Professional Athletes Reveal Their Body Insecurities And How They Overcome Them

Athletes | 12/11/20

Although many athletes model for magazines, many are not as confident as they appear. A 2017 study found that between 24% and 30% of college athletes have low body self-esteem. Like many other people, professional athletes have body insecurity.

But that hasn’t stopped these athletes from achieving their dreams. Some have even felt held back from their sport or social media because of their appearance. In interviews, athletes have expressed how they handle their insecurities. Read on to learn how professional athletes achieve body confidence.

Serena Williams No Longer Wants To Look Like Her Sister

As a winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, Serena Williams is one of the most famous tennis players ever. While growing up, Williams struggled with the fact that she felt shorter and “thicker” than her sister Venus. “I didn’t see people on TV that looked like me,” she told Essentially Sports.

Serena Williams celebrates her victory during day seven of the 2014 Brisbane International.
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Williams eventually realized that her insecurities had “nothing to do with Venus,” but of tennis players in general. When she worked on accepting that she was “never going to be Venus,” she began feeling more comfortable with herself. Today, Williams claims that she loves her body.

Isaiah Thomas Didn’t Let His Height Stop Him

Isaiah Thomas played for the Boston Celtics and was an NBA All-Star from 2016 to 2017. At 5’9″, he felt disadvantaged in a sport filled with players above six feet tall. Coaches and recruiters never gave him the benefit of the doubt for being shorter, Thomas claimed.

Isaiah Thomas gives the camera a thumbs up during a basketball game.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

“I always took what I believe is mine,” he said, “and I always took advantage of the opportunity that I’ve got.” Although he believes that he would receive more attention if he were taller, Thomas still feels proud of his training and fitness.

Von Miller Turned His Glasses Into A Fashion Statement

Von Miller, linebacker for the Denver Broncos, is considered one of the best defenders in the NFL. Despite his success, Miller says that he “still get[s] picked on” for his glasses. Growing up, many kids teased him for his glasses, which he says shaped his sense of humor.

Von Miller warms up before a game while holding a football on the field.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

“I would have gotten Lasik, but it’s bigger than me now,” he told ESPN. “Little kids [are] wearing glasses just because I do it.” Miller now embraces his “geek” side by showing off his glasses and his Toy Story tattoo.

Why Scout Bassett Models With Her Prosthetic Leg

In 2017, paralympic athlete Scout Bassett won a bronze medal for track and field. At a young age, Bassett lost her leg in a chemical fire. She is more insecure about her burns and her story than she is about her prosthetic leg.

Scout Bassett celebrates coming thrid in the World ParaAthletics Championships by holding up an American flag.
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“Growing up, I did not have people who looked like me,” she told Women’s Running. She believes that men and veterans with prosthetics are viewed differently from women. Bassett found her “peace and my power” in running, her successes, and learning to love herself with age.

Vince Wilfork Loves His “Bigger-Boned” Body

Vince Wilfork is considered to be one of the greatest tacklers in NFL history. Throughout his career, he has received criticism for being “bigger-boned.” He claimed that some people view him as “sloppy,” “fat,” or even “obese” with his weight of 325 pounds.

Vince Wilfork smiles at the camera after a 2015 football game.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Bob Levey/Getty Images

When Wilfork appeared in the ESPN Body Issue, he knew that people would make negative comments. But he chose to pose nude for others who look like him. “It all starts with yourself,” Wilfork said. “I believe in myself. I love myself.”

How Carli Lloyd Turned Her Insecurity Into Pride

Carli Lloyd is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the National Women’s Soccer League. She has been playing soccer since childhood when she was a tomboy. She said that she “lacked a bit of self-belief and confidence” for not looking like other girls.

Carli Lloyd celebrates scoring the first goal in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015.
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But as she grew up, Lloyd’s insecurity about her strength turned into confidence. She works to be healthy and appear strong. While she doesn’t lift weights, she exercises every day and finds refuge in it. “I’ve taken great pride in not being fragile,” Lloyd told Shape.

