In the weeks leading up to a tournament, stepping onto a scale is an everyday ritual for wrestler Paola Bedolla Garcia, a Berkeley High School (BHS) junior. For Bedolla Garcia, keeping a close eye on her weight ensures that she ends up “making weight,” or achieving her desired wrestling weight class. When asked about the importance of making weight, Bedolla Garcia laughed. “It generally helps to minimize the times that you get beat up,” she said. Weight classes are designed to match competitors of similar sizes, so no wrestler is at a size disadvantage.
Like many wrestlers, Bedolla Garcia and her teammate Shiella Paredes-Akimoto employed a popular strategy called “cutting” when they began wrestling. Cutting involves losing weight in order to qualify for a lower weight class, giving wrestlers an edge over their opponent. Paredes-Akimoto, a sophomore, said that this aspect of wrestling can come with misconceptions. “Cutting weight is not a requirement. It’s a personal choice,” she said. Those on the BHS wrestling team who decide to cut are supported by a developed program led by Coach Ben Nathan.
An ex-wrestler, Nathan saw the damage extreme cutting could do. “My junior year I weighed 123 pounds and I was cutting to 112, so I got muscled around by everyone because I was weak. I don’t think I consistently ate dinner for four months,” recalled Nathan. All around him, wrestlers were pushing their bodies to the extreme by over-exercising, under-eating, and employing methods such as wearing trash bags to sweat off extra weight. This culture has extreme consequences. “People were getting heatstroke and dying. One to two kids every year would die from heatstroke,” said Nathan.
Drawing from these experiences, Nathan chose to take a different approach. He doesn’t subscribe to the mentality of losing massive amounts of weight the day before a match. “I specifically say drop rather than cut because I think of cut as a momentary thing and dropping weight [as] long term,” Nathan said. He makes an effort to educate the team on healthy methods of losing weight. “I tell them to cut the sugar, eat healthy, and drink lots of water,” Nathan said. For most, this, with exercise, is enough to drop weight.
Wrestling culture has come a long way, represented by the attitudes of wrestlers Bedolla Garcia and Paredes-Akimoto, who believe that being more aware of their weight is empowering. Bedolla Garcia revealed that it has helped her discover new things about her body. “Weighing myself so much has helped me learn more about my period,” she said. Paredes-Akimoto mirrored this, saying, “Paying more attention to what I’m eating, I’ve learned to eat in ways that make my body feel much better.” Paredes-Akimoto summed up the positive impact of wrestling on body image: “Wrestling has made me even more comfortable with my body. This is because, at the end of the day, cutting wasn’t for aesthetics, it was for the advantage on the mat.”
While these wrestlers have a healthy relationship with weight, they acknowledge that it can be difficult, given societal pressures setting specific — and often harmful — body standards. “It’s important … to have good boundaries … regarding cutting,” said Paredes-Akimoto.