1 Talkis

Essay Figure Skating

Photo by Jesse Jacobs
Words by Mish Way of White Lung

I don’t know why I started figure skating when I was a child. All I know is that the sport was my entire life until I was 16 years old. I trained every day after school from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. I trained before school on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5 a.m. I had to do Pilates, cardio, swimming lessons tone my muscles, and jazz dance–as well as ballet–with a Russian woman named Anya, who taught me how to contort my hips outwards and twirl my arms like a swan.

At home, when I wasn’t skating, I was thinking about figure skating. I kept journals where I reported every jump and spin I had done that day and the progression of moves I was still working out. I rarely just sat and watched television. At my choreographer’s request, I stood in front of our family TV with a cane nestled in my arched arms, across my shoulder blades, so that I could work on my posture. I hung onto the frame of our fireplace and pulled my leg above my head over and over to maximize my flexibility. I replayed my routines in my sleep. At a very young age, I had mastered the art of self-discipline and internal competition.

As a sport figure skating is graceful and intense yet relies on individualized pressure and internal blame. Unlike team sports where you can often pass off your own inaccuracies onto the fault of another team member, figure skating is just you. You don’t work that spin, you don’t nail that footwork, you don’t stick that landing–it’s all your fault. I can’t tell you how many times I walked off the ice in a complete rage at myself for not performing a flawless routine. I’d grab my rubber guards off the side boards and chuck them across the hallway as I stormed back to the dressing room, cursing myself as my coach held my hand, trying to get me to relax. I’d still win the competition or at least, grab the bronze, but that wasn’t good enough. It was about doing it perfect, not what medal I received. I never missed a competition due to injury. I just performed even if I was told not to. I’ve always put great amounts of pressure on myself. I have always been an intense person. I’ve always internalized my anger and inflicted it inwards.

For me, figure skating did not only teach me how to internalize blame and self-discipline, but it shaped my understanding of body image, beauty and gender. When in competition, a skater is not only awarded points for her technical merit, but also her artistry on the ice. Under the umbrella of artistry falls grace, poise, her emotional connection to the musical routine as well as her appearance: hair, makeup, costume and physique. Judges will tell you this is not true, but it certainly is.

Luckily for me, I did not have a “crazy mother” like most of the girls I competed against. My mother was supportive of my athletics, shlepping me to and from practice every day, designing costumes for me, sitting through my rehearsals and encouraging me emotionally when I was struggling. Sure, my mother also loved standing up in the heated area with the other mothers sipping coffee and gossiping while their daughters trained, but my mother did not treat competitions like beauty pageants. My costumes were always simple. My hair pulled back off my face in a bun, glued to my head with gel and hair spray. While the other girls were being doused in glitter, self-tanner and fake eyelashes in the crammed dressing room, my mother only let me have a little blush and lipstick.

“It’s about what you do on the ice, not how you look. As long as your hair is out of your face and your outfit is classic and clean,” she would say. “Now, don’t touch your hair and get out there.”

In individualized feminized sports the seemingly vicarious relationship between mothers and daughters is often painful and disquieting. You can tell when certain adults are living through the double axels and glitter of their successful, competitive children. It always made me uncomfortable. Even as a kid, I remember watching my fellow competitors get yelled at and bulldozed by their buxom mothers as they teased their daughter’s hairdos. We were kids. Maybe 12 years old. It was just so intense. We put enough pressure on ourselves on the ice. The last thing our pre-teen psyches needed was pressure in the powder room about our tacky makeup and hair.

And then, there was the body thing: feeling fat. Like ballerinas, figure skaters have to maintain a certain physique, which is produced naturally with the intensity of your training schedule. Your body is your instrument and works like a machine. I had no chest and slender arms yet muscly thighs and strong calves. I was all bottom. I could strangle a horse with my thighs. I remember when I quit figure skating. I got tits, a real ass and my body started to change. It freaked me out. I panicked. I remember being 16 years old, out in the yard in a bikini and I caught a glimpse of my body in the reflection of our sliding glass door. I had, what appeared to be, cellulite.

I’ll never forget that image of myself. It fucked me up. All girls have a moment like this and it stays with us well into our adult years, even when we know better. I never saw my body the same way ever again.

When I was skating, I did not obsess about my weight because I was always fit. It was only when I quit that it became something I worried about. My mother would tell me that I had to start doing something physical. I couldn’t just sit in my room all day playing guitar. I didn’t listen. When I started a band and people began to care about that band, I was tossed back into the public eye. People watching you perform. I’ve known this world since I was a child and it does not scare me. I thrive on it. I like it. I’m never going to sit here and pretend I do not like to have people watch me perform, because I do. However, being the object lends itself to criticism and eventually, twisted self-doubt. We live in a media saturated world that relies on immediate press to propel one to the forefront of their game. I’m used to seeing photos and videos of myself circulate around the internet. I’m used to reviewers talking about my body, which is arguably sexist. (Have you ever seen a review that mentions Danny Brown’s figure or Mac DeMarco’s stomach or Carson Cox’s weight? No.) As a woman, I understand that my body is on display just as much as my talent, especially since I have no instrument to hide behind. I can deal with this reality, even if I do not accept it.

