Zion Williamson And The Impact Body-Shaming Has On Athletes - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Zion Williamson And The Impact Body-Shaming Has On Athletes

Zion Williamson is one of the NBA’s brightest rising stars. But his latest comments reveal the impact that body shaming has on athletes and what it means for the rest of us.

To be an athlete, you need to craft your body into a state where it can achieve peak performance. But peak performance comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes and often isn’t what you’d expect. With expectations of what we should look like more unachievable than ever, pro athletes are feeling the pressure. NBA star Zion Williamson has refused answer a reporter’s question, out of fear he’ll be ridiculed online by social media trolls who attack his appearance and body shame him.

The prevalence of online body shaming is higher than ever. Constantly scrutinising the bodies of professional athletes is a worrying trend. Issues of body image are gaining awareness due to the outspokenness of athletes, who face unseen mental health challenges as they attempt to mould their bodies into unattainable levels of fitness.

Zion Williamson is on a path to becoming one of the best players in the NBA. After a dominant performance against the San Antonio Spurs on Thanksgiving-eve where he recorded 32 points and 11 rebounds, Zion settled in courtside for a post-game interview. But when the questions turned to his favourite Thanksgiving dish, Zion refused to provide an answer.

Williamson took the question in good jest and laughed it off. “You’re trying to set me up.” Zion said. “No matter what answer I give, social media is going to clown me. So no comment.” While the reporter’s intentions clearly weren’t to incite body shaming, Zion’s response shows a troublesome side of sports that we don’t often hear about.  

If most people were asked for their favourite holiday dish, they wouldn’t hesitate to answer. But a 22-year-old athlete has been so heavily ridiculed online that he’s afraid to share a seemingly harmless detail about himself.  This is what body shaming can do.

Zion has a physique like no other basketball player. At 6 feet 6 inches tall, he’s actually undersized for his position. Although he more than makes up for it in muscle, strength and tenacity. At 284 pounds, Zion is listed as the third heaviest player in the NBA. Zion possesses a frame more akin to an NFL linebacker than an NBA power forward. And with this frame, comes explosive athleticism.

Zion is used to being bigger than his opponents and has used his strength to his advantage since he went viral for his highlight-reel plays in high school. Once he reached the NBA, many questioned if his heavy frame would translate to the professional level. With Zion’s longevity and injury risks scrutinised.

Williamson was selected with the first pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. He tore his meniscus before his first official game and sat out most of his rookie season. Despite playing only 24 games, he was named to the NBA’s all-rookie first team. In his second season, he proved his size could translate into the NBA with a dominant year, earning his first All Star game selection.

Zion was primed to take over the NBA. But before his third season could begin, he suffered a serious foot injury which required surgery. During his rehabilitation period, Zion reportedly began to rapidly gain weight, despite his already heavy physique. Zion’s weight gain was accompanied by harsh online trolling and negative media attention that impacted his mental health. “Every time they talked about me, it was about weight,” he told Fox Sports. “I don’t even think they realised what kind of impact that can have on you.”

Zion has looked noticeably slimmer this year and his trainer says he’s lost over 35 pounds since his injury. Zion’s New Orleans Pelicans currently sit at third place in the Western Conference and the star’s dominant play is a big reason why. He’s averaging a career high 23.1 points per game and the Pelicans look like serious contenders.

Let’s be honest, Zion is jacked. He’s more athletic than 99.9% of people on earth and has a bright career ahead of him. If a professional athlete at the top of his game is being harassed for his physique, where does that leave the rest of us? Unrealistic body standards have permeated social media and affect everyone. With the impact body shaming has on mental health, it might be time to ditch the trolling and accept that fitness comes in many different forms.

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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