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Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters [Paperback]

Joan Ryan
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 1 2000
From starvation diets and debilitating injuries to the brutal tactics of tyrannical gymnastics guru Bela Karolyi, "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes" portrays the horrors endured by girls at the hands of their coaches and sometimes their own families. An acclaimed expose that has already helped reform Olympic sports -- now updated to reflect the latest developments in women's gymnastics and figure skating -- it continues to plead for sanity, safety, and an end to our national obsession: winning at any cost.

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From Publishers Weekly

"The female gymnast's career is a race against time and nature," writes San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ryan, and the same appears to be true of world-class female figure skaters. In both sports, the contemporary ideal is a girl with a boy's body: sans breasts and hips. To achieve this "ideal," the athletes overtrain at a time when their skeletal development is supposed to be the greatest, suffering injuries to vertebrae, arms and legs at the same time that they are constantly being ordered to lose weight. The result: anorexia and bulimia. This expose, which absolves the exploited trainees of most blame?though some are apparently monomaniacal about becoming Mary Lou Rettons or Dorothy Hamills?is scathing on the subjects of parents, coaches, judges, the U.S. Gymnastic Federation and the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Ryan concludes that females aged 13 to 18 are not only exploited but abused. Such a powerful plea for reform may have some results.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA?In an attempt to focus attention on the high price paid through pain, pressure, and humiliation to become an Olympic champion, Ryan has researched the stories behind some of the young female superstar gymnasts and figure skaters. The extraordinary cost to these young women in body, mind, and spirit is dramatized through the intense subculture dominated by gyms, trainers, parents, and sports officials who press for excellence and success without regard to the health and well-being of those involved. This anecdotal account serves as a warning to all those engaged in competitive sports that children should not be sacrificed to adult egos and the thrills of victory. A book to be pondered by coaches, parents, and young people.?Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School Library, Upper Marlboro, MD
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EENY...MEENY..TEENY...WEENY... March 2 2003
By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER
This is a terrific book on the state of woman's gymnastics and, to some extent, figure skating, though the primary focus of the book is on gymnastics. It focuses on the enormous demands made upon these young athletes by coaches, trainers, officials, and parents. Some of those demands are so unrealistic as to border on child abuse. There are athletes who are starve themselves, who develop life threatening eating disorders, who perform dangerous maneuvers in the quest for the gold, and who sometimes end up dead or devastatingly injured as a result.
There is a lot of backstage dish in the book that is interesting. True life stories, some of which are heartbreaking, flesh out the allegations asserted by the author. The emphasis on being tiny and elfin has had enormous impact on elite female gymnasts. One sees the difference in just by looking comparatively at the women's U.S. Olympic gymnastic teams from 1976 and 1992. The photographs in the book best illustrate this and the comparison bespeaks volumes. Elite gymnastics went from being a woman's sport to a girl's sport, as the author has sagely noted, and the photographs corroborate that assertion.
Moreover, while some measures have been taken, such as raising the age for Olympic competition in 2000 from fifteen to sixteen, at the same time the minimum level of difficulty has increased, making an already dangerous sport more dangerous. Remember, elite gymnastics is a sport fraught with the potential for devastating spinal cord injuries. The author recounts a number of these heartbreaking injuries and the circumstances under which they occurred, leaving the reader to ask oneself, "Just what were these coaches thinking?
The pressure that some of these girls and young women endure is truly unbelievable.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Shocking but exaggerated May 11 2004
Although this is perhaps the first gymnastics book I have ever heard of, it took me the longest time to go ahead and read it simply because I didn't want to read something that was derogatory about gymnastics.
But then I decided that if I was going to become a true fan on gymnastics, I might was well read about both sides of it, and I borrowed this book.
Before I say anything else, let me just mentioned that this is a very interesting book. One night I planned on reading one chapter and ended up reading several. So if you do read this book, you will not be bored.
But aside from that, this book tells you about gymnast's trouble with anorexia and bulimia, and how some girls starved themselves to make themselves look thin.
I think if you're going to show the bad side to gymnastics, you have to show the good side as well. Yes, girls did starve themselves, and coaches did call them degrading names, but the author didn't tell about the girls who didn't starve themselves, about the coaches that treated their gymnasts firmly but with respect, and the rewards that came with that. This book was entirely one-sided, and it could leave you with a bad taste in the mouth if you're not careful.
