Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters
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Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  858 ratings  ·  105 reviews
From starvation diets and debilitating injuries to the brutal tactics of tyrannical gymnastics guru Bela Karolyi, "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes" portrays the horrors endured by girls at the hands of their coaches and sometimes their own families. An acclaimed expose that has already helped reform Olympic sports -- now updated to reflect the latest developments in women's g...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published August 1st 2000 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 1995)
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Nicola
Little Girls In Pretty Boxes, Joan Ryan's exposé on women's gymnastics and figure skating, is a brutal read. It starts with an account of a teenage girl who broke her neck while performing on the vault, and it doesn't get any cheerier.

The book is well-written enough to be engaging, but it's so excessively negative in tone that it inevitably caused my hackles to rise. I suppose any exposé is likely to be biased, but Ryan seems so biased against gymnastics/skating that I inevitably found myself pl...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
Joan Ryan wrote a book, largely anecdotal, but with the findings of a few studies to back her up, about the harm done to girls, not those who simply learn gymnastics or figure skating, but those who are in the 'elite' class of either sport. This is an important distinction, as Ryan writes that girls who take gymnastics or figure skate learn a lot about competitiveness, self-esteem, and discipline, but for those few who fall into the elite category (the ones who practice for three hours starting...more
stephanie
more about gymnasts than figure skaters, i read the version that included the 2000 epilogue. which is great, because the first version was written in 1995, before the americans won gold in atlanta. i'd still like to read a more recent book on gymnastics/ice-skating, but wonder if the fact that the country has had more success in the olympic arena has pushed down the urge to write about it.

there's a lot of heart-break in this book. girls who died as a result of bad vaults, or extreme eating disor...more
M. Milner
Who knew gymnastics was so horrifying?

Joan Ryan’s Little Girls in Pretty Boxes is a chilling, sobering look at the world of women’s gymnastics, where the coaches yell and taunt at young gymnasts while their parents overlook – or exaggerate – the abuse, creating a culture of destroyed confidence, eating disorders an. It’s an unflattering portrait.

Ryan tells of the sad fates of several promising girls who were sucked into this world by their talent, chewed up and used by ego-driven coaches and, on...more
Meave
Not nearly as tawdry as promised. In the prologue it was all sexual abuse and this and that all over the place, but the book was mostly eating disorders and injuries. Eating disorders, eh, the ways losing 10 pounds in a week affect your gymnastics skills, no surprise there. Maybe it was more shocking in 1995 when this book was published.

The effects of hardcore training on little bitty bodies, that was pretty horrifying, and how nearly all coaches everywhere were all WORK THROUGH PAIN & INJUR...more
Kathryn
Summary: Women's Gymnastics & Figure Skating are not really for women at all, but for girls. As difficulty in these sports increases, the demand for athletes to be younger becomes imperative. It also opens up these young women to abuse and neglect from parents, coaches, and the world.

Why I Read This: I read an article about the best books about figure skating during the Olympics and this was listed.

