These days, being a female can sometimes feel like standing in front of a panel of judges commissioned to point out your every flaw. What with the latest obsession with thigh gaps, celebrities’ scary-sounding detoxes, and bodies airbrushed to perfection and splashed across magazine covers, just being a woman can be exhausting if you don’t have the right attitude.
If anyone knows this, it’s Kristi Yamaguchi, who took the gold in women’s figure skating singles in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.
“Before the Olympics, I got overwhelmed trying to fit into the mold, and I felt like the sport was being taken away from me,” says Yamaguchi, 42. “But I had to change my attitude and remember I started skating because I find joy out of it. Luckily, I was able to do that and take the sport back.”
Today, Yamaguchi, mother to daughters Keara, 10, and Emma, 8, is applying the lessons she learned on the ice to her everyday life. Here’s what she had to say about this year’s games, facing criticism in the rink, and raising daughters with confidence.
You’ve been a role model for young female athletes ever since you got in the spotlight. What kind of role model do you aim to be for your daughters?
I try to inspire them by continuing to be seen as someone who had a goal, focused on it, and achieved it. But I also try to be a strong, confident woman, and someone who can multitask and go after my dreams while also being present and there for my family.
How do you and your husband [former professional hockey player and U.S. Olympian Bret Hedican] educate your daughters about healthy eating and fitness, as both have been such an important part of your careers?
We try to encourage them to stay active and take part in activities like sports and dance. We also have well-rounded, nutritious meals.
These days, there’s a lot of pressure on women to achieve this so-called “idealized” body type, due to Photoshopped pictures in magazines and social media. How do you talk to your kids about body confidence?
We haven’t really dived into that topic yet because my daughters are still young. But if anything, I encourage them to be comfortable with who they are, and I let them know that, hey, if you’re living a healthy, active lifestyle, and eating nutritiously, you can’t worry about what you look like. It’s all about being strong and taking care of your body because it’s the only one you’ve got. I also try to make a conscious effort now not to make negative comments about my own body or complain about certain things because they’re always listening even if you don’t think they are.
Is there a healthy-lifestyle motto or mantra you live by that you’d like to pass on to your daughters?
I’d say “everything in moderation.” I think it’s about making good decisions 90 percent of the time. But it’s OK to splurge every now and then, or give yourself a treat so you’re not craving it and you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself.
During your time in the spotlight at the Olympics, how did you cope with criticism?
Figure skating is a judged sport, so it’s subjective. You do feel like you have to take a lot of comments to heart because that will affect your scores. But you learn early on as a skater that you have to try to apply that criticism as positively as you can, and you can’t get too overwhelmed.
Do you think female celebrities and athletes have it better or worse today when it comes to body image and health?
The issue has always been there — for us, and our moms and our grandmas — but I think it’s a little harder now. It’s tough not to get caught up in everything that’s being said on social media, and as a parent it’s harder to control what kids are saying online.
Who do you think are some of the standout female Olympians competing in this year’s games?
There are a lot of incredible athletes out there, like Ashley Wagner, who will lead the U.S. women’s figure skating team. Then there’s Meryl Davis, of the ice dance pair with Charlie White, and Gracie Gold from women’s figure skating. Then there’s the U.S. women’s hockey team, which has an incredible chance to challenge the Canadians and win the gold!
What are you most excited about for this year’s Olympic games?
Women’s ski jumping has never been part of the Olympics before, so that’s groundbreaking. In figure skating, this is the first time there’s a team event, so each country will submit a competitor in the men’s event and the ladies’ event, and a duo in the pairs event and the dance event. They’ll all skate individually, then their scores will be added up, and countries will be awarded accordingly. It’s a whole new concept for our sport. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out!
What’s in store for you and your family in 2014 and beyond? What are some things you’d like to achieve as a mom?
As a mom, you’re always trying to stay involved with your kids and keep that communication line open. I want to help them stay focused on school and keep our connection as strong as possible. I know we’ve got a busy time ahead, but I’m hoping after February, we’ll get to spend some quality time together, just the four of us.
To learn more about what Kristi’s been up to post-Olympics, check out Kellogg’s Great Starts program, which is working to provide healthy breakfasts to hungry kids around the world.
Photo credit: Kristi Yamaguchi