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It’s been a big week for Ronda Rousey. On Sunday the MMA fighter was crowned one of three cover models for this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and became the first athlete ever to be featured on the cover. Then on Monday, she appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show and bravely revealed that she experienced suicidal thoughts after her shocking UFC title loss to Holly Holm last fall. “I was sitting in the corner and I was like, What am I anymore if I’m not this?” she explained in the emotional interview.
Opening up about such a heartbreaking experience couldn’t have been easy. But Rousey’s honesty is just one of the many reasons we love her. Not only is she an incredible athlete, she’s also a feminist icon and an outspoken advocate for body positivity. Here, five of the quotes that have earned her legions of fans, and made her the role model we always wanted.
On why she wanted to model for SI
“[Sports Illustrated] has given me so much opportunity,” she said in a behind-the-scenes video at her SI cover shoot. “[They] set a precedent for what society expects out of women’s bodies, and they’re really setting a really healthy and positive standard for all women.” This isn’t the first time that Rousey has modeled for the Swimsuit Issue. In a similar behind-the-scenes video last year, she spoke about the importance of featuring women with diverse body types in the media. “I was so happy to have this opportunity because I really do believe that there shouldn’t be one cookie-cutter body type that everyone is aspiring to be,” she said. “I hope the impression that everyone sees in the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is that strong and healthy is the new sexy. And that the standard of women’s bodies is going into a realistic and socially healthy direction.”
On her ideal weight
After the 2015 Swimsuit Issue hit newsstands, Rousey told Cosmopolitan.com that she chose to gain weight before she stripped down for the photo shoot. “I felt like I was much too small for a magazine that is supposed to be celebrating the epitome of a woman,” she said. “I wanted to be at my most feminine shape, and I don’t feel my most attractive at 135 pounds, which is the weight I fight at. At 150 pounds, I feel like I’m at my healthiest and my strongest and my most beautiful.”
On being called “masculine”
Last August Rousey won the UFC 190 against previously undefeated fighter Bethe Correia. In a video promoting that fight, Rousey responded to body-shaming critics: “Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than f—ing millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass as f— because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose.”
On accepting her body
Despite her natural toughness, Rousey isn’t immune to body image issues. “I absolutely loathed how I looked until I was around 22 years old,” she said in an interview with ESPN.com last year. “What changed for me is I was always thinking I wanted to make my body look a certain way so I would be happy. But when I made myself happy first, then the body came after. It was a journey of self-discovery and trial and error.”
Rejecting the idea of a one-size-fits-all body type helped Rousey find self-acceptance: “The image in my head was the Maxim cover girl,” she said. “In the end, instead of making my body resemble one of those chicks, I decided to try to change the idea of what a Maxim chick could look like.”
On developing a healthy relationship with food
In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit last year, the fighter mentioned her complicated history with food. “It feels very liberating to [be] free of the guilt that used to come with every meal,” she wrote. “I feel like I have so much extra space in my brain now that I’m not constantly thinking about the next meal and trying to eat as much as possible every day while still losing weight. I feel amazing. I (think) I look amazing. And I just ate some bomb-ass french toast this morning.”
Not long after, Rousey elaborated on her struggles with disordered eating in an interview with Elle.com. Participating in judo tournaments led her to develop an “unhealthy relationship with food” in her teenage years, she explained. She had to hit a certain number on the scale to compete. “I felt like if I wasn’t exactly on weight, I wasn’t good-looking,” she said. “It was a lot to get past, and now I can say that I’ve gotten through it, I’ve never been happier with how I look [or] more satisfied with my body. It was definitely a journey to get there.”
Rousey added that she hopes she can encourage others struggling with similar issues to seek help. “These are issues that I think every girl deals with growing up, and it’s something that’s largely ignored and unaddressed. I would like that to be different for girls growing up after me. It shouldn’t have been as hard as it was.”
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