Amanda Bingson's route to appearing nude on the cover of a popular U.S. magazine might seem a bit unconventional for the particular milestone.
The 25-year-old hammer thrower was recently featured on one of ESPN magazine's six covers for its seventh annual Body Issue. Bingson walked onto the track team at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas in 2008, where she began competing in the hammer throw event in 2009. After finishing college in 2012 and only a few years after picking up the sport, she placed second in the U.S. Olympic Trials, qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympic Track and Field Team.
A year later, in the 2013 USA Outdoor Championship, Bingson earned her first national title and broke a U.S. record.
Last week, HuffPost chatted with Bingson about the overwhelming reaction to her ESPN cover. In the interview, the athlete got real about self-esteem, throwing naked and that awesome Olympic rings tattoo.
The Huffington Post: When you were asked to be photographed for the Body Issue. What was your initial reaction?
Amanda Bingson: That it wasn’t real, honestly, because we were talking about it but I thought that’s all it was -- just kind of talk. And now that it’s actually happening, it’s so surreal. And everybody has just been so supportive in helping me realize what everything could be and that I want to be here and following my dreams.
Was there ever a moment when you didn’t want to pose?
Yeah, right before I walked out. I was super excited and really into it, but then of course once you get into that situation you have all these different things going through your head. I was having everybody try to help me get amped up. We had rock music going on in the trailer, they were giving me a rubdown on my shoulders like I was getting ready to go out for a fight. I was getting a little nervous. But everyone was like, "Go have fun with it, its fine, everyone’s gonna love it." And, you know, it just kinda set my mind at ease and I was like: Okay, let’s go out and do this.
What was it like to do your sport while not wearing any clothes?
It was hard -- it was really hard to be honest. We’re spinning around, we’re going through these positions and everything’s going really fast and I have bigger boobs so everything is getting kinda dragged behind and everything’s in the way. It was hard, but it was fun. It just sucked that we had to do it barefoot. They wanted it to be so authentic so my feet got torn up a lot, but it was so worth it and I’m really happy that I did it. But it’s a lot harder than you realize to throw naked. There’s a lot of moving parts.
What have been some other reactions to your cover?
I was surprised about how supportive everybody is. And I think I’ve only gotten about three comments and messages about how it’s not positive. Of course with everything there’s always comments about how you’re disgusting, you’re gross -- and then [the haters] just get this blowback that they’re ignorant and I can’t believe you would say this, she’s beautiful, we shouldn’t judge everybody by how they look and you’re the one that’s ugly on the inside. And it’s phenomenal. My family is calling me. I’m pretty sure my mom’s still crying about it because she’s so proud. Everybody’s been so on board with it and so supportive.
What’s been your personal reaction to all of the positive press and the social media response? Did you expect an overwhelming positive response?
No, absolutely not. When they asked me to be in the issue, I thought, “Okay I’ll be the one in the back by the ads and everyone will just flip through it and pay no never mind to me,” and what it has become has just been so mind-blowing. I still haven’t really fully grasped what’s happening. It’s been nonstop and so fast that I haven’t even had time to catch up. Even this morning when I actually got the physical copy of the magazine and seeing me on the cover, I took a step back and was like, “Wow this is not real life. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to little girls from Las Vegas who were bullied.”
This is just so surreal. I think it definitely gives me that sense of confidence and I’m happy and proud that I can be among the women that are getting the voice out there. And even men -- men have plenty of body issues that they have to go through and for them to see somebody who’s 215 pounds that wears a size 17 pants out there like this -- I think it’s amazing because I definitely didn’t have that when I was growing up and going through all the bullying issues that I went through.
Can you speak more to the bullying when you were younger -- have people ever spoken down to you about your body?
Oh yeah, even doctors. I have always been active. I grew up on a construction site, so I’ve been lifting and doing all sorts of physical activities ever since I was a little girl. I have farmer’s strength. At 13 years old, a doctor straight told me that I was morbidly obese because I didn’t fit on their BMI chart. I just remember my mom grabbing my arm and running out of the doctor’s office. I had never really known what that meant because my parents always supported me and told me that I was beautiful and to use your body for what you do and don’t try to be what other people expect you to be, so I was very sheltered.
Once I got into the high school range where social media started picking up a little bit more and you see everything in the magazines and the Internet, it definitely got a little bit harder because we had all that imagery being thrown in our faces. And especially growing up in Las Vegas -- it’s the entertainment capital of the world -- and you see all the entertainers with the chiseled abs and the pasties coming in doing all their shows, so it was definitely kind of hard. But I just transferred it into my athleticism. I was like, yes I am bigger than most of these girls that I’m competing with and going to school with, but I’m also the one on the varsity teams, making it to state, doing all these great achievements in my athleticism and I think that’s really what you have to do when you’re put in that situation.
Were you always athletically-inclined as a kid?
I grew up in dance and gymnastics and then of course during recess we would play soccer. I was really competitive in soccer -- I was playing along with all the boys and I was the first one picked on the team because I was bigger than most of them and I wasn’t scared to get hit because I knew I could take it. I was always doing that, and then my first organized sport was volleyball. I started doing that and competing and I fell in love. Even today, I still love it. That’s what I grew up with, doing that all the way through elementary school and middle school, doing the camps in the summer and summer leagues.
When I got to high school there was an incident where I hit puberty and grew up a little bit faster than most of the other girls and my coach told me that I had to lose a couple of pounds if I wanted to be on varsity. I did my best to [lose the weight] because I wanted to fit into that volleyball mold and be a volleyball player and get a scholarship for volleyball. Track and field was something I did on the side to fill up my season. And then after I lost all the weight, she told me I still wouldn’t make it on varsity unless I lost another 10 pounds. I was so over it. I was just like, go kick sticks. I can’t. I’ve done everything I could. This isn’t for me. And so that’s when I really focused on track and field and ended up doing really well my senior year and being able to go onto college doing it.