I was in a webchat with Shannon Miller not too long ago, and I asked her what she thought about the book. She said that she hadn't read it because she 'preferred not to read fiction', and that she knew what was true and what wasn't. I believe her! One of the things I read in there said that Steve Nunno was only into coaching to get what he could get out of it. Joan Ryan, the person who wrote this book, has some serious catching up to do.
I also think that some of the comments about Bela Karolyi were exaggerated.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Gone too far April 4 2004
By Amy
Read about this book to learn about yet another way in which the American drive to produce winners in athletics has gone too far. This author focuses on the abuse of young girls in gymnastics and skating; however, I see the problems in these sports as part of the bigger picture. Our culture places such a high value on athletics that no sport has gone unscathed. I myself was a competitive swimmer and saw various friends battle injuries, eating disorders, alcoholism, and other demons as direct or indirect consequences of the demands of our sport. Every once in a while, a great star is produced, and all the sacrifices seem to have been worth it. The truth is, however, that for every Michael Phelps there are thousands of casualties. It's hard to believe, though, that change is forthcoming- are we willing to preserve the health and well-being of children by freely accepting that by cutting back training schedules, etc., we will not produce the great athletes that we have been? I don't see it coming. As long as baseball players are making outrageous salaries and sports stars are revered as the heroes of today, we will continue to chase the dream and sacrifice literally anything and everything to be successful, as are the little girls in pretty boxes of this book.
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Think that female gymnasts and figure skaters are happy pittle pixies, racking up medals effortlessly, never having a problem with their coaches or being pressured by parents? Not so, claims Joan Ryan, author of this startling book. Ryan's well-researched, well-written book takes you behind the scenes of these two sports. Fair warning: This book is NOT about the recreational side of gymnastics and figure skating; it's a look at the ELITE side. Gymnasts and figure skaters do not lead the perfect and happy lives that the media is constantly yapping about. Far from it! They have to deal with life-threatening injuries and eating disorders, parents who only care about their daughter winning, and politics and money. Besides from explanations about problems with these sports, Ryan writes about true accounts that happened to actual gymnasts and figure skaters. She writes about Julissa Gomez's vaulting accident that caused her to become paralyzed and die, Christy Henrich's battle with anorexia and bulimia which also caused her to die, the story behind Kim Kelly being voted off the 1992 Olympic team, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan saga, and much, much more.
Gymnasts and figure skates live a very tough, pressurized life, and Joan Ryan unzips the media's hype. As she explains, they only have one chance to win. One chance to be perfect. This book will explain to you that not everyone who participates in this sport ends up retiring winning five Olympic medals, being happy, and feeling great. This book is a must read for all gymnasts, parents, coaches- basically anyone whose involved in these two sports.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Effective View
This book was very effective in showing the world some of the truths about gymnastics and figure skating. Read more
Published on June 24 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars What a waste of time!
What an extremely biased, unfiar, and untrue this book was! First of all, lets start with the title. It was so misleading. What about figure skaters? Read more
Published on June 3 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book even for non-gymnasts/skaters
Though I am not a gymnast or an iceskater, this book was touching for me. I wouldn't know the true things that go on during practices, or if the stories choosen were only the ones... Read more
Published on March 7 2004 by "ambe79"
4.0 out of 5 stars how true how true...
Having competed in the upper ranks of the fiqure skating world, I have seen much of what Ryan speaks about in this book. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars I'll never look at gymnastics the same way again
This is a heartbreaking book about gymnasts and (and to a smaller degree) ice skaters who sacrificed everything to get to the top of their sports, but somehow fell short when the... Read more
Published on Dec 30 2003 by yizzy99
3.0 out of 5 stars movie version
where's the video? i liked the movie better than the book. has it been released yet?
Published on Dec 27 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars True But False
Yes, it is true that some gymnasts, figure skaters, ballerinas, and other athletes (such as wrestlers, cross country runners, etc.) have suffered from EDs. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars extremely biased
I have to agree w/ the other people who gave negative reviews for this book. I don't know much about this author, but I would assume she was never a gymnast or figure skater. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.....
I believe Ryan is correct in the life of gymnasts and figure skaters...I have been a gymnast for 15 years now, and have seen more people quit the sport because of feeling to... Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2003 by Rebecca W
1.0 out of 5 stars ..................
This book is insanity and completely biased! I am currently 14 years old and have been involved in gymnastics since the age of 2. Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2003
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