Simone Biles Has Risen Above Bullying

With 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, Simone Biles is America’s most decorated gymnast. When she was younger, kids teased her for appearing too muscular. She would often wear jackets to hid her body. “Going to public school, nobody really had a body build that I did,” Biles told CNN.

Simone Biles points to herself triumphantly after finishing her performance at the Superstars of Gymnastics, 2019.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Even today, Biles still receives negative comments on social media. But she feels grateful for the body that allowed her to achieve so much. “You all can judge my body all you want, but at the end of the day, it’s MY body,” she asserted.

Despite Harsh Comments, Lindsey Vonn Still Posts Photos Of Herself

Although Lindsey Vonn won the 2000 World Cup in skiing, she still struggles with some body insecurity. She told People that she is still hesitant to post bikini photos on social media because the comments may be hurtful.

Lindsey Vonn shows off the United States flag after winning the gold medal during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
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Vonn does not use botox or plastic surgery, calling herself “100% natural and 100% Lindsey.” She also says that despite the negative comments, she is still proud of her body. She understands that her body has helped her achieve in her sport. “I’m not a size zero, and that’s perfectly fine with me,” she said.

Despite Her Success, Claressa Shields Still Battles Some Insecurities

Professional boxer and martial artist Claressa Shields has won world titles in three weight classes and is the first American female gold medalist. Her shorter stature has given her an advantage in boxing, but she has still felt insecure about some things. In particular, she disliked her “big nose” she inherited.

Claressa Shields poses with all of her WBA and WBC medals in front of an American flag.
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Despite her struggles, Shields works on loving herself. To get ready for the ESPN Body Issue, she practiced posing nude in the mirror. “People often say, ‘She’s too tough, too strong,'” she said. “And there’s no such thing.”

Gus Kenworthy On The Power Of Acceptance

British freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy won a silver medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics. He claimed that he has been on “every end of the spectrum” in terms of body insecurity. Sometimes he felt that he was “too skinny,” while other times, he thought he was “chubby.”

Gus Kenworthy lies in the snow next to his skiis.
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Kenworthy understands that everyone suffers from body issues, even though he says that he doesn’t need a particular body type for skiing. “I have started to feel better knowing that my body isn’t perfect, but it is the best that my body can be,” he said.

Yasiel Puig Refuses To Compare Himself To Others

Yasiel Puig played right field for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, and Cincinnati Reds. As a baseball player, Puig does not have to fit into the “sexy” body stereotype. However, he says that coaches and fans still judge players for being too fat, skinny, etc.

Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers licks his bat during the fourth inning
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Puig doesn’t even keep track of his height and weight. As long as he can play, he believes that his body is fine. He told ESPN that people can’t compare themselves to athletes because “a regular job isn’t going to make you lose weight.” “If your friends or your husband or wife love you, that is most important.”

James Hinchcliffe Believes That Scars Tell Stories

James Hinchcliffe is a top Canadian racecar driver who competes in the IndyCar series. Like other drivers, Hinchcliffe has several scars across his body. Some were from life-threatening injuries, such as when he got into a terrible crash in the 2015 Indy 500.

James Hinchcliffe holds up the Canadian flag while celebrating his victory in the Iowa Corn Indy 250.
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He knew that people would see the scars when he posed for the 2019 ESPN Body issue. But Hinchcliffe sees scars as inspiring stories. “If it helps tell the story and … I can help somebody understand that without having to go through something like that, man, job done,” he said.

How Aly Raisman Recovers From Body Insecurity

Two-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman is now a retired gymnast. Even with her fit figure, she still feels insecure about posting on Instagram. When she was younger, Raisman’s classmates told her that her muscles were “disgusting” and “looked like I was on steroids.”

US gymnast Alexandra Raisman reacts after competing in the floor event of the women's individual all-around final
BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images
BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

Raisman emphasizes that it is normal to feel insecure about your body because “we’re all human.” When she feels bad, she’ll journal about it or reach out to her friends and family. Although it takes a long time, according to Raisman, people should be kind to themselves and accept that we are all unique.

