There are no thigh gaps in the Olympics.
If you want to sprint up and down a soccer field, you need thick, strong legs to carry you. If you want to box your way to gold, you need arms that can jab and cross round after round. If you want to throw your opponent in Judo, your core needs to be as solid as the ground you stand on.
There's no doubt female Olympians have the bodies of champions, but these bodies—the product of blood, sweat, tears, and incredible talent and perseverance—don't often conform to society's standards of feminine beauty.
For the eight Olympians featured here, rising to the top of their sport meant learning to value strength over skinny, to embrace their muscles along with their curves. Read their empowering words about body image.
Kelly O'Hara already earned one Olympic gold medal in 2012, and she's hoping to repeat history in Rio. Despite her talent on the pitch, however, O'Hara says used to struggle with body image—until she learned to appreciate all the amazing things her body could do.
"When I was in middle school and even high school, I wasn't comfortable with my body. I look back and it makes me sad, but I've grown into my body and really embrace it," she told Shape.
"I don't have the typical girl body, I'm kind of built like a boy. I don't have an hourglass figure but that's OK because I can play soccer and run for 90 minutes and kick ass on the soccer field, so it's all good. I love how I look. My favorite body part is my butt because that's where we get all our power from and that's what keeps me going up and down the field and drives my explosiveness. I kind of have a bubble butt, but it helps me do what I need to do!"
At the London Olympics, Harrison became the first American to nab the gold in judo—a pretty big deal in a sport where Americans are underdogs. Harrison also voluntarily competes in a higher weight class. When ESPN asked her how she made peace with the extra weight, she responded:
"I think growing up, especially for young girls in judo or in weight-cutting sports, it's really difficult. You're told the lighter you are, the better you'll fight."
But, she continued, she doesn't agree. "When I teach clinics, when I talk to young girls anywhere, I tell them, 'Look, I don't cut weight anymore. I eat like 6,000 calories a day. What I truly believe is that if you're going to win, you'll win at whatever weight you fight.' I always preach that strong is beautiful, strong is powerful and you shouldn't change your body for sport, for society, for anything."
Claressa Shields won gold in London in 2012, and she's on track to do it again in Rio. But being in a sport where hits to the face are a given has forced her to redefine how she views beauty.
"For a long time, I thought my nose was pretty big. I'd get hit in my nose and I'd think, 'This nose is huge!'" Shields told ESPN. "But now I think I'm very beautiful."
She adds, "Fighting is something God wants me to do. I'm built the way that I am—with my shape and my figure, with my muscles—because God blessed me with that, and I'm grateful for it. He wants me to be a boxer and to be a fighter."
April Ross is no stranger to appearance-related pressures: The beach volleyball player's uniform is a bikini. As she told ESPN, however, she would never let this stop her from being the strongest, most powerful athlete she can be.
"I don't feel like you should ever sacrifice strong for skinny. Strong is just as beautiful, and especially in sports, it's essential," Ross told ESPN. "I just never want to see any athlete sacrifice sustenance and fuel and taking care of their body in order to try and achieve this kind of skinny body type."
Adeline Gray, a three-time world championship wrestler, knows what it's like to be female in a male dominated sport—and the body issues that can go along with that. In fact, people used to tell her all the time, "You’re too pretty to wrestle." Thankfully, she didn't listen.
“I think people used to view female athletes as very butch, masculine—you kind of had to disregard your femininity to excel at an elite sport," she told ESPN. "Now it’s just a different world … You are allowed to be a female and be considered beautiful and still be an athlete and still be badass in that realm.”
In an interview with Shape, Gray elaborated on her body-positive message, saying, "I love my shape because I am strong, and powerful, and beautiful. I'm a super heavy weight for women's wrestling and I get to walk around knowing I love myself naked and clothed." Cheers to that!
Mattie Rogers is an alternate on the U.S. women's weightlifting team. As one of the strongest and youngest competitors in her weight division—she's only 20 years old—she knows the immense pressure placed on women to fit into cookie-cutter body types. But she's having none of it.
"Being strong is the best kind of confidence you can have. I’ve been in the girly, cheerleader shoes where you just want to be skinny and tan and look good, but you’re never really happy. You’re just trying to look like someone else," Rogers told USA Today.
"But when you’re strong? It’s like a totally different kind of confidence. You’re happy with how your body looks and it’s performing. It’s not just striving to be someone else."
Brittany Griner is 6'8", which means she's great at dunking basketballs. It also means that, wherever she goes, her body makes an entrance. But Griner is perfectly happy in her own skin.
"I'd describe myself as athletically lanky. I want to show people that. I'm comfortable in my body and I don't mind putting it on display," she told ESPN. "Honestly, I like how unique it is. My big arms, my bigger hands, these long legs—I love being different. If everybody was the same, it'd be a boring-ass world." She later adds, "That's my body and I look the way I look. People are either going to accept me for who I am or they're not."
Simone Biles—who, at 19, is competing in her first Olympics in Rio—is considered one of the most powerful gymnasts in the world, and much of that power comes from her muscle structure. At one time, Biles' body, which she has described as "stockier" than other gymnasts', made her self-conscious (she's 4'8"). But over the years she's learned to love what makes her different.
“I was built this way for a reason, so I’m going to use it,” Biles told Teen Vogue. “To go out there and prove what I can do has taught me a lot about who I am … We can push ourselves further. We always have more to give."
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.