Love Thy Body: Soccer Players Deliver Strong Message to Girls and Their Parents

December 8, 2021 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

As a star high school athlete growing up in Texas, Diana Ordoñez never had any issue with the way she saw her body. Having played soccer and other sports throughout her life, the 5-foot-11-inch Ordoñez was extremely lean and never gave much thought to how much she weighed.

But that changed in 2019 when Ordoñez – four months into her first year on the University of Virginia women’s soccer team – returned home to Dallas.

After being on a new training regimen – one that included adding more calories and lifting weights to become stronger – the former Texas Gatorade Player of the Year could sense that her friends and families were looking at her differently.

The tipping point came when she went to practice with her old club team and a coach asked what UVA had been feeding her, then made a crack about consuming a lot of protein drinks.

“That was pretty rough,” said Ordoñez, fighting back tears before taking a few seconds to compose herself. “But I learned quickly that in order for my body to perform the way it needs to in a [Division]-1 sport, I couldn’t be the skinny tall kid running around the field if I didn’t want to get pushed off the ball.

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“It was rough, but I learned something about myself and was glad that I went through it because I think it tested me. It also showed me that I don’t need to be [as slender as in high school].”

Ordoñez’s remarks were part of a free seminar that she created for middle school and high school girls and their parents, called “Positive Body Image,” hosted by Boar’s Head Resort last week.

Produced by Hook Sports Marketing in partnership with UVA’s Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center and the Prosperity Eating Disorders and Wellness Center in Charlottesville, the program included participation from Ordoñez’s teammates, Laurel Ivory, Rebecca Jarrett and Cam Lexow, as well as former UVA women’s lacrosse player Dana Boyle and Erin Bulinski, the Prosperity Center’s director.

The main message of the 75-minite discussion: Everybody’s body is different.

“Your body demands different things of you than it does from other people,” Ordonez told the audience. “Everyone is really different. What my body needs to perform is not the same as what [a teammate] or anyone else in this room needs to perform.

“So no matter what it is you’re doing, whether it’s just your sport or your daily activity, not everyone is the same, and you need to cater to what you need, and you need to figure out what that is because it’s different for a lot of people. It takes some people longer to get there than others …

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“It might be OK for someone to be your height and 10 pounds lighter than you, but that might not be what you need.”

Ordoñez conceded that social media sometimes makes that easier said than done. “The things that they post and the clothes that they wear and how they look in them – try your best to not focus on those things and worry about that,” Ordoñez said.

To that end, one of the things Ordoñez said she often tries to tell herself is that “comparison is the thief of joy.”

“For you to sit there and compare yourself to other people and how they look and what their eating habits look like … it’s different from what you need and how you should feel your body,” said Ordoñez, who was named a first-team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches on Dec. 2. She has announced plans to forego her final year of college eligibility and apply to the National Women’s Soccer League draft.

Jarrett, a fourth-year student from New Jersey, explained how her struggle was, at first, comparing herself to how she looked prior to tearing a ligament in her knee. She was on crutches for almost two months and lost muscle mass in her leg, which led to her examining old photos of herself.

Rebecca Jarrett shared her body image struggles with middle school and high school students. (Photo by Dan Addision, University Communications)

“I was like, ‘Does my face look different? Does my body look different?’” Jarrett said. “A couple of friends said ‘no’ and a couple said ‘yes,’ and that kind of set me off to be almost obsessed.”

Jarrett, though, said she was able to work through her issues by talking with her team’s athletic trainer and others. It took some time, but she said she has come to understand that every player’s recovery from an injury – and body – is different.

“I had to really sit and think about the fact that there are circumstances in play that matter just as much as what I was physically seeing with my own two eyes, as well as what people around me were seeing,” she said.

One of the most powerful moments of the evening came when Lexow, a third-year student from Philadelphia, told the audience about how she dealt with weight gain following her freshman year. Lexow said she had become so fixated on weighing 120 pounds that she would sometimes pretend to eat team meals.

Eventually Lexow said she realized she couldn’t keep doing what she was doing if she wanted to maintain her health, regardless of whether she was playing soccer or not.

“I still struggle with body image today and body dysmorphia, but I’ve had a lot of support from my friends and my family and seeing a therapist once a week, which has been very helpful,” she said. “I’ve found more positive ways to look at myself.

“Everyone is beautiful, and I think that’s what we need to focus on.”

Cam Lexow told seminar attendees how she struggled with unexpected weight gain during her freshman season. (Photo courtesy University Athletics)

The seminar was made possible through new NCAA rules that enable student-athletes to capitalize on name, image and likeness. Several local businesses helped to fund the event through Hook Sports Marketing, a local firm that represents Ordoñez and Lexow.

“One of the things that’s really important for us is for the student-athletes to make connections that they care deeply about through these name, image and likeness opportunities,” said Todd Goodale of Hook Sports Marketing who serves as the Boar’s Head’s director of sports and wellness. “We try and help bridge their passions with ways they can help the community.

“For girls in their formative stages to be able to come and hear that this is something that their role models struggle with, too, is impactful. They can gain from this and grow confident, while we also are providing tools to help the parents as well.”

Ivory, a fifth-year student from Florida who plays goalie, told the crowd that she has been fortunate in the fact that she has never had any problems with how she thinks about her body.

“My parents told me, ‘Be who you want to be,’ and I’m sure most parents, if not all parents in here, are the same way,” Ivory said, “but for some reason that resonated with me growing up. It made me not be afraid of who I wanted to be, which was [having] this strong build and [being] a big athlete, someone who can stop the ball from going in the back of the net.

“There’s a beauty that I see in the muscles on my body.”

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Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications