I have a beef with calling kids, especially gymnasts, “littles”.
One of the more reputable gyms/teams I follow on Instagram is run by their gym owner and head team coach.
Once every few weeks, there will be a post like “one of our littles got their kip!”
Or a montage with a caption like “a great training day with the littles!”
And while that might seem harmless to some (most likely to fully grown adults, confident people, some men, or some naturally small people), it’s a risky label to include in this setting.
Primarily because the opposite of “little” is “big”.
And when you work in a sport that has historically praised smaller individuals, glorified youth, and induced a plethora of eating disorders and body image problems, calling some girls “big” is a huge mistake that scars them for life.
On the flip side, even if a female gymnast is praised for her smallness in practice, she is likely to be bullied at school or in other social settings because of the very same thing.
Simply put, ANY label or separation based on the size and shape of someone’s body, especially a youth body, is a projection of judgement.
When an Instagram account has a group of girls who are celebrated as “the littles” without ever mentioning a group called “the bigs” is by default saying that it’s ok to be the former, but not the latter.
We created a fun collective label for the small girls, but when they’re older they’re just “the higher level gymnasts” or we refer to them individually because there are so few of them.
We celebrate tiny, we don’t mention old or large.
When they’re small, just existing in that body is an achievement, and when you grow up you actually have to be good enough to warrant solo recognition.
If I sound overly sensitive to this subject, it’s because I absolutely am.
With a background as an athlete and coach in competitive gymnastics, cheerleading and bodybuilding, I’ve seen and experienced the subconscious damage first hand.
Any subjective sport that puts an emphasis on your physical appearance is already creating a dicey culture for mental health problems and body dysmorphia.
But at least in bodybuilding, we’re typically dealing with adults and everyone has agreed to have their physique judged.
In cheerleading, there is still a place for larger or taller bodies, especially on all-girl squads. Even though the tiny flyers are seen as the “stars” (this time celebrating smallness by default due to the laws of gravity), they still need the supporting cast of bases and back spots to lift them into the air.
Personally, as a shorter, but stalkier and stronger girl, I took pride in my abilities to be a very useful and versatile main base in all of my stunt groups. I felt necessary and important.
But with gymnastics, it’s always been little = good, big = bad for girls.
Not as explicitly as it used to be, but still with insidious and coded messages like celebrating “the littles” in a gymnastics facility where children and adolescents are sure to be physically developing at a variety of ages, timeframes and sizes.
In 2023, you’d think coaches and gym owners would know better.
You’d think parents would speak up and protect their kids.
But alas, here we are sneakily shaming girls for being born to large or tall parents, for going through puberty at all, or for simply taking up too much space in general.