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It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Lindsey Vonn has proved to be a champion of her sport after becoming the most decorated American skier of all time before her 2019 retirement. Now, she's opening up about the challenges that have come with that title, sharing stories about her mental and physical health in her latest memoir, Rise: My Story.
While the highlights of Vonn's career were what put her on the map, the 37-year-old explains that her struggles are ultimately what built her into the athlete that she is. And despite what people might assume about her talent, Vonn says that she worked overtime to achieve success.
"When I was a kid, I really didn’t realize what role my body played in my success on the slopes. Most people assume that Olympic athletes are just naturally so ... they're ripped and it’s like so easy for them, and it’s definitely not the case for me," she says. "I spent so much time trying to be in the best shape possible and it would take me twice as long as everyone else to be at the same place. I kind of became a gym rat and it helped my career in so many ways."
Early on in her career, Vonn solely viewed her body "as a tool to succeed" and focused on her ability in the gym and on the slopes rather than her appearance. As she became better known for her sport and a celebrity in her own right, her feelings about her body began to shift.
"In my skiing, I thrived on people saying negative things about me because it always pushed me. But then when I became more well-known, that's when I started to really question the way I look and that's when my self-confidence off the slopes plummeted," she explains. "When I won the Olympics, I started to do a lot more press and going to red carpet events and noticing that I really didn’t look like anyone else I was around, and I was quite a bit heavier. It did really mess with my mind for a long time."
While being in the spotlight challenged Vonn's body image in new ways, she chose not to struggle in silence, but instead to open up about the ways that she felt unfairly judged by her physique. She even used her platform as a respected athlete to confront the pressure that women have faced to look a certain way, encouraging people to change their mindset around health and wellness in her first book, Strong Is the New Beautiful. Vonn has since continued to share her unfiltered thoughts on the culture of body shaming and how she's chosen to retaliate with body-positive messaging.
"There is a certain level of judgment that goes into women who are athletes and it's like no one judges men in the same way," she explains. "It just got to the point where I was so frustrated with the judgment. Social media is all filters and it's all fake and I just wanted to be authentically myself."
Through the journey of fully embracing her body, Vonn has also found it important to acknowledge how she's taken advantage of her abilities by bringing herself to her breaking point.
"I think a lot of times in my career, I didn't realize I had pushed myself too far until I was already too late. Since my first major surgery in 2013, I didn't have a 12-month period where I didn’t have surgery or a major injury until I retired," she says. "By the end, I was like, OK, it's time to say enough is enough."
Ultimately, she hopes that sharing the low moments that existed simultaneously with her highest highs will paint a true picture of her resilience and what self-love looks like to her.
"There's always a moment after I get injured where I'm really emotional and I'm crying but I never was resentful because I always learned something from it," she says. "People always try to think that athletes are these super humans that don't have weakness, but we do. We are human and we do fall apart, and I think it's how we put ourselves back together that’s the real hero in us. We don't stay down, we always get back up."
– Video produced by Kat Vasquez
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