Katelyn Ohashi wowed the world when a video of her fierce floor routine went viral in January, but she had a long road to the perfect 10 she scored for that performance.
In a new video interview with the BBC, the former UCLA gymnast, who graduated this spring, opened up about the body-shaming she endured from coaches and spectators as a child growing up in gymnastics, saying that at one point, she was left feeling so self-conscious, she “hated everything” about herself.
“You start normalizing things because that’s what you know, and you grow up surrounded by people that are going through the same thing as you,” Ohashi said, explaining that female gymnasts face extreme pressure to become as thin as possible. They don’t learn about healthy eating, she said — they learn not to eat.
“When you look back on it, I do think it’s a form of abuse,” she says. “I was told I didn’t look like a gymnast. I was told I looked like I’d swallowed an elephant, or looked like a pig.”
Things changed when she she began attending UCLA. There, the coaches made it clear that her mental well-being would be prioritized over her body shape. She began to regain her love of the sport and stop worrying about her appearance. She became a national champion in floor exercise and an Internet sensation as videos of her performances went viral.
— UCLA Gymnastics (@uclagymnastics) January 13, 2019
Ohashi, who graduated with a degree in gender studies, says she now hopes to work to support women’s empowerment. “Being comfortable with the only person that matters — yourself — is something that you can forever work towards,” she said. “You’re the only person that has your back, and you’re the only person that has your skin 100 percent of the time.”
Watch the video interview at BBC News.