Today, in Tonya Harding news: Taffy Brodesser-Akner has written a wonderful profile of Harding for the New York Times, and it's a good read if you feel like crying. It also does a wonderful job of contextualizing Harding's struggle with the skating judges even before her career was destroyed by her ex-husband's wackadoo plot against Nancy Kerrigan:
When Ms. Harding got out there with her first jump, the girls who had been practicing all morning now looked like total amateurs by comparison. At 47, she still holds so much power in those thighs and so much grace in her hands and posture. People said that her sin — before her other sins — was not being the Disney princess Barbie doll that the Figure Skating Association demanded of its skaters. “I hated the word ‘feminine,’” she said. “It reminded me of a tampon or a panty liner.” Has anyone ever interrogated the notion of why the highest achievement in the female-centered sport of figure skating is exertion without expression of exertion? Has anyone ever said screw it all and flipped on the Tone Lōc and just gone for it like she did? Has anyone ever made skating look so fun?
These are rhetorical questions, but I have to say that watching YouTube videos of Harding's skating is a lot more exciting than any of the skating I've seen from American women at the Olympics in the years since she competed. Watching Harding skate is like watching the strongest ballerinas dance. What they do is graceful, sure, but there's legible power in it. They're strong as hell, and they're working hard. As an audience member, I'd prefer to know that. I don't watch elite sports because I'm expecting something pretty. I watch because I'm expecting to be amazed. Seeing someone launch themselves into the air on ice with what amounts to knives on their feet is amazing.
But I digress. It's also nice to know that Harding approved of I, Tonya, the movie made about her life that I loved and want to rewatch at the next possible opportunity. Here's Brodesser-Akner:
For the record, Ms. Harding loved the movie. “Magnificent,” was her word, especially after she’d seen it a few times. You have to remember, that was her life. That those beatings were very specifically hers, not composite beatings. And that they weren’t even shown in full: “People don’t understand that what you guys see in the movie is nothing,” she said. “That was the smallest little bits and pieces. I mean, my face was bruised. My face was put through a mirror, not just broken onto it. Through it. I was shot. That was true.” Mr. Gillooly, er, Stone shot at the ground, she said, and it ricocheted onto her face. (He has denied this and other abuse.) She said her mother threw a knife at her. (Her mother has also denied allegations made by Ms. Harding.) But “that’s all true,” she said. The people charged with taking care of her didn’t.
So she watched it a few times, and the shock wore off, and there from the comfort of her living room, sitting beside the only romantic partner she has ever felt loved by and safe with, she watched what had happened in her life and realized that she never really stood a chance.
And then there's this:
Here’s the thing: A lot of what she said wasn’t true. She contradicted herself endlessly. But she reminded me of other people I’ve known who have survived trauma and abuse, and who tell their stories again and again to explain what had happened to them but also to process it themselves. The things she said that were false — they were spiritually true, meaning they made her point, and she seemed to believe them. So much has been made about the tone of the movie — does it play abuse for laughs? Does it love her or hate her? Is she vindicated? Do we forgive her? Sit with her for an hour and you will understand that there might be no other way to go with the material. This is how she sounds. It would also be wrong to portray her as anything other than who she is.
With her head against my chest, I leaned down and hugged her. Here is something I’ll never understand, that you can be sitting across the table from someone who certainly did something bad, who appears to show no remorse for it and you can still feel the oxytocin rush of love and sympathy for her.
Anyway, if you feel like crying you can read the whole thing here. Brodesser-Akner is a writer whose work on damaging, sexist media narratives is some of the sharpest I've seen. If you liked her profile on Tonya Harding, I recommend next checking out the one on Britney Spears.