Competitive female swimmer says body image issues and social media impacted her mental health

Competitive female swimmer says body image issues and social media impacted her mental health
Posted at 7:10 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 19:10:54-05

Over the last year, several college athletes have died by suicide, and many were women.

Now, a local competitive swimmer who's also struggled with her mental health explains how social media and body image have been hard to handle at times, especially during her teen years.

18-year-old Lutnya Bogdanova started swimming competitively at just three years old with year after year of success, but she faced some obstacles along the way.

"At some point, it made me feel like I was in a closet, and I couldn't speak to anyone. It felt like no matter what I did, I felt like I wasn't good enough," Bogdanova said.

Bogdanova's mental health began to suffer at 13 years old, with bouts of depression and anxiety.

"Everyone wants to compete at their best," she said. "Everyone wants to make the team proud, make their coaches proud. And just having all this anxiety and pressure build up like that, it just makes you crumble."

She said being a swimmer and a woman brings its own struggles when it comes to body image issues.

"With females, they see themselves comparing themselves to other athletes," Bogdanova said. "I want to have this perfect image, which doesn't even seem realistic, and they add that on with academic pressure and athletic pressure, and then they just fall apart."

Bogdanova admitted that spending time on social media impacted her self-esteem.

"I just kind of think social media at that young age just isn't very healthy," she said. "Now that I look at it all these years later, for a 13-year-old to look at a 27-year-old model, and just think, 'I want to be like that,' I don't think it's very healthy."

Now, Bogdanova thanks her two coaches, who've helped develop her both physically and mentally into the competitor she is today.

"She comes every day with a mentality of, 'I want to get as much out of this workout as I can,' whether it's a technique thing, or a speed thing, or an endurance thing," said coach Jared Pike, who has trained Bogdanova for over four years.

Pike said she's extremely talented, but like so many teen athletes, he worries about how social media impacts their self-esteem, as they compare themselves constantly to other athletes online.

"I have a conversation with a lot of the kids on our team. You don't have to be 100% perfect every single time," he said. "If you have a bit of a bad swim, or you have a bad day, or even if you have a bad week, it's a learning point to then grow and get better further down the line. And not everyone develops at the same speed."

He's been particularly concerned about Bogdanova's mental health struggles.

"We had a very tough situation two years ago, I think, two or three years ago, and it was during the butterfly swim," Pike said. "She just stopped halfway through the race. And she had a panic attack because she was worried that if she didn't go a certain time, or do a certain thing in the race, that everyone was going to judge her."

Bogdanova recalled that swim meet as one of the most challenging of her career.

"Halfway through, I just felt like I was getting no air into my lungs. I was gasping for air," she said.

But she powered through and eventually finished the race.

"She's just developed and grown so much, it's just remarkable," said Coach Lee Sauffner, who owns Riptide Aquatics in Lakeland, a year-round competitive swim team Bogdanova has been a part of for many years.

Sauffner has coached Bogdanova since she was just eight years old.

"I really hate to lose her. But I know that she's going to be better off where she's going. She's not going to do anything but progress and get better," Sauffner said.

That progress now takes her on a full ride to the University of West Florida's swim team.

Along with her coaches, Bogdanova said her parents, first-generation immigrants from Russia, also helped her mental health, as they know what it's like to compete on the world stage.

"My mom was a world-class gymnast, and my dad was a world-class deadlifter and weight lifter," she said. "They both know the struggles of putting a lot of pressure on yourself because of sports. I told them how I felt really upset I wasn't getting the results, and they both shared their stories with me about how they felt the same way."

Pike wants to remind all athletes to lean on others if they're struggling and remember they're never alone.

''There is support, and they need to be open about how they're feeling. It's not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength to come forward and speak about it,'' he said.

Pike said many colleges like to use athletes' Instagram profiles and Facebook profiles to understand what type of athlete they're recruiting.

But he warned that puts extra pressure on most young athletes because they'll try to portray who they think a college wants to recruit instead of who they really are.

If you or a friend is in need of mental health assistance, The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is always available.

They can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by simply calling 211 in Hillsborough County.

You can also go to their website to review the many programs they offer.