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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

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,420 Ratings  ·  140 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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Sep 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2008, sports
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
Dec 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
M. Milner
Jun 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Pretty much what you'd expect out of a book about female gymnasts and ice skaters. The crazy parents, psychotic coaches, horrible injuries. The references were a little dated (the book is from 1997 or so), but it was interesting. The editing kind of sucked, as there was a bit of repetition.
Feb 07, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 20, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Angie Orlando
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Joan Ryan is a journalist who knows her stuff, and knows how to write. This is another book that focuses on the dark side of elite gymnastics... and also figure skating. Ryan does a fantastic job of supporting her conclusions with statistics from university studies, interviews with experts, coaches and team mates and especially the dramatic, heart breaking stories of the girls and their family... Those who didn't make it, whether from injury, eating disorders, abusive coaches or all of the about ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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!!!
Jul 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Michelle Allmon
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Book raises important points about what young female athletes trade/endure/conform to in pursuit of being the best in ice skating/gymnastics. I gave it 2 stars because I thought the book lacked necessary editing. At times, I could have sworn I was re reading the same passage from earlier in the book. Better as an article instead of a book in my opinion.
Kathrine Edwards
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very disturbing book.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
Repetitive after a certain point, and clearly pulled together from articles, but a haunting look inside the sports of young girls.
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really liked the writing of this book and the lengthy interviews that make it more than researched rumors, but the heart of the book and what it reveals is horrifying but not so terribly surprising.

It begins with a 2 AM phone call to Otilia Gomez in Houston. Her 15 year old daughter, Julissa is in Tokyo performing in an important gymnastics competition. Julissa had been training since the age of 10 with the famed coach Bela Karolyi. Known for his production of Olympic medalists Nadia Comaneci
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
Janine Coleman
Jul 03, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An in depth look behind the scenes of the gymnastics and ice skating circuses. I'm interested to hear what Ryan thinks about the systems twenty years later!
Diana Higgins
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
This was a very frustrating book.

I'm glad that I finally read it, because it's one of the most important books about U.S. sports and one of the rare ones to have led to actual reforms. And even though it was published more than 20 years ago, the book still gives fans born in the '80s or earlier a fun opportunity to relive gymnastics and figure skating heroes from yesteryear.

But I don't know that I've ever encountered a book so repetitive, by which I mean that it repeats itself a lot and says the
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
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
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
Oct 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Monique P
Oct 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I only have one wish for this book: that it could be updated. The fact that it was written in 1995 just kills me - one more year and it could have included so much analysis of the USA's performance at the 1996 Olympics! Twenty years on, an update could shed light on how much has changed in gymnastics in the years since tiny waifs like Moceanu (who hardly appears in this book) and Shannon Miller. To the relatively untrained eye, it would seem that US gymnastics has moved away from the practice of ...more
Marlawanda Briley
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jo Oehrlein
Jul 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
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
Feb 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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).

Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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