Leah Van Dale, better known by her stage name of Carmella in the WWE, has been aware of the trials and tribulations that come with being an athlete from a very young age — and not just the rigors of practice and training but the mental hurdles as well, such as maintaining a certain body image.
“I grew up doing ballet, tap and jazz and I was always in a bodysuit and we were always looking at ourselves in the mirror,” Carmella told Yahoo Life. “I was very aware of it from a young age. I was always usually the smallest girl in class whether that was a school or dance class. But I was very aware. And I felt like that was my thing. ‘Oh, you’re so tiny.’ So I’m like, ‘OK, that’s my thing. I guess I’m the tiny girl.'”
Although being perceived as “tiny” might seem like glowing praise to most, to Carmella, her thinness was a double-edged sword that both dictated her feelings of self-worth, generated symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder and spurred passive-aggressive comments about her weight and eating habits from others.
“I truly hate the ‘Oh, I want to see you eat.’ ‘What are you going to eat?’ ‘Make sure you eat that,'” Carmella said. “That is such a weird thing to say. And that really makes me feel so uncomfortable. Because I eat so much.”
Carmella added that the comments, besides being innaccurate, are hurtful, reductive and have no place still being spoken so comfortably in 2023.
“My husband [WWE star Matt Polinksy, aka Corey Graves] will be there and will defend me. He’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? She eats way more than I do.’ I just feel like that’s such a negative thing to say to someone, especially a woman. I’m a 35-year-old woman. You don’t need to tell me that I should be eating. I know to eat. I never need anyone to remind me of that. And I think it’s just kind of disgusting that people are still making those comments in 2023,” Carmella said.
Before she became a WWE superstar, Carmella worked as a professional dancer for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Lakers. Obsessing over her appearance was a complication for Carmella in those occupations as well.
“There’s a lot of pressure to look your best and be fit and healthy. And I think I was sort of doing it more in an unhealthy way,” Carmella said. “When I look back, I realize I was just so strict with my diet and restricted myself from eating anything and everything that wasn’t vegetables, fruit and lean meats. And that’s just sort of how I lived my life.”
This mentality followed her to the WWE, where she still adhered to a spartanic, and not always healthy diet, as well as did her best to maintain a physical appearance that fell in line with her egregiously rigid standards.
“When I started out, I had so much pressure like ‘I have to be fit, I want to have a six-pack, I need to keep this up.’ I mean as a wrestler, you need to have a specific physique and look a certain way. And that’s kind of what set me apart too is I always had a defined body and things like that. And I tried to keep that up,” she says.
To maintain this specific physique, Carmella often found herself pushing herself to the limits. And not always in a good way.
“For a long time I was always lifting heavy weights and tearing my body apart on the road with wrestling. Then when I’m home, I’m lifting weights, and I was just feeling so weak, my body was hurting so much,” she explained.
That’s when Carmella began to realize that in addition to overtraining her body, seeking approval through her physique was a commensurately unhealthy practice.
“I did it just because that was what I thought I needed to do,” Carmella continued. “Because I wanted to project this image. I want everyone to know that I’m fit and I’m healthy and I have a six-pack and things like that.”
Finally, in the present day, Carmella can look back and laugh at the excessive lengths she’d go to appear fit.
“I look back and I kind of laugh at it because at the point I’m at now I do it for all the right reasons and not because I want people to perceive me a certain way,” she said. “At this point in my life, I never weigh myself anymore. I do not care about that.”
Carmella concluded, “I’ve finally gotten to a point where I don’t want to restrict my diet. I don’t want to tell myself I can’t have something. And I feel like now this is the best I’ve ever looked and the best I’ve ever felt because I just am doing what’s right for me and eating intuitively.”
Can you empathize with the comments made by Carmella on the difficulty of staying in shape as a wrestler? Let us know what you think in the comments.