Review: First of all, this book was originally written in 1995, so if you're looking for somet...more
Julie
I really liked it in a sickening, this-shattered-all-I-ever-thought-about-ice-skating-and-gymnastics kind of way. Great behind-the-scenes look at these two sports. A must read for anyone whose children are thinking of taking their competition to the next level. P.S. Kim Nahoom: don't ever send your daughter to Bela & Martha Karolyi or Steve Nunno!!!
Jen
as a former gymnast (although nowhere near elite), this book petrified me. it's hard to believe what young girls and their parents are willing to sacrifice to be the best. i'm going to find it really hard to indulge my guilty pleasure of watching gymnastic and ice skating competitions on tv after this enlightening read.
V
As a former gymnast I found this stuff fascinating... and since I knew several of the gymnast the book spoke about it got even more interesting. There is a lot of truth in there, but of course, it focusing solely on what is negative. Still, it was hard to put down since it's all too close to home.
Monique P
When you think ice skating or gymnastics, I'm sure you think of small girls gracefully flipping and jumping around in pretty leotards. The stories of Julissa Gomez, Christy Henrich, Karen Tierney, Erica Stokes, Kathy Johnson, Nicole Bobek, Amy & Karen Grossman, Holly Bragg, Kim Zmeskal and the many other girl athletes mentioned in 'Little Girls in Pretty Boxes' by Joan Ryan prove you wrong. The real world of these man-eating sports is actually starvation, hours and hours with harsh guru coac...more
Janine Coleman
This book is a compilation of several prominent members of the gymnastic and figure skating communities- Joan Ryan relays the darker part of these sports amidst injuries, eating disorders, and self-esteem issues. Each chapter focuses on one or two girls (boys aren't catalogued in this book), and the particulars of each of their situations. Ryan covers Julissa Gomez and her paralysis and eventual death, Christy Henrich's struggle with anorexia, the now infamous Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding sc...more
Zaji
One thing I must point out: If there is anyone who wishes to find out more about the sport of gymnastics, please, DO NOT read this book for advice. Seriously. Only read this book if you want to learn about how the sport has negatively impacted the lives of young girls. I have agreed with little of what the author said, and most, if not all, of the book irritated me. It was filled with horrible stories of athletes who went into a downward spiral from gymnastics and figure skating, abusive coaches...more
Brandy
I picked this up as I have to wait for Dominique Moceanu's book to be available at my library. It probably wasn't a great placeholder, but it only took an evening, so oh well.
It is true that as a book, this is pretty terribly written (I read the first edition). It is very clearly a collection of essays/articles, which results in a lot of repetition. Although much of the abuse in gymnastics in the 70s, 80s, and 90s has been exposed, some of the anecdotes Ryan provides really are still kind of sh...more
Diana Higgins
This was good. I probably could have guessed at the content, that these girls/young women have eating disorders and are injured too often and train too hard while injured. Still, it was interesting reading.

My favorite part was the description of this one gymnast, whose parents didn't get caught up in the hype. They insisted that their daughter only train 20 hours a week (instead of the 40-60 hours the elite girls usually train) and that she not starve herself, etc. At the end of her high school...more
Amanda Wheet
This is one of those books that makes you gasp, and sigh, and gasp again. While Ryan is extremely repetitive (I literally counted the same sentence about Kathy Johnston four times) and her chapter separation makes little sense, the book is insightful. As someone who was very young when the bulk of the American gymnastics turned child abuse happened, I have always seen Bela Karolyi as this awesome big teddy bear. I have thought those gymnast bodies are too good to be true, noticed the way the lit...more
george
I was a gynmast as a little girl. I wasn't ever any good, but I loved my classes and Mary Lou and Nadia were my heroes. As a disclaimer--I didn't read the updated book (my library doesn't have it), I read the original 1995 version. I completely agree with the reviewer who thinks that the introduction was quite misleading. The sexual abuse mentioned at the beginning as a big problem turned out to be little more than--it *could* be rampant when you have little girls training with adult men. I must...more
Lani
Read this book again after excerpts of it were in one of the Best American Sports Writing books I read recently. It's quite dated, particularly because it ends just as the Magnificent Seven are preparing for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. The book extensively covers Shannon Miller and her coach, and Dominique Moceanu appears just as the book ends. Interestingly Moceanu later came out to complain about abuse from the Karolyis, her stories mimic the problems described by Joan Ryan.

The ice skating p...more
Jo Oehrlein
This is a scathing indictment of the figure skating and gymnastics communities and parents that wear young girls (mentally, physically, and emotionally) out in the search for the perfect princess to win the Olympic medal. It traces incidents of bulimia and anorexia, training and competing with broken bones and torn muscles, constant verbal abuse, and total lack of safety training. This was before the new figure skating judging system, so at the time much of figure skating judging was very subjec...more
Marlawanda Briley
I read this for my book club. We were all amazed at the struggles that young gymnasts and figure skaters go through to reach the Olympics. After reading this book you will never look at gymnastics in the same way. However, I felt and the book club felt that there was no need to add the few figures skating stories to the book. They didn't really fit in. Maybe a different book about those struggles. Also, the book jumps around going from story to another and then back, again. As a magazine writer,...more
Mary
This is about the environment of abuse and unbalanced stress involved in national sports where children reign over adults. Honestly, I learned a lot about elite gymnastics and figure skating, since I have never really taken the time to understand how those sports work. It hadn't occured to me why the contestests seem to get smaller and smaller...I assumed that they were younger and younger, and didn't know that they were purposefully physically stunted more and more (as well as being younger).