I still have that self-disciplined child inside me. She’s the one that keeps me working hard and striving for more. She’s the one that gets pissed off when White Lung is in the studio and my voice feels off, when I can’t produce the sound I want. She’s the one who comes down on me when it’s 7 a.m. and I’m high as a kite, trying to finish those last few deadlines. I need her inside me to keep me going. I wouldn’t trade my history on the ice for anything. I’m better for it.

White Lung’s latest album, ‘Sorry’, is available now through Deranged Records. The previous essay is an expanded version of a piece from our summer issue, which will be available through this site tomorrow.

Prompt: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Any comments on grammar, context etc are welcomed. (: Thanks so Much!

I honestly cannot remember the first time I tied a pair of skates to my feet and stepped onto the slippery back of the ice. Looking at the photo hanging from my bedroom wall I'm guessing I was about four years old. I was dressed in a ridiculously puffy pink snow suit and my parents strapped to my precious head a fuchsia Barbie bicycle helmet.

I'm sure that my first experience on the ice was nothing monumental. I probably stumbled around for half an hour then decided that my feet hurt and my hands were cold. My dad, however, remembers something significant about the early days of my skating.

"You weren't like the other kids. You'd fall down, but you wouldn't whine and cry about it. You'd just get back up and keep going with a smile on your face," my dad tells me. "You had tenacity and you still do."

Tenacity? I realized my dad was right. Throughout my life and especially in my twelve years of skating, I've always stayed determined. A bad fall has never gotten in my way.

When I was in first grade would get out of bed before the sun came up to go to practice. We would take tests in skating to progress through the levels. When you passed a level, you got a patch. Those patches were like gold to me. When I got a new one, I'd beg my mom to promptly sew it to my skating jacket. I wanted nothing more than to pass the next level and get the next patch.

When I got older, my goal moved onto winning a real gold medal. I'd practice and train my jumps and spins until I had fallen so many times that my hips, knees, and elbows became numb and covered in bruises. In my mind, the gold medals were worth the black and blue bruises.

When I began skating on a synchronized skating team, practices were difficult. We'd run the program so many times that we could no longer breathe. We'd practice the steps until we could do them in our sleep. We'd spend weekends in airports and hotel rooms. The time consuming practices, the bruises, and the extensive traveling was all worth it when we got those gold medals.

I didn't win every competition and pass every test. I did break bones and tear tendons. I traded late night sleepovers for early morning practices. I fell down, but I always got back up just like I did when I was four years old.

Looking forward to my life in college, I know my path will be slippery just like the ice I skate on. I will face obstacles and challenges and I will have to keep by balance, just like I do when I skate. I know, however, there will be moments when I fall down. I also know that I have the ability, tenacity, and determination to get back up again. Skating has taught me that no matter how hard I fall, I have to get back up and keep going with a smile on my face.

I honestly cannot remember the first time I tied a pair of skates to my feet and stepped onto the slippery back of the ice. Looking at a photo hanging from my bedroom wall I guess I was about four years old, dressed in a ridiculous puffy pink snow suit and my parents had strapped a fuchsia Barbie bicycle helmet to my precious head

I'm sure that my first experience on the ice was nothing monumental. I probably stumbled around for half an hour then decided that my feet hurt and my hands were cold. My dad, however, remembers something significant about my early skating days.

"You weren't like the other kids. You'd fall down, but you wouldn't whine and cry about it. You'd just get back up and keep going with a smile on your face," my dad told me. "You had tenacity and you still do."

(I think you should remove this question : it does not fit with the rest of the paragraph)I realized my dad was right. Throughout my life and especially in my twelve years of skating, I've always stayed determined. A bad fall has never gotten in my way.

When I was in first grade I would get out of bed before the sun came up to go to practice. I would take tests in skating to progress through higher levels. Everytime you passed a level, you got a patch. Those patches were like gold to me. When I got a new one, I'd beg my mom to promptly sew it to my skating jacket. I wanted nothing more than to pass to the next level and get the next patch.

When I got older, my goal moved from getting a simple patch onto winning a real gold medal. I'd practice and train my jumps and spins until I had fallen so many times that my hips, knees, and elbows were numb and covered in bruises. In my mind, the gold medals were worth the black and blue bruises.

When I began skating on a synchronized skating team, practices were difficult. We'd run the program so many times that we could no longer breathe. We'd practice the steps until we could do them in our sleep. We'd spend weekends in airports and hotel rooms. But the time consuming practices, the bruises, and the extensive travelling was all worth it when we got those gold medals.

I didn't win every competition and pass every test. I did break bones and tear tendons. I traded late night sleepovers for early morning practices. I fell down, but I always got back up just like I did when I was four years old.

Looking forward to my life in college, I know my path will be slippery just like the ice I skate on. I will face obstacles and challenges and I will have to keep by balance, just like I do when I skate. I know, however, there will be moments when I fall down. I also know that I have the ability, tenacity, and determination to get back up again. Skating has taught me that no matter how hard I fall, I have to get back up and keep going with a smile on my face.

Ok, I really really liked your essay, especially the last two paragraphs. There are some simple mistakes, but in the overall it left me with a goo impression :)

Hope I could help a little bit!

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