In this series of articles, I speak with current and past female athletes to learn about their experience in their body. The goal is to promote diverse body types in sport and raise awareness of the female athlete experience.
In this interview, I get to chat with Taylor Klass. Taylor and I grew up going to the same church and she is a lifelong soccer player and outdoor enthusiast. I’m so thankful for this chance to reconnect and once you read this convo, you will see why!
Hannah: Hi! It is so good to talk to you!
H: So, when it comes to sport and body image–all that jazz– I’m really passionate about spreading awareness. So that’s why I’m doing and I’m so thankful you are willing to talk with me!
T: Yeah. That sounds awesome. I know I really would have benefited from seeing something like this published and being able to read about it. So that’s awesome that you’re doing it.
H: Thanks. That is the goal! So, why don’t you start by telling everyone, for context, who you are and what your background is in sport–that kind of thing.
T: Yeah. So my name is Taylor and I’m from central Ohio. I grew up playing soccer. Since I was six, that was always my main sport. I did additional sports, but I always stuck with and loved soccer. I played club soccer throughout high school, middle school, and high school. I also played for my school in high school, starting out freshman year, with sort of being a combo of JV and varsity and then full varsity for the rest of the time.
H: Very neat!
T: I definitely considered playing soccer in college, but I ultimately decided that I wanted to pick a school for my academic interests…[rather than] pursuing soccer and worrying about getting a scholarship for that. So I chose Ohio State and did not play on Ohio State’s team, but I continued playing intramural and pick up for fun.
So that was a big transition going from high school where we were practicing every day to college and now to my post-graduate studies–where it’s just fun and there’s no more practice. Now, we just play games which is fun.
H: I love that. You’ve allowed the relationship with soccer to transition through life as you have. I remember you playing soccer [when we knew each other as kids]. But I don’t think we ever played on any teams together. A missed opportunity there!
T: I know. Yeah, I don’t think we’ve played together either.
H: But actually, this is going to sound weird… I don’t know how, but I know that you play defense. Don’t you?
T: Yeah, how do you know that?
H: I don’t know. I actually have no idea. I just like, probably remember it from when we were kids. Now, speaking of childhood, do you remember the first time you had a thought about your body?
T: Mmm. I would say [it was] probably in middle school. It was not really related to sports, but I remember thinking that my body was my body; I didn’t think anything of it–neither good nor bad. And I think I remember asking my mom some questions about my body–comparing. “I don’t have a big butt” or “I don’t have big boobs, do I?” Because I started to compare my body to other people and that was sort of the first time that I can remember thinking about that.
H: What was your experience like as you went through middle school and high school? Did how you thought about your body change? Did your body image shift?
T: Yeah. So, I would say, I was always very thin through high school. And that I think was for a variety of factors. One, I was running and playing sports. I was doing a lot of active stuff every day. I also think it was because I was not eating enough–not on purpose, just because of some other stuff.
T: That’s a whole, long story of my eating history, and I can go into it more if you want.
H: Only if you’re comfortable sharing.
T: So, when I was six, I had tonsils that were taking up like 80% of my throat.
H: Oh wow.
T: Yeah, and it went on for like six months without anyone knowing and so I had a really hard time swallowing my food.
H: Yeah, I bet!
T: My throat was constricted and so eventually, we somehow figured it out. But I don’t remember it hurting. Honestly, I don’t remember that much about that time.
H: Yeah. Yeah.
T: You know, so I got the tonsils removed. But ever since then, I’ve had like this whole mind/anxiety thing about swallowing. That has heavily impacted my eating ability. It’s nothing physical–there’s no obstruction there anymore, but because when I was six for six months, I did have that obstruction, my mind sort of still thinks there’s something to be afraid of there.
H: That makes some sense, though.
T: Yeah, and so that played into [my eating habits]. When I got to high school, I had been homeschooled before, so I was [used to eating] in comfortable settings. Before, I had as much time to eat as I needed. Then, I went to high school and we had less than 30 minutes and I just couldn’t eat enough. I would eat maybe half my lunch or less and then have stomach cramps in the afternoon because I didn’t eat enough and go straight to practice and so probably a combo of playing a lot of sports, but then also not eating enough.
H: That’s so tough.
T: That’s a long answer to your question, but all that to say that I don’t think I had as many body image thoughts or struggles until I stopped playing soccer as much–until I got to college age.
H: Hmm. And did that resolve the swallowing like the mental kind of thing or is that still a struggle?
T: It’s still a struggle. It’s gotten a lot better because I’m on medication now. Which I’ve been on since maybe 2016, and I love to tell people that medication has changed my life.
H: Oh I’m so glad!
T: It’s made a massive difference and, you know, I’m still working through it, but the medication has helped for sure.
