Reading “Outofshapeworthlessloser: A Memoir of Figure Skating, F*cking Up, and Figuring It Out”

Gracie Gold shares her experience of figure skating in her memoir, and both opens up and continues a much-needed discussion concerning the dark side and high stakes of the sport.

© Gracie Gold | Instagram

In a memorable moment of her memoir, Gracie Gold recounts juggling lemons on late-night TV and notes how ‘no one ever wants to have a conversation about what it’s like to be a teenage girl juggling the realities of her maturing body and the demands of sport’. In Outofshapeworthlessloser, the long-awaited memoir of the now 28-year old, Gold does exactly what her late night TV show appearance did not enable her to do: pushing any lemons to one side. She delves deeper, and with unflinching honesty, into the intricacies of her often-tumultuous relationship with the sport, the people, and the moments of her life. 

Outofshapeworthlessloser – in other words, the voice in her head which pushes her into a mental health crisis – is a presence which emerges gradually over the course of the memoir as the young Grace Elizabeth transforms into the shining, renowned figure of Gracie Gold. Gold is candid throughout about her struggles with her own mental health as she reflects more generally upon the ways in which society – and more specifically figure skating – sweeps under the rug what she places firmly in the foreground of her memoir. ‘It’s not unusual for a skater to sit out an entire season to heal a stress fracture in her foot, but it would have been considered highly questionable for someone to miss a whole season to mentally recharge,’ she comments, highlighting the double standards which have long existed between the valorisation of an athlete’s physical and mental wellbeing. Thus even as she delves into her intensely personal experience of puberty, laxative abuse and severe dietary restriction in attempts to regain control over her career and life, what materialises is a haunting picture of the culture of the sport: a sport which ‘outwardly rewards a body type that’s more heroin chic than healthy’ and lauds the notion of an ‘athletic leanness’, which Gold incisively labels as an ‘oxymoron’. Whilst she admittedly does not explore the impact of eating disorders on the male competitors within skating, she skillfully underscores the sexist ideology embedded in the sport and its fixed preconceptions of how its women should look and behave. ‘Dresses and tights only, ladies!’, she recalls one of her first coaches saying as they designate practice attire. Not surprising, unfortunately, given that we are talking about a sport where the discipline was called ‘Ladies’, not ‘Womens’, until the 2021-22 season. 

© Gracie Gold | Instagram

Outofshapeworthlessloser sees Gold map the trajectory of her career from its beginnings, both on and off the ice (because the two are not, as becomes excruciatingly clear, separate entities in any way). She initially started off in pairs skating and harboured the dream of continuing in the discipline, she tells us, before delineating her rise through singles and the colossal pressure of the Olympics. Among the passages is a section where she describes being raped by another skater at a post-competition party: an incident which was reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and which she reveals has yet to present a verdict or statement. The influx of news of sexual assault within the sport which has been publicised since this January alone renders Gold’s story still more chilling, functioning as a microcosm of what happens more widely in figure skating, and the number of such cases which are unreported and unresolved.

Through the largely chronological structure of the memoir, Gold illustrates the journey from her first competitive experiences on the ice to the decision to return to the sport after checking in at an in-patient facility, where she asks herself the hard-hitting question ‘Could I be close to the skater that Gracie Gold was and a more honest version of myself?’. When she returns to the ice to compete once more, it is not quite a full-circle moment: what is foregrounded and what she offers up to her reader are the crucial differences in terms of her own relationship with skating, the demons she has grappled with and faced, and what has happened in the sport in the meantime. And it becomes clear over the course of Outofshapeworthlessloser that Gold is intent on ensuring that some things do not repeat themselves and that change is brought about in figure skating. 

After she steps back onto the ice after the months-long break, she shares that she ‘was having to learn intuitive eating and intuitive skating’: practically the antithesis of the (often abusive) coaching tutelage under which she had trained until then. The idea she proposes of intuitive skating is a bold – and necessary – one in a sport which pushes the idea of putting over 100% of yourself in to succeed; of giving it your all… and then some more. Gold has a vision of how to reshape the sport moving forward, and much of it comes from widening and diversifying points of contact and expertise; she lists child development psychologists, experts for treatments of disordered eating, and counsellors as figures who should be integral to an athlete’s team. Equally pertinent is her belief that the change needs to come from every element in the picture, from fans and commentators all the way up to high-ranking officials (‘I have never been able to relate to the older, mostly white gentlemen overseeing our sport’, she writes, adding elsewhere that US skating officials have referred to Asian American skaters as ‘Orientals’). Gold emphasises the damaging impact that discourses surrounding skaters can have: perhaps more today than ever before, with the presence of platforms such as Twitter which create a space for praise, speculation and vitriol alike. ‘Since none of us really know what other people are going through, how about we stick to criticizing the performance, not the performer?’

© Gracie Gold | Instagram

Although deeply anchored in the details of the sport, Outofshapeworthlessloser reveals itself to not be singularly directed towards avid fans of figure skating. Gold opens up her readership to those who may be less well-versed in the various terminologies and competitions, using easy-to-grasp metaphors such as likening the short program to a ‘true-false test’ and the free skate as an ‘essay exam’. And while much of what is discussed is closely tied to the sport itself, what is made equally clear is that figure skating is simply conducive to the amplification of the power dynamics prevalent in society, as Gold underscores its sexism as well as the taboo surrounding her bisexuality. 

‘You were my first love,’ Gold writes in the closing chapter of her memoir, in a letter addressed to figure skating itself. And it is evident that despite all the ups and downs that her career in skating has brought her, her love for the sport has prevailed. It is a conclusion that bears a note of optimism, and as Gold delivers the poignant apology that ‘I’m sorry that the culture around you is so toxic’, we understand that it is not the sport which is at fault, but the system that has been constructed upon it; not the skating which is the problem, but the beliefs and discourses that have long been embedded within it.

Outofshapeworthlessloser is out now

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