For Natalie Coughlin, Her Body Is Her Success

Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin was the first American to win six medals in all six swimming events. At 5’8″, Coughlin was shorter than most of her competition. She also felt self-conscious about her arms and says that she has a hard time finding a dress that fits large arms and a small waist.

Natalie Coughlin smiles after winning the 100m backstroke during the 2004 Olympic Games.
Chris Ivin/Getty Images
Chris Ivin/Getty Images

For Coughlin, success dwarfs her body insecurity. “If [success] means having big arms, I’ll take big arms,” she told ESPN. At age 38, she feels proud to continue swimming, working out, and improving herself.

Nancy Lieberman Doesn’t Let Negativity Deter Her

Nancy Lieberman is a former WNBA player who also coached for both the WNBA and NBA. She chose to appear in the 2018 ESPN Body Issue to inspire other women like herself. At age 62, she is the oldest player ever to appear on the WNBA.

Coach Nancy Lieberman watches the NBA playoffs in 2019.
Sean Gardner/BIG3 via Getty Images
Sean Gardner/BIG3 via Getty Images

Lieberman advises people to “not get deterred by negative people.” “If you think you can’t, you’re almost assured you won’t. If you think you can, there’s a chance that you will,” she told ESPN. She gains her confidence by learning from her failures and celebrating her wins.

Antonio Brown Became Proud Of His Height

Antonio Brown is a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At 5’10”, he is shorter than other wide receivers, and Brown says that some teams ignored him because of it. “It hasn’t held me back—actually, I think I’ve changed the perception of smaller receivers,” he said.

Antonio Brown appears on the field in a match in 2019.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Although he doesn’t like people judging his body, he claims that “you can’t control what somebody says about you.” Instead of focusing on what he can’t change, Brown works on eating a healthy diet and staying fit.

How Dwayne Wade Overcame His Self-Image Fears

Dwayne Wade is a three-time NBA champion who once played on the Miami Heat. Although he is a professional athlete, Wade has struggled with body issues for his entire life. For him, choosing to appear in the ESPN Body Issue was about “overcoming my fear of doing this.”

Dwayne Wade celebrates after scoring a 3-point basket during a 2012 match.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Wade claimed that he never took his shirt off during swim practice because he was insecure about his “outie” belly button and feet. At 34 years old, Wade just started feeling comfortable with his body four years ago. “As you go through life, you get more comfortable with yourself,” he said.

How Nzingha Prescod Focuses On The Positive

Nzingha Prescod won a bronze medal for fencing in the 2015 World Fencing Championships. She says that her curvy figure has occasionally hindered her fencing, and outside of the sport, she struggles to find a well-fitting pair of jeans.

Nzingha Prescod appears during the 2015 World Fencing Championships.
Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Despite this, Prescod hopes that her figure and muscles will inspire other women. When she appeared nude in the ESPN Body Issue, she said, “I hope my feature encourages women everywhere to embrace muscles and strength and to love their bodies.” Prescod focuses on positive thoughts, which drive her through a fencing match.

Adeline Gray Is Both Feminine And A Wrestler

In 2019, Adeline Gray became the first American wrestler to win five World Titles. And she still gets told that she is “too pretty” for wrestling. In an interview with ESPN, she said that she is over the view that female athletes are “masculine” or unfit for the sport.

Adeline Gray poses in a wrestling position for the Rio2016 portraits.
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Even so, Gray finds the confidence to inspire herself and other young women. She asserts that women can be both feminine and athletic. “I want to impart some dreams to young girls who haven’t had opportunities in the past,” she told SELF.

Stan Wawrinka’s Body Is For Tennis, Not Modeling

Swiss professional tennis player Stan Wawrinka has won three Grand Slam titles. During his teenage years, he was a bit overweight and carried some of that body insecurity. But Wawrinka accepts that he is not a model. “My body is for my tennis,” he said.

Stan Wawrinka holds up a fist in celebration after scoring a point during the Fever-Tree Championships, 2019.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Wawrinka works on not comparing himself to others. He told ESPN that there will always be better tennis players out there. “I don’t compare myself to them,” he explained. “That’s not my goal. My goal is to give my best every day.”