H: Yeah, I don’t mean to go off on a rabbit trail, but I do feel like growing up, I did not hear much about The benefits of medication for mental health–especially within conservative Christian circles. I remember calling my parents in [the summer of 2021], crying, because I thought they’d be mad at me when I told them that I started taking an antidepressant. Instead, my dad was like, “Hannah, I’m so proud of you.” I just never knew that medication was “okay.” So I agree with you that medication can be used for such good, and it’s helpful to share that with people–in the sense of how beneficial it can be.
T: Oh yeah, for sure. And I’m thankful that my parents, too, were super supportive of me trying that and going on that which is great.
H: Mmm. Yeah, I love that. So then, as you’ve grown mentally and as your body has changed physically, how has sport impacted the way you view your body?
T: I think it has made me appreciate my body a lot more and appreciate what it can do. Because even though my body has changed a ton since high school, that doesn’t really impact how I’m able to play my sport.
T: –which is cool. Like, it honestly maybe is even more beneficial because I weigh a little more and I don’t get pushed around as much on the field.
H: Yes, you have more power as you play, I’m sure.
T: I think sports are an equal playing ground type thing where you can come with any body type–especially with soccer in particular–I love that. It doesn’t matter if you’re super short or you’re super tall. [It doesn’t matter] what your body looks like. You can still play the sport, do well, and have fun with it. That’s something I’ve always really enjoyed because I am shorter. I’m five two, so I probably wouldn’t be a great volleyball player or basketball player.
H: That’s funny, and such a good perspective to have.
T: Soccer is one of those sports, probably like running for you, that your body image or shape, isn’t the main indicator in your long-term performance.
H: Yeah. I always thought that being lighter would make me faster. That’s not the root cause of my eating disorder or anything, but once my weight was in an unhealthy range, I thought gaining weight would ruin my running. It’s interesting you mention how soccer allows for such body diversity, though, because I think one of the things that I struggled with, with my body image, came about when I switched from the soccer world to the distance running world. I played soccer through my freshman year of high school, and I was so used to being around girls who were strong and muscular. Those soccer players didn’t have qualms about certain parts of their bodies like many runners did. I appreciated that. Did you find a healthy culture within the soccer teams that you’ve been on or even play with now?
T: Yeah, for sure. I don’t remember body shape or size being emphasized on any of the teams I played on, which was great.
H: Really!? That’s rare too.
T: Yeah. Yeah, and I’m sure maybe I would have encountered that more if I had played officially in college. But I had, for the most part, really great coaches, which was awesome. I remember that when I played club, there were times that I didn’t make the top “A” team, and I got bumped down. But it ended up being such a blessing and a lot better experience because the girls were there to have fun and there weren’t as many cliques.
T: I don’t know, I just clicked a lot more with those people and they became my friends. And I feel like when you’re in the mindset of “this is fun and I’m playing with my friends,” then you end up playing a lot better because you’re not stressed all the time.
H: Yes! I would wholeheartedly agree with that.
T: So yeah, I would say that then–and even now–now no one cares [about weight] because we’re all getting older and we just appreciate the fact that we can get out there and still play.
H: Oh my gosh, you’re not that old! (laughing) But, as you mentioned, your body did shift as you played soccer less. So then, how did you deal with it when your body did change in college? Was that difficult?
T: Yeah, it was super hard. I was always used to being very thin–not super muscular and strong, but thin. But I remember that my body started to get a little bit bigger when I entered college. My stomach started to expand some and I was like, “What is happening? This has never happened in my life.” I thought something medically might be wrong with me. I had no idea what was going on.
H: No that’s so hard, especially in college when everything already seems new!
T: Yes, and it was definitely hard to have to get new clothes, and also when you’re in college, you’re comparing yourself to everyone around you.
H: For sure.
T: –and I don’t know, even since then my weight fluctuates a lot. One time, I was recovering from pneumonia and was exercising a ton, and then my grandma passed away. It was a really hard time. Looking back at pictures of myself then, it’s hard. It’s hard to see the size of my body change and to come to terms with my body image. Since then, I’ve worked through some of those emotions. I found these two Instagram accounts when I was dealing with some of that, that talked about body positivity. The accounts shared about people who had struggled with eating disorders and were recovering from that. Seeing what they were sharing really helped my mindset. It helped transform my mindset so I can be happy in the body that I’m in and appreciate it for what it is.
H: I love that.
T: Yeah, so I feel like I’m in a much better place. Now, I mean, of course, it still impacts me a lot, but I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable in my skin and in who I am.
H: That’s so great to hear! Now, you mentioned a few things you found helpful in that change, but is there anything else that kind of helped you shift your perspective?
T: So my roommate that I lived with in undergrad and then also post-graduate, she just moved out a few months ago. We lived together for eight years.
H: Oh, that’s so cool!
T: Yeah. So she’s like my best friend and she suffered from an eating disorder while we were together in undergrad.
H: Oh wow.
