"If I had never been called fat before, I wouldn’t have gotten into hammer throwing," the Olympian says. "It taught me that being different is OK."
Amanda Bingson is a record-breaking Olympic athlete, but it was her nude photo on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue that turned her into a household name. At 210 pounds, the hammer thrower is unapologetic about her body—and she's out to prove that "athletes come in all shapes and sizes." (See more stunning photos and inspirational body-image quotes from rest of the women featured in the issue).
We sat down with the headline-making 25-year-old to find out what it was like to strip naked for a bunch of strangers, how she feels about being the new champion of the body-positive movement, and her fitness mantra. (Spoiler alert: It's "Look good, feel good, throw good." How great is that?!)
Shape: What was your initial reaction to being asked to pose naked? And then what was it like actually being on set?
Amanda Bingson (AB): My initial reaction was 'Y’all are lying to me. This isn’t real life.' Actually doing it was really fun. It was awesome. Everyone made me feel really comfortable. There is always that nervousness when you’re putting yourself out there...there’s always going to be some pushback and negative response, but the way it all turned out put me over the moon. It turned out so beautiful and amazing.
Shape: Your body-positive message has had a really powerful impact. Were you surprised at all by the response?
AB: I think it’s great that it’s being put out there. Did I ever think it would be me? Absolutely not. In track and field, we get no recognition. No one ever really knows about what we accomplish. So to have this kind of exposure is so mind-blowing. I’m still not quite used to it and I’m not sure if I ever will be. I’m such a small-town person! But I think it’s awesome. If a girl can see me and say 'She’s 200 pounds, and athletic and kicking ass and maybe I can do that too,' then that’s great.
Shape: What's been the best thing to come out of all the attention so far?
AB: The best thing is just getting my sport and my event out there. It’s helped open a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that there are worlds out there other than what we see on social media. Not everybody fits into the typical mold that we see in society. Track and field is so different from what we typically see in a magazine.
Shape: In your ESPN interview, you talked about being called fat as a kid and getting kicked off your volleyball team. How did that influence you and affect your approach to body confidence?
AB: Honestly, I’m kind of glad all of that happened. It made me the person I am today and made me strong and confident with my body. They told me I was too big for volleyball and they didn’t want me on the team. I had to have a certain body type and weight so I said, 'No. I’m going to find something else that fits my body type.' And that’s how I found track and field. If I had never been called fat before we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation and I wouldn’t have gotten into hammer throwing. But it definitely taught me that being different is OK.
Shape: How did you first get into hammer throwing?
AB: In high school, one of my buddies in band did track and field and he told me I should do it because I was looking for a new sport. I wasn’t very good at shot put and discus when I first started out, but this really cute guy, Ben Jacobs, who actually plays for the NFL now, walked out to practice with his shirt off so I figured I’d stay around. But I was first introduced to hammer throwing in college when my coach made me pick it up. Hammer throw is essentially a shot put on a wire. It weighs four kilos—about as much as a gallon of milk. You spin around and then let it go. I did pretty well...and I’m still doing it!
Shape: What’s it like to be part of a sport that, until fairly recently, was limited to men on the Olympic level?
AB: I think it’s awesome. We didn’t get on the global scale until early 2000s—that’s when we were finally able to compete on the national level—so with the women’s hammer we are still setting world records. It's growing and people are getting more into it and we’re breaking records every year because it is so new.
Shape: What is the training like in preparation for a competition?
AB: What sets hammer throwing apart is that unlike most other sports, where you have to work on general fitness and strength, our biggest workout is actually throwing. That’s the only way you’re going to get stronger. It’s a very specific kind of training. We have something called hammer strength, where we’ll train with a 20-pound weight or a 16-pound hammer, and try to get our specific strength up, rather than overall strength.
Shape: You're a self-proclaimed protein junkie. What does a day of meals look like for you?
AB: Because hammer throwing is such a power-based sport, it’s all about the protein. Pretty much all I eat is red meat and chicken. When I wake up, I’ll have about a six-egg omelette—two whole eggs and four egg whites with a handful of mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and spinach. I’ll usually have some fruit with it and a couple pieces of toast, along with about seven cups of coffee. It takes a lot for me to wake up in the morning! After practice, I’ll have a protein shake with about 40 grams of protein, then a protein bar for a snack. Then a couple of hours later, I’ll have lunch which is usually a giant salad with a full chicken breast, and a snack like beef jerky. It’s so much protein all the time! For dinner, I’ll usually have eight to 12 ounces of steak and then, depending on my mood, some broccoli or a baked potato. Then I’ll have a protein shake after dinner and another one before bed. I try to get between 175 grams of protein per day. That’s what I need basically to rebuild those muscles that are constantly getting torn down. Sometimes I’ll shoot for about 200 grams. Too much protein can never do you any harm—it’ll just flush out of my system!
Shape: Do you have a fitness mantra or philosophy?
AB: Look good, feel good, throw good. If I look good, I’ll feel confident, and then I’m going to do great. It’s all about self-confidence and self-esteem. So before I go to a competition I’ll put my makeup on and put some sparkles in my hair because I want to look good for myself. I grew up in Las Vegas, so I’ve always loved looking pretty and being a girl and dressing up. Slowly I’ve been seeing my competitors step their make up game up a little more and put on some blush!
There’s been this idea for a while that if you’re an athlete and a female you have to look like a man. Especially if you’re a hammer thrower, people think we have to have a mustache! No. We’re women! We’re pretty! We’re hot! I think that was discouraging a lot of women from getting into different sports. Now, women are starting to come out and be like, ‘You can kick butt and be the best athlete in the world and still look good in a dress.’ And I absolutely love that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.