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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,137 ratings  ·  225 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 gymnas ...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published August 1st 2000 by Warner Books (NY) (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  2,137 ratings  ·  225 reviews

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Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
An eye-opening account of the rigorous and often abusive training methods that elite gymnasts and ice-skaters endure in hopes of claiming an elusive Olympic medal. This book detailed the unavoidable eating disorders, injuries, and overbearing parents that skaters and gymnasts face. There were anecdotes about the rise and fall of famous athletes such as Shannon Miller, Kim Zmeskal, and Betty Okino. This book did exactly what it set out to do: Expose what the world of elite gymnastics and ice-skat ...more
PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps
Twenty years before most of us heard the name Larry Nassar, the Gymnastics who molested over 150 gymnasts and other athletes, journalist Joan Ryan wrote LITTLE GIRLS IN PRETTY BOXES about the often dark secrets behind competitive gymnastics and figure skating. I still gave my copy from 1995 which I read cover to cover the day it was released.

I’ve been a Gymnastics and figure skating super-fan since watching Olga Korbut, then Nadia Comaneci. I wrote a fan letter to Tai and Randy and thought life
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 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. ...more
Roz 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
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 & INJURY OR
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
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
Dani Kass
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I grew up with gymnastics. Never competing, never being anything resembling good at it, but loving to cartwheel down long hallways and hold handstands in the outfield of softball games. It never stopped being fun.

I’ve never been so grateful that it wasn’t something I took seriously and tried to compete in as when I was reading Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.

The book is a journalistic investigation into child abuse in elite gymnastics and figure skating. It was published in 1995, meaning it’s a bi
Laura Skladzinski
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at the two most popular women's (girls') events in the Olympics, and how the expectations on these athletes are so different than on athletes in other sports. I now feel a little bit guilty for loving ladies' figure skating and gymnastics so much, especially since I follow the stereotype of being even more delighted the younger and smaller the girls are. I just wish this were written a little bit more recently, to learn more about how the trend has continued over the last decade ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction
I love gymnastics. I think it’s an incredible sport. However it’s important to also acknowledge how many terrible things come out it. For so many years it seemed like a lot of fans wanted to completely disregard the horror stories and write them off as isolated cases. Now, with revelations about widespread abuse with USA Gymnastics it’s impossible to ignore.

This book was initially published in 1995 and detailed horrific ways that young girls were being treated by some of the top coaches in the
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Finished this a couple weeks ago and forgot to update. This book is pretty old- but just goes to show that the Karolyis and the culture at USAG was toxic from the beginning and they created an environment that allowed Larry Nassar to do all the horrible things he did.
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
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
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #1- Read a book about sports. I'm not a sports fan, so I thought I'd get this challenge over first. This book was interesting but dated, as it was published in 1995. I wonder if the physical and mental abuse it describes is still allowed by the overseeing bodies of women's gymnastics and figure skating. The book is mainly about gymnastics, and what it describes is harrowing. I'd be interested in an update. ...more
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. ...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!!! ...more
May 11, 2019 added it
I've read elsewhere that elite sport is often very unhealthy, but the structures around gymnastics + figure skating in the 90s is pretty extra brutal. (In powerlifting you are junior until 23, what would gymnastics look like if it was filled with 25 yr olds?) I wish there had been more about current sports culture. ...more
Jill Crosby
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
While somewhat dated, the information in this book rings as true today as it did back in 1995 when it was written. “Women” gymnasts and figure skaters endure performing in competitions with serious injuries, punishing training methods and schedules, and national expectations (and TV ratings) resting on their young shoulders. Fascinating and eye-opening
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. ...more
Arielle Masters
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Way more pressure on those little girls than there should be - sometimes from their families; often from their coaches. Not nearly enough protection for many of them. If you're a parent, teacher, or coach, or a kid considering a highly competitive sport, it would be good to read this. ...more
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was published in 1995. Larry Nassar had already abused his first of hundreds of victims. A coach featured prominently in this book, because two of his gymnasts DIED, is still coaching gymnasts *this weekend* at the U.S. national championships. We need to pay better attention.
Kayla Voissem
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
WOW. Although it could be repetitive at times, this book was a rollercoaster!! It really exposed the seedy nature of gymnastics and figure skating with shocking stories of gymnasts and skaters including the well-known tales of Dominique Moceanu and Kerrigan/Harding. Really wild.
Kathrine Edwards
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very disturbing book.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019
This book was really dated, negative, and repetitive- total 180 from reading Aly Raisman's memoir last week which was so upbeat. There have been a lot of changes in the sport since this was written. ...more
J.H. Moncrieff
Nov 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

After reading a succession of somewhat disappointing (but still interesting) gymnast memoirs, I had to return to what is arguably the best book on the subject of the abuse of young, female athletes: Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.

Ryan's account benefits from her somewhat objective point of view. As a sports journalist, though she doesn't hide her opinions, she is still able to watch the madness from the sidelines rather than being affected personally. Her astounding exposé profiles a larg
Sydelle Keisler
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gymnastics
Joan Ryan exposes the often abusive, corrupt, dark underbelly of elite gymnastics and figure skating through harrowing anecdotes, statistics, and snippets of interviews. This book made me understand that it is not just a few bad apples who abuse their athletes, but rather, it is the whole system — commentators, judges, the media, the code of points, USAG, coaches, parents etc — that normalizes and encourages child abuse, eating disorders, and depression. This book demonstrates how the environmen ...more
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an excellent, eye opening book. Although it was written about 15 years ago, it did not feel dated, sadly enough. It felt ripped from the headlines, especially as a female skater died while I was reading the book. She apparently fell from a window. Reading this book, I felt I could make some educated guesses. I don't think I will be watching any Olympic gymnastics in the future unless they are WOMEN's gymnastics and not child gymnastics. Ryan's writing was engaging and kept me turning pa ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wheelathon-2020
A shocking expose into the world of elite gymnastics and figure skating. Of course this book very much shows just one side of the story but as we know, biased journalism sells. With the recent exposure of sexual abuse added on top of all this, it's clear that this world has serious issues. ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was originally published in 1995, but I think is still relevant today. It is amazing and so incredibly sad what can and does happen behind the scenes when everyone's focus is on winning medals. ...more
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