praise becomes meaningless, nor is there the implicit critique of my "not right" body type that no mention at all would perhaps indicate. I have heard her effuse about another (adult) skater's sculpted arms (much more muscular than a child's would be) by telling her she ought to wear sleeveless dresses more often, and other similar remarks that make it so clear that she looks for the genuine positive and remembers how important it is to be reminded that sometimes, the ways in which we don't meet that ethereal ideal are the ways in which we are, as individuals, really the strongest.

  2. Xan, I love this post. I wholeheartedly agree that drive and motivation are critical, and most importantly, are within our control, whereas some physical factors simply aren't. But age, height, weight, etc. are no excuse for giving up on one's goals. And how exciting to think that being on the short side with short legs - a fact I've bemoaned in many other aspects of life - is actually beneficial for something I love.

    Mommytime, it sounds like you have a great coach! :)