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Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold makes it look easy on the ice, but the 23-year-old admits that her life can be more complicated. Her honesty — about everything from body-image pressure to mental health — has made her an inspiration to others.
I love my legs now, but I didn't always. They were always my biggest insecurity. I played sports my whole life, so I would go to school and, you know, I always had quads, I always had hamstrings, I always had calves that the other girls didn't. Even some of the other boys didn't have those muscles.
As I grew older, I was like, "Why are they so big?" Like, they have lumps and bumps that none of the other girls have. Especially growing up, I didn't really get it.
I always felt like I was so big and they made me look stocky and I didn't like them. And then it took me a long time to realize all the things that they do for me — all the times that they took me through my programs, through training, through running — and they're actually incredible. They have these lumps and bumps, which are mostly muscle, and they allow me to do all of these incredible things.
I came to love them because eventually I got tired of feeling so ... sick of them. I just wanted all of these things, while living the lifestyle of an Olympic athlete. So, I'm doing squats and sprinting and long-distance running, I'm landing triple-triples and I'm working on triple axel, and the whole time I'm just like, "Ugh, it would be so much better if (my legs) were, like, just bones."
And people eventually were like, "Hey, that's not how it works. And, quite frankly, that's not really your body shape, but think of all of the things that they've done for you." It was a slow progression over time. I still have days where I don't love-love them, but, generally speaking, I go to bed every night loving everything that they've done for me.
Figure skating is an incredible sport, and a part of it is the aesthetics of it: the sparkly costumes, the hair in the bun, etc. And everybody ends up having the same body shape. They tend to be quite short, they tend to be thin, they tend to have a lean, athletic body.
"In ice skating terms, the words 'fat' and 'heavy' are thrown out often, just as kind of a culture. It's not appropriate, but it is something that exists."
There was always pressure that I felt to look a certain way. And there is kind of a competitive nature about it, especially among the women, so the first thing that we'd do when we would greet each other is comment if somebody had lost weight.
And it feels good, but then if you didn't, you felt like you were the different one. Even if you were just a little bit bigger. In ice skating terms, the words "fat" and "heavy" are thrown out often, just as kind of a culture. It's not appropriate, but it is something that exists. So, trying to understand that being the best athlete and being lean and ideal for my sport is part of it, but it's not the only part. And it shouldn't tie into my self-worth as a human.
I guess for me, it's important to be honest, because it has a therapeutic vibe to it. It really does, just being able to talk and share my story. And I think it helps people not feel so alone, because at first I didn't know if people would relate, but then as soon as I did more and more people said, "We have felt that way," or, like, you know, "I felt that way. Thank you so much for validating that my feelings are real." It feels good to me to know that I really wasn't alone, either. That I had all these people, all over the world, that felt the same way I did.
As told to TODAY's Emily Sher. This story has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.