In 2003, a scout from a judo social project visited public schools in the interior of Paraíba, passing through the city of Patos, where I was born and raised. I remember it was a math class and I was very focused and didn’t notice when the judo scout pointed at me and asked me to get up. I remember everyone’s astonished face when he said: “Have you thought about joining judo?”. A lot of people started laughing, “but she’s fat, Coach,” shouted one; “With that weight?” asked another; and the school coordinator concluded, “We have other people who would work better”, eliminating any possibility of a big fat girl even trying the sport.
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During these Olympic Games in Tokyo I have been following many publications and comments on the internet about athletes’ bodies. But how to define whether an athlete’s body or not?
The goalkeeper of the Brazilian Women’s Soccer Team, Bárbara Barbosa, was considered by internet judges as “out of shape”, “fat”, “heavy”, “cheeky”. Barbara didn’t start the competition playing good games, that’s true, but the criticisms were not aimed at the football presented by Barbara, but at her body.
Even the goalkeeper was involved in a controversy with a Paralympic athlete where both attacked each other with prejudiced comments about their own bodies. Beach volleyball player Rebecca Cavalcante was also criticized for being “over the ideal weight”, despite having made a great participation and good scores in most games.
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Maria Suelen Altheman, the “Susu”, and Rafael Silva, the “Baby”, Brazilian judokas in the over 100kg category, still have their bodies questioned for the practice of the sport (I emphasize here that Rafael owns two Olympic medals, he won bronze in London 2012 and in Rio 2016). Maria Suelen suffered an injury during the competition in these Olympic Games and ended up having to leave the dispute for a bronze medal, where she was harshly criticized on the web when they related the injury to her body weight. Before going to Tokyo, the athlete commented on the criticisms of her body and stated “I have a body and it made me a champion”. She was a bronze medalist at the Budapest World Cup in 2021. Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same thing as Susu, because the fear and shame of the trial made me say “no” to that scout back in 2003. When Susu enters the mat she represents the eleven-year-old Polyanna girl who received her first ‘ippon’ from prejudice and failed to climb the mat.
The French historian and sociologist Georges Vigarello, in his book “The metamorphoses of fat people: history of obesity in the West: from the Middle Ages to the 20th century”, portrays that the negation of the fat body has been consolidated from the 18th century onwards, “with studies that they related body fat to diseases, leaving the fat person on the margins of society, transforming it, in the 20th century, into a social aberration, a sick and stigmatized body”. The expressions of bodies are too varied, as well as there are several modalities in sports that cater to these different types.
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The first Olympic Games portrayed an enchantment to standardized bodies, inspired by the God Apollo who translated the search for that divine body, standard, symmetrical, perfect, and exact, where gods were seen in men themselves. Today we see it in a different way, understanding that from the youngest to the oldest, from the small to the big, from the fat to the thin, from the Olympic athlete to the Paralympic athlete, everything makes us realize that sport is more than that: it is will, desire, overcoming. Forgive me Apollo, but the vitality and divinity of a body is not in the fantasy of the perfect pattern, but in the reality and awareness of the movement of life, because to move is to live, is to go beyond, is to believe that there is space for all and anyone, for any body.
Small, big, fat, thin, heavy, light, muscular, square… An athletic body is one that makes you good at turning dreams into reality.
*Polyanna Gomes is a journalist and scribbler about things from the backlands, but she is also passionate about the movement of life that sport provides.
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s vision does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil in fact.
Source: BoF Paraíba
Edition: Heloisa de Sousa