Swimmer Dana Vollner says her career caused her to pick apart her body for many years.
At WH, the only opinion we want to hear about a woman's body is from the owner of that body. So we passed the pic to eight provocative public figures, from actresses and athletes to a body-positive model and singer. We simply gave them one prompt and then pressed record: "My naked body is..."
"My naked body is... strong. Being a swimmer all your life, you're exposed. You're always in a swimsuit. It's easy to be critical of yourself. I wasn't as lean as some of the athletes I saw. I wasn't as toned. I didn't have as much muscle mass. You look at other swimmers and you think, Their body is why they're successful—I need to do exactly what they do. But my body is not their body. I can't eat the same way as other people. My body is not going to respond the same way.
"It took the disappointment of missing the Olympic team in 2008 to realize that I wasn't happy. I wasn't enjoying competing, or training, and it was because I was picking apart every single thing I did and picking apart my body. It took that disappointment to realize this is not a way to live. From that point forward, I tried to step back from that mindset and learn to appreciate all that my body does.
"Being pregnant was a positive for me too—the realization that my body has created a new life. That's one reason why coming back to the sport after the birth of my son went so well. I had Arlen, and it wasn't about getting back to my prepregnancy weight. My top priority was being able to nurse him. That meant that if I was going to train, I couldn't just quickly lose weight. I had to view getting back into shape as this healthy, nutritious process. It made me love training again, and it made me embrace my body, embrace life. All of that made getting back into Olympic form easier.
"Looking at myself now, at 35 weeks pregnant [as of this interview], I joked with the photographer that this is the first photo shoot where I'm not thinking about sucking in my abs. I can step back and look at the broader perspective: My son is happy; the pregnancy is going well; life is good right now."
Dana Vollner is a three-time Olympian, seven-time Olympic medalist, and motivational speaker.
Her gold medal in 2016 is USA Swimming's first-ever gold won by a mother. She welcomed her second son, Ryker, on July 4.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Women's Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!