Twenty-three days ago, Hannah Halvorsen hit the send button in her email, delivering 60 messages to cross-country skiers across the U.S. and worldwide. The subject line read: “Just two sentences!” Recipients who opened the message were greeted with two prompts: 1) “What’s one way that you’ve been affected by eating and body image in cross-country skiing?” and 2) “What’s one thing you tell yourself or perspective that you use that has been healthy or helped you?”
Twenty responses, numerous follow-up emails and 15 videos later, Halvorsen, an 18-year-old U.S. Ski Team rookie, had acquired enough footage to compile a video titled “Breaking The Silence”. Published last Saturday, Oct. 22, the video had already acquired over 3,000 views by early Wednesday. According to Halvorsen, it was a month-long project she created with the intention of raising awareness and opening discussions about disordered eating and body image among nordic skiers.
This fall wasn’t the first time the topic had crossed her mind. The issue was one she had mulled over during much of her junior skiing career and during the past season, she began brainstorming ways to bring it into nordic skiing’s spotlight.
“I decided a video would be better than doing an article because I’ve seen articles out before and I wanted to do something a little bit different and more emotional,” Halvorsen, of Truckee, Calif., said on the phone Monday while at a U.S. Ski Team (USST) training camp in Park City, Utah. “I’ve been wanting to do a project on this topic for a long time because the longer I’ve been skiing the more I realize this is a huge issue. Even traveling internationally I’ve talked to kids from other countries and it’s the exact same thing.”
Halvorsen’s video includes responses from junior and collegiate skiers, current and former USST members, as well as American and international athletes, all sharing their thoughts on the issue.
“I told people to keep it light,” she explained. “I wasn’t asking people to confess. I didn’t want to be super personal or controversial because I’m not a professional and I didn’t want to make something that could offend people or hurt people. I just wanted to bring awareness.”
Halvorsen is a U.S. development team member who races for the Sugar Bowl Nordic Team, has qualified for two Junior World Championships and competed in three Scandinavian Cups as well as the 2016 Youth Olympic Games. It took her roughly four to five follow-up emails per person to obtain enough footage for the video, but by the time she arrived to Park City last week on Monday, Oct. 17, she’d received enough material to put together “Breaking The Silence”.
“I knew that I was coming to this U.S. camp, so if I didn’t end up getting any footage I was just going to pester the girls at the camp and film them myself, but I ended up getting plenty beforehand,” Halvorsen said.
“The longer I’ve been skiing, the more I realize this is a huge issue. Even traveling internationally I’ve talked to kids from other countries and it’s the exact same thing.” — Hannah Halvorsen on body image issues and disordered eating in skiing
The compilation is five minutes long and provides a montage of women’s perspectives on how body image and eating have affected female cross-country skiers, with World Cup race footage interspersed throughout the video as well. Though all of the featured interviews are of women, Halvorsen points out that disordered eating and body image may also be an issue among men who cross-country ski, even if manifested in different ways.
“I had a lot of discussion on whether I should include males [in the video],” she said. “It’s tricky because it’s almost seen as a woman’s issue, so men are more sensitive about being asked about it. … I did ask a few men and they weren’t comfortable with it, so then I thought maybe I should just direct my focus on women because that’s the issue I understand. I know what it’s like for women; I don’t know if it’s slightly different for men and if I’d be tackling something totally different [by asking them], but I do think men are struggling with it, too.”
So far, Halvorsen said the responses to the video had all been positive, with many commenting that more conversation about issues like these need to happen.
She also pointed out that the video is not the solution to disordered eating and body image amongst nordic skiers, but rather a step in the right direction.
“I know that not everyone who watches it is going to be perfect and never struggle with body image, but there might be something in there that resonates with someone no matter how small of an impact it is,” Halvorsen said. “It helps people believe that they’re not alone because it’s so unspoken I think people think they’re the only ones thinking about it.”
Halvorsen also asked Truckee-based nutritionist and health coach Natalie Boggs how to best support those struggling with disordered eating or body image. Her response was fairly short and simple: “If you notice someone who seems to be struggling, you can ask them if they are feeling OK and if there is anything you can do to help.”