(Photo: Getty Images)
There’s a reason why Shawn Johnson is still one of America’s most beloved gymnasts.
Sure, the 23-year-old — who’s twice won the Teen Choice Award forChoice Female Athlete — brought us to tears when she took home a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But it’s her charisma and love for her fans that’s hooked her millions of social media followers, eager for glimpses into her daily life.
There’s no doubt Johnson’s been busy lately: She’s in the throes of wedding planning and she’s partnered with wedding-planning site WeddingWire on its #JustSayYes campaign, helping couples to celebrate and share their own engagement stories. (Johnson’s own engagement moment? Totally adorable.)
She’s also been busy running her healthy living website, The Body Department. On the surface, it may seem obvious that Johnson, who inspired a legion of young girls to follow in her springy footsteps, would be passionate about helping people live healthy lives. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that her passion is rooted in something more serious — her own struggles to stay healthy through an incredibly public struggle with her weight and confidence.
The site’s been live for about a year, and provides informative — and fun — ideas for staying active and living a fit life. “I felt like every site you went to, there was a fad, or a trend, or a diet, or ‘look like this girl on the red carpet,’ or ‘the only way you could become good enough is if you do this,’” Johnson tells Yahoo Health. “For me, it was kind of like, what if I could build a place for these girls to go that was just as cool, but there is no negative association? It was health, and beauty, and fun, and ‘you’re perfect the way you are — but here are some workouts.’ And it kind of took off.”
While it may seem like an easy transition from Olympic athlete to fitness buff, Johnson’s road has been bumpy. “I’ve kind of gone through the gamut when it comes to health,” she says. “I’ve hit lows with — I don’t want to say diagnosed eating disorders — but eating disorders. And then I’ve gone the other way, where I’ve rejected fitness,” she says. “[I’ve] kind of gone through the whole education system, all the nutritionists, and now I’m finally healthy.” It took her an injury — and a lot of self-reflection — to get to the mindset she has today.
Johnson grew up “fitness-obsessed,” competing as a gymnast and winning a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at age 16. After that, she took a break from gymnastics and competed on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, winning season 8 of the TV competition in 2009 and placing second in an All-Star edition in 2012. She loved dancing, but the sudden shift from the gymnastics world to Hollywood left her exposed to body-shaming critics. It didn’t help that she felt like she was constantly struggling to stay fit after retiring from gymnastics.
“When I first went on [DWTS] I was 16, and I turned 17 on the show,” Johnson says. “Going from this strict, regimented schedule to going through puberty on national TV, and gaining weight, and just being kind of a huge target for criticism, was just really difficult for me.” To cope, she researched quick weight-loss fixes online, even trying detoxes and juice cleanses. None of it worked.