When did you decide that throwing would be a cool thing to pursue?
I never wanted to be a professional thrower or a professional athlete. Growing up, I’d always wanted to do cosmetology -- I just wanted to make people pretty and make them feel good about themselves, that’s all I really wanted to do with my life. And then I did track in high school, and I wasn’t very good on the U.S. scale as far as Division 1 scholarships, so I wasn’t getting any scholarship opportunities or anything. I thought, I’ll just go to cosmetology school and be done with it. And my mom told me no, I had to go to college and get onto the track team because I wasn’t exactly the outstanding citizen that I am today -- I needed some structure in my life and I needed a routine, so she persuaded me to go onto the team at UNLV and my coach just never let me leave.
So now, being here and having this opportunity, I am so thankful that my mom made me go to college and made me go onto the track team and my coach making me stay on the team and not letting me quit. It’s just been so phenomenal and I couldn’t imagine doing anything differently now.
You said that you wanted to make people feel pretty and feel good about themselves. Now with the Body Issue, isn't that exactly what you’re doing?
Man, I never thought of it that way. Holy toledos! Oh my goodness. You’re right, I am living my own dream it’s just a different avenue.
What was it like to compete in the Olympics?
My first ever meet out of college was the Olympics, like the biggest stage I could ever be on, and it’s sink or swim…It was amazing, in every aspect. I wasn’t supposed to make the team at all, and then we had a great throw on that one specific day and I ended up making the team.
That really was an eye-opener for me, because being at the Olympic village you see all these different athletes, just everywhere, from all the different countries in the world and you sit there and you look at them and you’re like, man, I haven’t seen that type of a body but they’re here and this is awesome and the amount of diversity there in every shape, every size, every color, everything is just so eye-opening.
What’s the story behind your awesome tattoo of the Olympic rings?
It’s so skewed…in America, we’re so fixated on products and winning, that when I decided I wanted to get my tattoo, I said I want it somewhere that I could show it off during my competition and when I’m practicing and in my sport, but in normal society I don’t want it to be seen at all. And I’ll tell you why -- I drew on the rings in a couple different spots to see how I’d like it and I went around town with a couple weeks to really get a feel for it. And when people would see my Olympic rings, they would sit there and be like “Oh did you go to the Olympics?” and I’m like yeah I did, getting all excited, and they’re like “Did you medal?” and I’d be like “No.” And that would be the end of the conversation. Period. And I felt like such a failure. So that’s why I got the rings there, because I don’t want to have that awkward conversation again, to be completely honest, because I want people to be excited about it. But I love my rings.
We talk a lot about the way women’s bodies are scrutinized by the media. How is that different at your level of athletic competition?
It’s so much different. I am tiny in the throws world. I am a midget and I am the skinny little girl that everyone’s trying to shove food in my face because I need to get fattened up. It’s such a different perspective to see. The body issue in athleticism is just so much different because as long as you’re doing well and you’re successful in what you’re doing, who cares if you’re 250 pounds or 200 pounds or 164 pounds.
Are there stereotypes about women hammer throwers?
In general, women’s athletics were kind of stereotyped. You had to look like a man, you couldn’t wear makeup, you had to have the short hair, you weren’t allowed to be feminine -- were really the stereotypes for women’s athletics in general. And then with throwing, because it is such a -- I wouldn’t say masculine sport -- but it is definitely a less feminine sport because it’s such a power event. And everyone that’s been good and in the media has always been the Eastern European women who don’t wear makeup, just put their hair up in a ponytail, and kinda looked like the Ms. Trunchbulls if you would, and that was the idea of what we were supposed to look like. And now everything’s just taken a turn and people are embracing their femininity in every sport, and I absolutely love it.
In your own career, have you felt those types of stereotypes?
I never have -- I’ve always had the shock factor. You can kinda tell that I work out a little bit. When [people] ask me “What sport do you play?” and I’m like “I play track and field,” it’s always kind of a “Oh really? What do you do in track and field?” [I say] “Oh, I’m a thrower” and [they say] “You throw? Man, throwers didn’t look like you when I was going to school.” And I’m just like, yeah we’re kind of changing. I never really experienced [the stereotypes] – I get more of a shock factor because I’m not what people would generally think of as a thrower.
What’s your take on the way we talk about women’s bodies in the media?
I understand the reality of it. Everybody wants it. But I think it’s so disgusting. Instead of sitting there and telling me “Hey, here’s how you can lose 10 pounds” -- I think that’s so silly -- why don’t you say, “Hey, here’s 10 ways to be more proud of yourself, here’s 10 ways to look at yourself differently.”
What do you know now about your body or the way you perceive your body that you wish your 18-year-old self knew?
Oh man, get over it. Everybody loves some cushion -- I learned that real quick. Growing up I always thought the only people that get the attention and get the boys are the skinny little models that have that perfect butt, no cellulite, no stretch marks. And now I’m getting to that point where it’s just like no, there are other people that love them some big girls. And I think if I would’ve known that back then, my life living in Las Vegas and going to college in Las Vegas and trying to get a job would’ve been so much easier. I would’ve been like man, screw them, I love myself. Other people love me. So who cares? Gosh, my life would’ve been so much easier.
Do you have any advice for women, of all shapes and sizes, who struggle with their body image?
You just have to find something that makes you feel good. Whether you’re male or female or anything -- there are plenty of men that have body issues -- you just have to find something that makes you feel good and fit into your own world.
There are so many different worlds and societies out there that support big girls and things that we can do. You just have to go find it. They’re not gonna shove it in our face. And if I can help out in any kind of way, don’t hesitate to message me and we can get through this together.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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