T: It was really, really hard to see her go through that. It was also very scary to realize how bad it had gotten. I personally didn’t realize how bad it had gotten because I lived with her; I saw her every single day.
T: Looking back at pictures from that time, it’s just crazy to think, like, “How did I not see that?” But I didn’t.
H: And that’s not uncommon at all, by the way.
T: So she started going through recovery for that, and I was sort of right there in the midst of that process with her. I think that was really helpful for me because I saw her body change a lot, in a healthy way. I got to experience that and learn from some of the stuff that her therapists were telling her. I got to try some of her challenge foods with her and supported her in not working out a ton. That gave me a healthier vision of myself: I don’t have to work out all the time either, and I can support my friend in what she’s doing.
I think it definitely had an impact on both of us. I’ve sort of made it a thing in the past few years where I purposefully don’t know my weight.
H: Mm-hmm. That can be incredibly beneficial!
T: And I don’t look at the scale at my yearly checkup, just because I know that if I do, it messes with my mind a lot. That [choice has] actually helped a lot.
H: I bet! I mean, I’ve done that ever since I first started struggling with an eating disorder. And it’s not something I’m ashamed of. Maybe someday, my mind won’t attach value to those numbers. But right now, no number on that scale would help me. Plus, weight is very arbitrary as well. I wish more people knew that.
H: And, oh my gosh, what you were saying about your roommate, Taylor… That is so fantastic. Oh my goodness, that’s just so supportive. I’m sure that for her to have you there like that would have meant the world. It makes me emotional to think about it because I can imagine that helped change her life. Wow.
T: And I mean, looking back, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t realize earlier what was happening. But yeah.
H: We can’t always know. Eating disorders are incredibly secretive.
T: I’m glad I was able to support her through that and also grateful for the positive impact that it had on me.
H: Yeah, that’s wonderful. So, I know that you still play soccer and you enjoy hiking a lot– which is so cool and I love seeing all the pictures of your adventures–and my next question is kind of looking ahead. As you look at life now, what does movement mean to you?
T: Yeah, I think for me, it means having fun in a way that exercises my body, but also just strengthens it and is something I enjoy. It doesn’t have to be some intense exercise. I mean, I’m still working on that in my mind [though]. I have these preconceived notions of [fitness] that I’m trying to change. Like, “If I can’t work out for an hour, then it doesn’t even matter. I shouldn’t even do it.”
H: Yeah. It’s hard to rewrite those ideas. They get so ingrained.
T: It’s been super fun to just go on walks while I listen to an audiobook or talk to my parents on the phone. I love to ride my bike for fun and I love playing soccer and running. I do get antsy when I don’t move my body. Then I discovered Zumba classes and I love doing those.
H: I recently discovered Zumba too! It’s so much fun! Actually, when I was in treatment, before I was allowed to resume running, my treatment team made me do Zumba. I was so grumpy about it. When I actually did it, though, I was like, “Oh this is fun!”
T: Yeah I love Zumba. It’s so much fun! [It’s one of the ways] I’m just getting out there and being active. I’m doing something that is not boring, and I get to explore the world around me. I love being in nature. So hiking, for instance, is not in a gym where you don’t see anything. When you hike, you’re doing something for your mind and getting outside.
H: Love that. And then, do you have any big athletic goals in the next few years?
T: I used to have a goal of doing an official half marathon, and maybe one day, I’ll do a marathon or something. [But setting that as a goal] actually brought a lot more stress than it was worth.
H: Mmm. Okay.
T: – having to have this goal of following a training schedule in order to prepare yourself. So no, I actually think I like not having goals with it and just going with the flow. I can find new people to play soccer with or just find new ways to have fun. It doesn’t have to be super structured.
H: That’s such a great approach. I love that! So then, the last question I have for you is one I’ve been asking everyone in these interviews. The question is, if you could tell little Taylor something, what would you tell her?
T: Oh, that’s that’s a tough question, but a good one. I think I would tell her not to care as much about what other people think of her.
T: –And I’d tell her to be confident, to be happy with who she is and who she is becoming day by day. Even with the mistakes and the hard things. I definitely struggled with that when I was younger–feeling like I didn’t fit in a ton in middle school and high school years; it was all based on comparing myself and caring a ton about what other people thought of me. Now, I just don’t care as much and it brings a ton of freedom. So yeah, that would probably be what I’d say to her.
H: That’s so sweet. I love that self-compassion. As a semi-sidenote, however, I would say that your cat-themed birthday party when we decorated little ponies went down in history as my favorite birthday party ever. So, even though that was way before middle school or high school, I did think you were so cool.
T: Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious. I love that.
H: Yeah, yeah, that was great. And so was this conversation. Taylor, thank you so much for being willing to talk with me. I really appreciate it.
T: Yeah, thank you. It’s really, it’s really nice and refreshing to talk about it.
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