Ronda Rousey: The Undefeated UFC Champion Takes on Mental Health

Published on: 03 Aug 2015
Ronda Rousey: The Undefeated UFC Champion Takes on Mental Health

Ronda Rousey, the most dangerous unarmed woman in the world, is an avid champion of mental health who’s using personal experience to raise awareness about eating disorders and body dysmorphia. 

No one was surprised when Ronda Rousey, an American Judo Olympian and UFC Mixed Martial Artist, defeated Brazilian challenger Bethe Correia on her own turf in 34 seconds during the UFC Bantamweight Championship on August 1st. But a lot of people may be surprised to learn that the remarkable 28 year old fighter, model, and actress is also a champion of mental health focused on eradicating stigma that surrounds it by using social media.

Ronda Rousey: The Undefeated UFC Champion Takes on Mental HealthIt’s hard for us to imagine an esteemed, gorgeous, and seemingly unconquerable fighter being uncomfortable in her own skin. After all, when we see the way “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey carries herself in the Octagon or any arena, there’s simply no trace of any insecurity, doubt, or apprehension. It’s almost impossible to understand how someone who projects so much confidence and has managed to achieve so much so quickly, could ever struggle with mental health and insecurity.

Troubled Youth

“People say to me all the time, ‘You have no fear.’ I tell them, ‘No, that’s not true. I’m scared all the time. You have to have fear in order to have courage. I’m a courageous person because I’m a scared person.'” – Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey: The Undefeated UFC Champion Takes on Mental Health

The undefeated UFC Champ was born on February 1st, 1987, in Riverside, California. During delivery the umbilical chord wrapped around Rousey’s neck, severely depriving her of oxygen. Luckily, doctors were able to free her, but the incident (reportedly) caused minor brain damage and a speech impediment that made uttering a comprehensible sentence almost impossible for Rousey until she was 6. Still, her family never doubted her ability to get over this limitation and achieve great things in whatever she wanted to accomplish.

Ronda Rousey’s mother and biggest fan, AnnMaria De Mars, was an acclaimed Judoka and the first American ever – male or female – to win a World Judo Championship in 1984.

Father’s Suicide

Her father, Ron Rousey, was a man who fiercely loved and supported his daughters (2 of his, and one from De Mar’s previous marriage). It was he who first told Ronda that she “was going to win the Olympics”. He died by suicide in 1995, after being involved in horrible sledding accident from which doctors said he would never fully recover.

Ronda Rousey The Undefeated UFC Champion Takes on Mental HealthRonda was just 8 years old at the time. It was the biggest tragedy of her life; a tragedy that was mocked by Bethe Correia during a press conference a few months prior to the decisive match this past Saturday.

Although De Mars provided great support for her daughters, Ronda had a hard time coming into her own. At the age of 11, when she was struggling in school and her own personal demons, De Mars decided to home-school her daughter, as well as teach her some Judo as a means of relieving stress. Ronda Rousey joined the US Olympic team by the time she was 15. This is when her insecurities started to become a more serious problem.

Eating Disorder and Body Dysmorphia

Being involved in the 2004 Olympics was a miserable experience for Rousey because of her constant struggle to meet the weight requirements. She became bulimic and later stated:

“Any sport that involves weight divisions is going to make you super conscious of your weight. And it makes you way more susceptible to having problems. And being a teenage girl certainly didn’t help. I thought I was alone in it. I thought I was only having problems because I was a weak-willed person. I thought having problems with my weight made me a bad person.

Realizing that bulimia could eventually overshadow her personal and professional goals, Ronda took some much needed time to get herself in order and deal with her body dysmorphia. This decision proved to be immeasurably helpful. She returned to the Olympics in 2008 and competed in a new weight class, earning a Bronze medal in Beijing. She retired from the sport when she turned 21, but entered mixed martial arts the following year.

Philanthropy and Mental Health Advocacy

Rousey did incredibly well in the amateur circuit and soon progressed to the big leagues all the while remaining undefeated, becoming the first woman to be signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). Once she started making a substantial living as an MMA fighter, her mother asked her what causes she wanted to support. Without hesitation, she decided to raise awareness about eating disorders and body dysmorphia, having personal knowledge of the damage they can cause.

And so, a partnership with Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services was born. Helping the organization raise money and spread awareness, Rousey advocates using the #erasethestigma hashtag on social media. She is also credited with stating, “Don’t throw up. Throw Down”, and openly discusses her struggles with bulimia. In 2014, the organization recognized her contributions to their cause and accordingly honored her with the Didi Hirsch Erase the Stigma Leadership Award.

Ronda Rousey may be one of UFC’s best fighters, but she is also a champion of mental health, a role model for insecure men and women across the globe, and a generally decent human being.

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Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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