Al...more
Haylee
Eh, this book was ok. I mean it was definitely interesting to learn about and I did learn a lot. But at the same time, it just seemed really biased. The book portrayed both gymnastics and figure skating in a very negative light and though I don't doubt that these situations occured necessarily, I do question the true authenticity of it all- meaning how dramatized it was.
Plus the book never gave the other side of the argument at all. It was all just very one-sided and not very rational.
So in sh...more
Sara Pauff
An interesting look at the world of elite gymnastics and figure skating and the effects on its young participants. I was particularly struck by the age of the girls competing in these sports. Most are barely out of junior high and they spend their time at all-day practices and endure debilitating injuries and sometimes eating disorders. The payoff? The slim possibility of an Olympic medal and endorsement deals that will pay off their gym bills. It definitely makes you look at the Olympics differ...more
Ben
Nov 14, 2007 Ben rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone addicted to made-for-TV eating disorder movies like I am
I think I read the original print of this book, like more than a decade after its information was relevant. That's how I roll.

So I don't mean in the atrocity tourism way that people who are obsessed with made-for-TV eating disorder movies would like this, but I mean it in the . . . really feeling bad but fascinated by all the dark workings of a compulsion. These two sports, in a way, drive compulsion.

Amongst all the skating and gymnastics books I've read, this is the one that really says anythin...more
Kara

If you don't know already, little girls are exploited by their unfulfilled, wildly competitive parents, emotionally & physically abused by their cruel and often perverted coaches, hit, starved, purposefully stunted, screwed over and mocked by the judges, forced to compete with debilitating injuries, and even put into mortal danger on outdated apparatuses. The fallout from their injuries, eating disorders, lack of formal education, isolation and emotional distress lasts a lifetime. Gymnastics...more
Pamela
Confirmed what I had already suspected about the way young gymnasts and skaters are treated by their coaches and parents on their quest for glory. Written in an approachable manner, this book outlines both general and specific stories about the rampant emotional and physical abuse these girls go to. Although dated now, this book is still very much applicable, I suspect. My only problem with the book was the author's treatment of Tonya Harding who she clearly despised. She criticized Tonya for th...more
Susanna
This book was extremely chilling, and made me very glad I never had a chance at being a gymnast. There were a few things that caused me to dock it two stars, however. First of all, it was published in 1995, so it's not the most current source- the members of the 2012 Olympic team were either infants or not even born yet at that time. Also, there were several sections that seemed repetitive, with phrases repeated word for word from other parts of the book. Finally, I didn't feel that the figure s...more
Joneita Kelly
A must read for anyone who coaches or has a daughter that is an athlete. This particular book is about gymnasts and figure skaters, but the bigger picture applies to any female athlete. It talks about the stress of being a high level athlete and how some girls respond to that stress, in both positive and negative ways. It also talks about how the coaches can have both a positive an negative impact on their students.

I read this while I was teaching at a dance studio, and it helped me to be able...more
Anna
I first decided I wanted to read this in high school when a fellow student told the class about it in a project. The stories were so horrifying that I had to read it to believe it. I actually had to put this book down for a couple days because its content was so depressing. Reading about America's obsession with winning and constant work and the need to be the best was wearing on my mental health. It was also incredibly depressing to read about the ruined lives of young girls in these sports. I'...more
Ashley FL
A scary expose of the life of elite gymnasts and figure skaters. Apparently it grew out of a newspaper article. Perhaps the best format would have been a long, Vanity Fair-type article. This is too long for the amount of information it contains. It is basically a collection of horror stories -- but in no pattern that I could discern. It would have helpful if they had been told chronologically, or in another way that created a narrative thread.

On Goodreads it appears that there is a more recent e...more
Sylvie
To say I liked this book would be an odd descriptor for my reading experience because the stories recounted here are both heartbreaking and appalling. Reading this has forever altered my view of these two sports, which have traditionally been among my favorites in the Olympic Games. Of course, I suspected much of it, but to be confronted with the details and extent of what goes into making champions was sobering. I wish I could be assured that things have changed since it was written in the earl...more
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